Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nonfiction Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up


In the spring, I was at the check-out counter of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, mostly buying gifts for other people, when I grabbed a copy of Marie Kondo’s best-selling mega hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I figured I should finally read it for myself to find out what all the fuss was about! We have lived in our home for 22 years and raised two kids here, so we could definitely use some decluttering, and I like having things organized. Kondo has some good advice in this slim book and some interesting ways of approaching these tasks, but I also came away thinking she’s a little bit nutty!

There are a couple of unique approaches about her KonMari Method. The one aspect I am most likely to use from her book is that she focuses on what to keep instead of what to get rid of. I am probably like most people in that I approach decluttering with an eye on what I can throw away or donate – flipping through my closet the night before a charity pick-up, thinking, “Hmmm…I haven’t worn this in years, this doesn’t fit anymore, etc.” Conversely, Marie Kondo recommends going through your stuff and for each item, considering whether it sparks joy. This was intriguing to me, since I like to focus on joy in my life, but – again thinking of clothing – I know I keep items that fit me and are OK, but I don’t really love. Kondo says to get rid of those and keep only what sparks joy.

The other unique part of her approach that won’t work for me but might for other people is that she does not recommend going room-by-room or one closet or bookcase or dresser at a time. Rather, she recommends working through one category of item at a time. So, when you are decluttering and organizing your clothing, she says to pull out ALL of your clothes at once – every item in closets, dressers, etc. – and go through it all at once, holding every single item to decide if it sparks joy. Same with books – every single book in your house! That makes logical sense, but with my very limited physical stamina, I would manage it for an hour or 90 minutes and then run out of energy and be stuck with all my clothes or books in the middle of the room! But I can see what she’s getting at – it’s hard to make progress one small bit at a time. I do think she is right about having to take everything out of the closet or dresser or wherever because I know I don’t accomplish much when I try to go through items still packed together.

So, why did I say that Marie Kondo is a little nutty? Well, she goes pretty far afield in her recommendations on storage and organization, after you’ve finished decluttering. She is really into folding and says everything should be folded and stored standing on its edge like books (but she is talking about clothing). She also fervently believes that your stuff needs to “rest” when you are not using it. Here’s what she says to one client:
“I pointed to the balled-up socks. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?’ ”
She also recommends completely emptying your purse every single day when you get home – again, so that it can rest in between uses. She says we should thank our things for their service – at the end of the day and before we get rid of them. She concludes, toward the end of the book, with this:
“Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.”
O.K. I think I am just a bit too logical and analytical for that! She also focuses on attaining an ideal that I’m really not interested in – a very spare home with nothing out in the open and all items able to be stored in a single closet. Maybe this is somewhat of a cultural difference, as I know that is more of a Japanese ideal than an American one. I enjoy being surrounded by things I love. Of course, as an avid reader, I can’t imagine purging books as thoroughly as she suggests, and I have heard other book lovers say the same. I love having a full bookcase in every room of my home! Those definitely spark joy. Still, I could certainly use some culling and decluttering.

Marie Kondo’s book spent 99 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and sold over six million copies worldwide, so it seems that she and her methods are very, very popular. She offers some excellent advice in this slim volume (and she wrote a sequel, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, for those who want more detail). Some of her approaches are different from what you normally read in decluttering and organizing advice, though her methods may not be practical for everyone. Although I don’t think I’ll be thanking my possessions for their service or emptying my purse every day, I do hope to put some of her advice into practice.

206 pages, Ten Speed Press (Berkeley)

I’m interested to hear what YOU think of Marie Kondo’s methods! Have you tried any of the approaches in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? What were your experiences?
I purchased this book myself.

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.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fiction Review: The Hearts of Men

I remember hearing intriguing reviews of The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler when it was first published in March, so I was glad for the opportunity to listen to the audio book this summer. It was an engrossing story of friendship and life’s ups and downs, following several generations.

In 1962 at age thirteen, Nelson Doughty is a social outcast, the classic geek who is an over-achiever but doesn’t have any friends. Every summer, Nelson goes to Camp Chippewa, a Boy Scout camp among the forests and lakes of Wisconsin. Nelson, is, of course, a stellar Scout, earning more merit badges than anyone else and aiming for Eagle Scout before he turns sixteen and then the military. He’s also the camp bugler, waking the other boys and counselors every morning by playing his WWI veteran grandfather’s battered trumpet.

This summer, Nelson thinks he might finally have made a friend. Jonathan is older than Nelson, but he was the only person to show up for Nelson’s birthday party back home. Jonathan is popular, handsome, and athletic, but he has shown some small kindnesses to Nelson. That summer at camp, Nelson suffers some horrible bullying, and though Jonathan doesn’t openly befriend Nelson, he does try to squelch some of the abuse and for that, Nelson is grateful and considers Jonathan a friend.

After immersing the reader in that summer of 1962 at Camp Chippewa, the novel then jumps forward in time several decades. Nelson did indeed join the military and fought in Vietnam, carrying scars both physical and emotional. He has now become the Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa and once again spends his summers there. Jonathan married and took over his father’s company, making it a success, though he carries plenty of bitterness. The two erstwhile friends are reunited when Jonathan brings his teen son to camp.

Then the story once again jumps ahead in time several decades to Jonathan’s daughter-in-law and grandson, as they head to Camp Chippewa in this generational family tradition. The teen boy is not excited to still be going to camp, but his mom, who is chaperoning, is looking forward to seeing Nelson, her father-in-law’s old friend and the venerable head of the camp for many decades. The audio production brought all of these generations of men (and one woman) to life.

The Hearts of Men is an immersive story that pulls you into the woods of Wisconsin and the rustic Camp Chippewa along with its characters. Butler has developed a distinctive sense of place – and, in later chapters, nostalgia – that carries through time. It’s fascinating to see how the events of their youth affect both Nelson and Jonathan and the repercussions through multiple generations. It’s a sad (even horrifying) novel at times, addressing issues of bullying, abuse, infidelity, and divorce, and neither of the original two characters has a particularly happy life. But the novel also focuses on healing, family, and hope, bringing that old friendship full circle by the end. I enjoyed this emotionally complex and absorbing novel peopled with multi-dimensional, flawed characters.

400 pages, Ecco

You can listen to a free audio sample at the Audible/Amazon link below.

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.

    
Hearts of Men
by Nickolas ButlerHardcover
Powells.com

Or purchase The Hearts of Men from The Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fall TV We Are Looking Forward To

Yes, yes, it's back-to-school time, kids off to college, weather turning cooler (or supposed to anyway)...but fall also means the new TV season is here! Granted, it's not like in the old days, when all new shows started in fall. Now we have streaming services launching new shows constantly and even the networks introducing new shows every season, but fall is still the biggest season for the biggest shows and the biggest launches. Here's what we are looking forward to, both old and new:

Returning Favorites
We can't wait for some of our old favorite shows to return! Here's a list of the ones we are most looking forward to, along with links to my past reviews and start dates for this fall:
  • Scorpion, season 4 begins 9/25 - a fun show about a group of genius misfits helping the government - not always believable but fun, suspenseful, a good sense of humor, and even a bit of geek romance.  We've been watching it for 3 years, but I guess I haven't reviewed it yet!
  • Blacklist, season 5 starts 9/27 - we still enjoy this fast-paced thriller starring James Spader as the mysterious Red. Can't believe I haven't reviewed that one yet, either!
  • Designated Survivor, season 2 starts 9/27 - and we can't wait! We loved the first season of this political drama crossed with an action thriller starring Keifer Sutherland as a former HUD Secretary who becomes President when the rest of the country's leadership is killed in a bombing. 
  • Grey's Anatomy, season 14 (!!) starts 9/28 - yes, we still watch this long-running medical drama!
  • How To Get Away With Murder, season 4 starts 9/28 - this complicated legal thriller
    co-created by the great Shonda Rhimes always starts with some startling event and then flashes back to fill in the blanks.
  • Madam Secretary, season 4 starts 10/8 - we are huge fans of this political drama starring Tea Leoni as Secretary of State.
  • Good Behavior, season 2 starts 10/15 - we loved this new show last winter, based on a series of novels by Blake Crouch (of Wayward Pines fame) about Letty, a con woman, trying to hold onto her beloved son, who hooks up with a killer-for-hire boyfriend. Here's its IMDB page.
  • Travelers, season 2 starts 10/16 -  we watched season 1 of this time-travel show starring Eric McCormack on Netflix last year with our son and loved it!
  • Blindspot, season 3 starts 10/27 - this intriguing thriller features a
    woman found in Times Square covered in tattoos with no memory.
  • Stranger Things, season 2 starts 10/27 - we binged this 80's sci fi Netflix show with our son last year and all loved it! Can't wait to see what happens next.
Yes, yes, I am well aware that it will be a challenge to juggle all those shows! Hopefully, some of the earlier ones will be winding down for a mid-season break by the time the later ones start. And let's not forget about new shows! Here are a few coming this fall that look like they might be worth checking out...

New Shows To Try

I went through a LOT of trailers and narrowed it down to these that look like we might enjoy them:

The Good Doctor (ABC) starting 9/25 - about a young genius surgical resident who is autistic (and whose hiring is controversial)



Ten Days in the Valley (ABC) starting 10/1 - a 10-episode thriller starring Kyra Sedgwick as a TV producer whose daughter goes missing



The Crossing (ABC) starting in October - I think I am most excited about this new sci fi thriller, about a group of refugees who appear in an American town seeking asylum - from 250 years in the future!



Deception (ABC) starting in October - a new suspense thriller about an illusionist/magician working with the FBI



Wow, so many good shows to look forward to this fall!! It all starts next week...get ready for some binge-watching!

What old favorites and new TV shows are you most looking forward to this fall?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Movie Monday: Gold

A few weeks ago, my husband and I found another great recent release free on streaming and watched Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey, a drama that begins in the 80's about a gold prospector who hits it big.

McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a prospector working for his father's mining company who thinks big. He is always looking for the next substantial find, especially after his father's death, as the business begins to die out. He's got a huge personality and is great at motivating the people he works with, getting them excited about the latest lead, as they work to convince investors to give them money. Desperate, with the company on the verge of bankruptcy, Kenny spends his last dollars and takes off to meet renowned geologist Michael Acosta (played by Edgar Ramirez), who was responsible for a big copper find. Kenny convinces Michael to partner with him to find gold in Indonesia, and Kenny's excitement and ambitions are contagious. Back home, Kenny wrangles what remains of his company to line up investors.

The two men take off into uncharted territory deep in the Indonesian jungle, where the locals have been known to pan for gold in the river for generations. In his dress pants, shirt, and shoes, Kenny stays by Michael's side through the mud and jungle as they bring a group of locals along to help search for that elusive gold that could turn into a successful mine. Failure after failure ensues, and Kenny becomes incapacitated with malaria. Will they succeed? Are Kenny's dreams and Michael's intuitions based on reality or fantasy?

Loosely based on a true story, Gold is a drama full of suspense and emotional depth. McConaughey is amazing as the enthusiastic, driven Kenny, fully inhabiting the character through his ups and downs. You will completely believe in this pot-bellied, receding hairline version of McConaughey and will feel for poor Kenny and root for him to succeed. There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns in the plot, to keep the pace and the suspense moving. My husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed this action-packed drama.

Gold is currently available on DVD and is free on Netflix streaming. It is also available for streaming on Amazon Prime, starting at $4.99 (or the DVD is available for $14.96).



         

It's Monday 9/18! What Are You Reading?

Late start today - trying to get caught up. We went away for the weekend, camping in Wharton State Forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens (aka Pinelands, in an apparent effort at rebranding!). It was supposed to be a nice, relaxing mini getaway for my husband and I, though it didn't quite work out that way. The weather forecast had been for sunny days all weekend, but we got an unexpected BIG rainstorm Saturday, just as we were starting to cook dinner over a campfire. My poor husband stood out in the pouring rain for 40 minutes holding an umbrella over the fire while our dinner finished cooking! The other less-than-relaxing factor was some VERY noisy neighbors on all sides - loud music, large groups of people, shouting, swearing, etc. Like I said, not very relaxing. On the plus side, we did enjoy some kayaking Saturday morning, had a nice campsite on the lake, and enjoyed some reading, of course!

Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I finished reading my neighborhood book group's selection, Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. I really enjoyed this warm, funny novel about a unique little boy and the young woman put in charge of him. It was laugh-out-loud funny but also heartwarming and moving. Most of my book group loved it, and we had some great discussions.
  • Next, I dove into the R.I.P. Challenge for fall (which I still need to officially sign up for) and finally read one of the many suspense novels waiting on my TBR shelves: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. It's a super creepy novel about a murder during a "hen weekend" (it's a British thing - what we in the US would call a bachelorette party, though I'm not sure we do the same sort of thing they do). It was excellent, and I can't wait to read her next novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, which is also waiting on my shelf!
  • Now, I am reading another spooky novel, a YA fantasy thriller, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, the second book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series. I enjoyed the first book, and my son's girlfriend loaned me this one. It's great so far.
  • I finally finished listening to Carve the Mark, the latest YA novel by Veronica Roth, the author of the Divergent series. This one was not my favorite kind of novel - a full-blown fantasy set in a different universe. I prefer fantasy or sci fi set in our real world, with some fantasy or sci fi elements. However, it grew on me, and I enjoyed it overall, though it ran a bit long. Now I need to choose a new audio book to start!
  • My husband, Ken, is going along with the spooky R.I.P. Challenge, too, and reading The Son by Jo Nesbo, a stand-alone thriller not featuring his well-known Harry Hole character. He's enjoying it so far.
  • Jamie, 23, was reading an epic fantasy, Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight, book 1 of The Duelists trilogy, last I heard. Shoot, he just left, and I forgot to ask what he's reading now!
Last week's blog posts - hoping to finish August reviews this week and sign up for the R.I.P. Challenge! -
Movie Monday: Captain Fantastic - unique family drama that is warm & very funny

Teen/YA Review: Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger - exciting YA sci fi thriller

2017 Big Book Summer Wrap-Up - great challenge this year, both for me personally, and for all the other participants

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.


Remember if you are participating in my Big Book Summer Challenge to leave links to your reviews on the challenge page (the second links list is for reviews, updates, and wrap-ups) to share them. I know many of you enjoyed your Big Books this summer! The Challenge finished two weeks ago, though you can continue to link up your reviews and/or wrap-up posts through the end of September.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Big Book Summer Wrap-Up

Since I've been posting about it since May, you probably know that I once again hosted my Big Book Summer Challenge this summer! Basically, it's just about reading some of the bigger books (400+ pages) that may have been on your want-to-read shelf or list forever (or new big books you want to read!). You can read all about the challenge and the simple rules on the challenge page.

It was another wonderful Big Book Summer, with 22 people joining the challenge this year, either linking up on the challenge page or through the Goodreads group for those who don't have blogs. I enjoyed reading all your reviews of Big Books, and we had some great discussions in the Goodreads group! You can check out reviews and wrap-up posts on the challenge page.

For my own Big Book Summer Challenge, I had hoped to read 6 Big Books. I did read 6 in all, though they were not all the ones I planned to read! That's just the way it goes some years. I decided to finish a series, add a classic, and luckily, one of my review books for Shelf Awareness turned out to be a Big Book, too.

Here's what I read for the 2017 Big Book Summer Challenge:

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - YA (409 pages)
  • Shift (Silo Trilogy, Book 2) by Hugh Howey (570 pages)
  • Dust (Silo Trilogy, Book 3) by Hugh Howey (480 pages)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (507 pages)
  • Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger - YA (423 pages)
  • The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David L. Carlson & Landis Blair (graphic novel - 464 pages)
Links are to my reviews here on the blog (Shelf Awareness has not yet published my review of The Hunting Accident, but I will link to it here when it is posted - it was excellent!).

I will announce the winner of the Big Book Summer Giveaway in a separate post - I want to check with the winner first.

Congratulations to everyone who participated! I hope that YOU will join the fun next year!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Teen/YA Review: Overpowered

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For my Big Book Summer Challenge, I went through my overflowing TBR shelves in search of any Big Books (400+ pages). For my last Big Book of the summer, I was also looking for something in the suspenseful/spooky realm because I read my last summer book over Labor Day weekend, in September, and I love participating in the R.I.P. Challenge this time of year, too. I found the perfect seasonal cross-over book with Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger, a sci fi thriller about a small town in Colorado with some very weird things going on (this was published back in 2013, so it has been on my TBR shelves for a while).

Sixteen-year old Nica is used to an exciting, international lifestyle. Her mother is an eco-travel journalist, traveling all over the world, so Nica has lived in such far-flung places as Patagonia, India, Morocco, and Tasmania. She and her mom are currently living in Thailand, but Nica is shocked to find out that she is not going along on her mother’s next assignment, to Antarctica. Instead, her mom wants Nica to go live with her father in Barrington, CO, for the next two years. Barrington is a tiny town, and Nica is not happy with this move from international freedom to a tiny boring town with a nightly curfew.

Boredom is not a problem for long, however, because Nica starts to notice some pretty strange things about Barrington. Besides the curfew, everything else is just as tightly controlled, with extra security detail provided by the local company in town. The people there – kids and parents alike – are so well-behaved that it’s spooky. Nica is normally kind of an outsider, moving from place to place, but here, the most popular girl in school wants her to be a cheerleader and join a bunch of other school activities.

Nica can’t see herself as a cheerleader, but she is intrigued by a handsome, reclusive boy named Jackson Winters. He barely talks to anyone at school, but kids tell her he used to be the most popular boy there. He changed when his girlfriend went missing, though her parents insist she is staying with relatives out of town. Nica is also drawn to an unlikely friend: geeky, wise-cracking Oliver, who seems to share her lack of enthusiasm for all the hoopla in the very peppy high school.

One night, bored, jet-lagged, and stuck in her room, Nica sneaks out after curfew when she sees the mysterious Jackson drive by in a car with the lights off. She follows him and witnesses something amazing while she is out. A sudden pulse of greenish glow lights up the sky. Even stranger, things feel different afterward, and the next day at school, the other kids are acting really weird. As Nica, Jackson, and Oliver begin to talk about what they experienced, they become friends and uncover some very strange things going on in sleepy little Barrington.

Plenty of suspense, action, and sci fi adventure ensues, as the three teens get closer and closer to the town’s well-kept secrets. Along the way, they get to know each other better, as does the reader. There is plenty of depth to the characters and lots of twists and turns in this thriller, to keep you guessing – and glued to the pages well past bedtime! I read this novel very quickly, with its fast pacing and irresistible suspense. I don’t always finish series after reading the first book, but I am very eager now to read book 2, Overtaken (NOTE: don’t read any blurbs describing Overtaken if you haven't yet read Overpowered because they give away lots of spoilers).

423 pages, Simon & Schuster


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.

Overpowered
by Mark H. KrugerTrade Paperback
Powells.com

Or order Overpowered from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:

   


Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Monday: Captain Fantastic

We've seen a bunch of good movies this past month, but my favorite has been Captain Fantastic, the story of a very unusual family facing some difficult challenges. It is both warm and funny.

Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a father who is bringing up his six children in a very unorthodox way in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife, Leslie, decided to bring up their family outside the influence of corporations and government, in their own little quirky homestead out in the woods. The kids know how to hunt, gather, and grow their own food and are in excellent physical shape, but their parents have also paid attention to their intellectual development, creating their own unique academic approach that includes a wide range of books with no conventional age limits on them. In the opening scenes, we see that the children (Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja, and Nai - thank you, IMDB!) seem healthy, well-adjusted, and very happy, despite their strange lifestyle and isolation.

Then tragedy hits, and Ben must take his family out into the wider world for the first time in many years. They pile into their converted bus - just as unique and homemade as everything else they own - and head off on their epic road trip. Besides the expected clashes between their insulated upbringing and the commercial, material world we live in today, they are also encountering their extended family for the first time in years. Their first stop to visit Ben's sister (played by Kathryn Hahn, of Transparent), her husband (played by Steve Zahn of Treme), and their two sons doesn't go well, with Ben's children's swearing and high intellect, paired with Ben's openness with them, going head to head against his sister's traditional parenting approach. The dinner table scene is both hilarious and painful.

Things get worse when they visit Leslie's parents, with Grandpa played by Frank Langella, who is especially unhappy with the children's non-traditional upbringing. Conflict ensues, with it looking for a while like there won't be a happy ending for this wonderful but unusual family.

I absolutely loved this movie, and my husband enjoyed it, too. I expected humor from the fish-out-of-water scenarios, and I wasn't disappointed. But this movie also delivers with plenty of emotional depth, moving from heartwarming to heartbreaking and back again. In addition, Ben and Leslie's unusual approach to parenting and their clashes with the outside world bring up plenty of thought-provoking issues, around education, materialism, and family. Some of the very honest discussions among the characters in the movie further delve into issues like mental health. literature, and politics.

The acting here is superb - Viggo Mortensen was nominated for loads of awards for his role but the kids are the real stars here, and the young actors do a tremendous job playing these warm and quirky kids. This movie will have you laughing one moment and tearing up the next. It was very satisfying and had unusual depth among the typical blockbusters of today. Apparently, I'm not the only one to think so, as it has a long list of award nominations, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Viggo Mortensen, and many film festival wins. I'm ready to watch the whole thing again right now!

Captain Fantastic is out on DVD and is currently streaming free on Amazon Prime (link below).

Warning: the movie trailer below gives away more of the plot than I did in my review (but it is from the films' creators, so it's what they intended). If you prefer to watch movies cold, then you might want to skip it...but I included it because it shows the warmth, humor, and humanity of the film.



    

It's Monday 9/11! What Are You Reading?

It's a tough day here in the U.S. - the 16th anniversary of 9/11 and a devastating hurricane making it's way up Florida and the other southeastern states. I hope that all my reading & blogging friends down there are safe and dry. We have lots of real-life friends and family there, but so far, it sounds as if everyone is OK, either evacuated to safe places or sheltered in place. It's sad to see the destruction in the Keys - we so enjoyed our vacation there last November.

Closer to home, things are good but still super hectic. Our sons are into their 3rd week at college now and settled in (though the younger one comes home to scavenge our cupboards & freezer occasionally!) My time is still far too busy, thanks in part to physical therapy, which is going slow (I tend to take a long time to heal because of my other health problems), so my writing time is still limited...trying to catch up, though!

Hope everyone enjoyed a nice weekend. Here's what we've been reading here:
  • I finished my last Big Book for Summer: Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger, a teen/YA sci fi novel about a little town in Colorado with some very weird stuff going on. It was a very quick and captivating read. I don't always read past book 1 with series, but I definitely want to read the sequel to this one! I'll write my review this week, so I can sum up my Big Book Summer Challenge.
  • After that, I quickly shifted gears into my Sept/Oct spooky, suspenseful, creepy reading! I love participating in the R.I.P. Challenge each fall, and will post my sign-up this week. I needed a short, quick read to fill in a few days while I waited for a library hold to come in, so I read Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott, a middle-grade outdoor adventure with plenty of suspense! It's about a young girl in Alaska left on her own when a major blizzard hits, and how she and some other ragtag loners pull together to try to get one of their group to medical care. It's a bit gruesome (due to the wolves in the title), but it's a tense and well-written adventure story.
  • Now, I am quickly reading my neighborhood book group's selection for this week, Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. I am really enjoying this warm, funny novel about a unique little boy and the young woman put in charge of him.
  • On audio, I am STILL listening to Carve the Mark, the latest YA novel by Veronica Roth. She is the author of the Divergent series, so I am trying to see this one through, though it's not really my cup of tea - a full-blown fantasy set in a different universe. I prefer fantasy or sci fi set in our real world, with some fantasy or sci fi elements. However, it grew on me, and I am enjoying it more now that I've gotten to know the characters, though it is feeling a bit over-long at this point.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading The Magician King by Lev Grossman, book 2 in the Magicians Trilogy. He and our son both like this series, and he enjoyed book 2, though also felt it ran a bit long.
  • Ken is going along with the spooky R.I.P. Challenge and now reading The Son by Jo Nesbo, a stand-alone novel not featuring his well-known Harry Hole character.
  • Jamie, 23, is reading an epic fantasy: Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight, book 1 of The Duelists trilogy. I could tell by the title, this one is right up his alley! He went on a brief sci fi kick this summer, but now he is clearly back to his fantasy roots. I don't know if he's finished yet or not, but he got a $50 Amazon gift card for his birthday that he can't wait to use!
 Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: The Last Tycoon - based on a Gatsby novel set in 1930's Hollywood

Fiction Review: Jane Eyre - I enjoyed re-reading this classic with a favorite literary heroine

Fiction Review: Dust - Book 3 in Hugh Howey's Silo trilogy - fantastic!

Saturday Snapshot: Possum Hill in Delaware - nice hike on a beautiful day

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.


Remember if you are participating in my Big Book Summer Challenge to leave links to your reviews on the challenge page (the second links list is for reviews, updates, and wrap-ups) to share them. I know many of you enjoyed your Big Books this summer! The Challenge finished last Monday, though you can continue to link up your reviews and/or wrap-up posts through the end of September. That reminds me - I need to put my last ones up, too!

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Possum Hill Hike


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

My husband and I set aside all the undone work at home last weekend and got out for a nice hike on Labor Day. We went to a local park that was just refurbished a bit (the Possum Hill area of White Clay Creek State Park in Delaware) to check out the changes and enjoyed our hike through the woods on a gorgeous day!

Jet trails across a wide open field

Tall trees with rough bark

My husband hiking under a canopy of branches

Fallen tree along the trail

Hiking selfie

Bridge over a stream

Reflections on the pond

Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Fiction Review: Dust

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A few weeks ago, I read Dust by Hugh Howey and finally finished his compelling and stunning Silo trilogy that began with Wool and Shift. I just finished book 2, Shift, in June and hadn’t planned on reading book 3 this summer, but it is such a captivating story that I couldn’t wait. Besides, Dust is another 400+ page book, so I just subbed it into my Big Book Summer Challenge. The finale of the series was just as riveting as the first two books, with a satisfying ending.

This is going to be a very short review because I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who have not yet read Wool…because you MUST read this incredible trilogy! That’s what friends kept telling me about Wool, and they were absolutely right. Both my husband and I devoured that first book and the subsequent ones. We both finished the series this summer.

Odd as it sounds, book 1 and book 2 both ended at the same point in time (book 2 was a prequel of sorts to book 1), so book 3 picks up there. The entire series is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian story focused on a silo buried deep in the ground, going down over 200 stories. Readers find out in book 2 why humans are now living underground, why the outdoor world is no longer safe, and how the world of the silo came to be. The series combines elements of romance, thriller, suspense, and science fiction with in-depth characters whom you come to care about (or loathe, depending).

As the story picks up again in Dust, the focus is mainly on Juliette, who is now the mayor of her silo, and Donald, a character that was introduced in book 2. Revolts are still a big problem in the silo, and Juliette herself is leading a secret effort to dig out a tunnel horizontally from the bottom of the silo to find out what else is out there. Donald is continuing his efforts to save what remains of humanity from the evil forces he discovered in the previous book.

That’s about all I can say plot-wise, without giving away spoilers, but the book – and the series – culminate in a very satisfying and hopeful ending. Along the way, there are lots of unexpected twists and turns, as in the first two books, and plenty of suspense to keep you turning the pages long after you should have gone to bed! Howey further develops the engaging and real-feeling characters he introduced earlier, as well as a few new ones. The premise continues to be absolutely mind-blowing as the secrets revealed in book 2 are discovered by more characters, with plenty of intriguing science to back them up (the science fiction here is based in real-world science, as I explained in my review of Shift). Overall, I stand by what all my friends told me after reading Wool: you must read this series!

468 pages, John Joseph Adams, Mariner Books (imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

NOTE: On October 3, Hugh’s Howey’s latest book, a collection of short stories called Machine Learning, will be released. It showcases the creativity and thoughtfulness evident in the Silo series and even includes a few additional Silo stories (best saved until after you’ve read the series). I absolutely loved the short stories in this collection. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness and will link to my review when it is published.


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Dust
by Elizabeth BearTrade Paperback
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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Fiction Review: Jane Eyre

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Way back in my early 20’s, just after college, I bought a copy of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and loved it. We’d read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë in high school (which I also liked), and friends had recommended Jane Eyre to me. Fast-forward more than 30 years. Last summer, I re-read Wuthering Heights, which was very good but a bit dark for my taste. This summer, I re-read Jane Eyre and remembered why I loved it so much the first time! It also counted for both my 2017 Classics Challenge (which I am doing rather poorly on!) and my own Big Book Summer Challenge.

Ten-year old Jane was orphaned as a baby and lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her three cousins. Mrs. Reed treats Jane like an outcast, constantly berating her for imagined slights while coddling her three own children. Out of her sight, though, Jane’s cousins are far worse than she imagines Jane to be, lying, fighting, and treating Jane poorly. After once again wrongly accusing Jane, Mrs. Reed punishes her even more severely than usual. When she decides to send Jane away to a boarding school, Jane is relieved. Though the school is a strict and spartan one, run by a religious fanatic, Jane enjoys living there and has far more freedom there to be herself, in spite of its rigorous environment.

As an adult, after teaching in the school for two years, Jane finds employment outside of the school that has sheltered her for almost a decade. Her new job is a governess to a young girl at the luxurious home of Mr. Rochester. The master of the house is sometimes gruff and brooding, but Jane gets along well with him and enjoys her new home. The house and its owner hold many secrets, though, and Jane only gradually grows to understand Mr. Rochester and his household. Jane even begins to fall in love with Mr. Rochester, though she has no experience of love, and his secrets may be an obstacle.

I loved this novel just as much 30 years later as I did the first time I read it, as a young woman myself. The mystery at the heart of the novel, plus plenty of other suspense, makes it a riveting read (even though I remembered part of the story). There are lots of plot twists and surprises along the way to keep the story moving along. Jane herself is the perfect heroine, having overcome such horrible beginnings to make a life for herself and seek her own happiness. Even Mr. Rochester, despite his flaws, is an interesting character. His tormented soul only makes him more earnest and real.

I enjoyed Charlotte Brontë’s writing, telling the story in Jane’s voice, and I tabbed many pages with insights from Jane that I want to remember and return to, like this one describing the root of her own restlessness:
“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must take action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”

I remember now why I liked Jane Eyre better than Wuthering Heights. Though Wuthering Heights is a captivating story with interesting characters and many plot twists, I didn’t find any of the characters (except the narrator) likeable or relatable. Cathy and Heathcliff were both tormented souls also but wholly miserable and wanting those around them to be miserable as well. Jane is a heroine to love; she overcomes great challenges, keeps moving forward no matter what obstacles she encounters, and believes in love. Even the anguished Mr. Rochester is understandable (once you discover his secrets) and likeable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this re-read of a favorite classic. Originally published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, Jane Eyre is Charlotte Brontë’s most famous and best-loved work, with good reason. In it, she created a rather modern heroine for 1847 who lives her own life and follows her dreams, all within a poignant love story. Brontë combined romance, mystery, suspense, and drama into a compelling novel that has more than earned its accolades over the years. I am glad to have been re-introduced to Jane.

433 pages, Bantam Books (my original paperback, purchased in 1987!)


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Jane Eyre
by Charlotte BronteMass Market

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