Thursday, May 31, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: Deadzone

I just finished listening to Book 2 of the Horizon series, Deadzone by Jennifer Nielsen. This is one of those kids' series (7 books planned, in this case) in which each novel is written by a different top-notch author. I previously read and reviewed Book 1, Horizon by Scott Westerfeld. Book 2 continues the suspenseful and action-packed story that combines survival and sci fi.

In the first book (you can read my review here - no spoilers), eight kids survived a plane crash in the Arctic and found themselves in a strange, jungle-like environment, filled with alien-looking flora and fauna they'd never seen before. Now, in the second book, the survivors have managed to escape the dangerous jungle, only to find themselves in an even scarier desert-like environment filled with even stranger phenomenon. Four of the kids were traveling as a team to an international robotics competition, so their scientific expertise comes in handy, as they face one challenge after another, in an effort to survive...and hopefully to escape this strange landscape and eventually get back home.

There are plenty of puzzling mysteries here - how did this plane fall out of the Arctic sky and end up in this strange place? As the kids discover stranger and stranger technology behind some of the bizarre things they encounter, they also wonder where it came from and who is behind it? In this second book, the kids' individual personalities are further fleshed out, as they learn to work together as a new team and one of their own is in imminent danger. Nielsen does a good job of moving the story along - always to unexpected places - and editing ensures a smooth story from one book/author to the next. The fast pace continues in this book, with plenty of suspense and intrigue to keep the reader interested. As with this first book, this one ends with a cliff-hanger, so I'm looking forward to listening to book 3!

208 pages, Scholastic
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 a sample of the audio book here.

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

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Did Not Finish: Fates & Furies

It is very rare for me to give up on a book, but I was more than halfway through Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff when I threw in the towel. I had been struggling through the novel for over a week, and when I decided I couldn't make the book group meeting and needed to start a review book in order to finish my review in time, I felt nothing but relief! This novel garnered plenty of critical acclaim when it first came out in 2015, though I remembered hearing a lot of mixed reviews from readers, as well.

The basic set-up of the novel is intriguing: the story of a marriage, told in two parts, first from the husband's point of view and then from the wife's, and showing two very different perspectives on the same relationship. The reader gets Lotto's story (short for Lancelot) in the first half of the novel. He grew up in Florida, on the beach, with his mother, father, and aunt. His father died young, and when Lotto gets into trouble, his mother abruptly sends him to boarding school in New England, where she grew up. When he graduates from college, he meets Mathilde, a beautiful woman with her own painful childhood in her past. They are seemingly in love and the novel covers their lives together, first his story and then hers, as he becomes a famous playwright, and she supports his career.

So far, so good, right? From the first pages, though, I found the narrative style unusual and jarring, filled with staccato sentences (some of them just sentence fragments) that jump from one moment in time to another, rather than providing a smooth chronology. I said to my husband early on while I was reading, "It feels like the beginning of this book is just a summary or prologue, and I keep expecting the real story to start soon." It had me feeling off-balance and unable to get into the uneven rhythm of the story. Here's an example of a few sentences from the beginning of Chapter 2:
"A unity, marriage, made of discrete parts. Lotto was loud and full of light; Mathilde, quiet, watchful. Easy to believe his was the better half, the one that set the tone. It's true that everything he'd lived so far had steadily built toward Mathilde."
Additionally, I just never warmed to either of the main characters (or any secondary ones, either). They felt like stiff caricatures to me, and I couldn't relate to them. They never felt real or three-dimensional. I think part of that was due to the language and narrative style.

Finally, it's obvious from the title that mythology plays a large role in this novel. I know next to nothing about mythology. So, I suspect there was a whole layer of secondary meaning here that I completely missed, both in the main story and in the many plays that Lotto writes (some of which are excerpted in the text). Perhaps if I knew more about mythology, I would have discovered the cleverness inherent in the story...and maybe the narrative style would have made more sense, too.

If you look at the reviews on Amazon for Fates & Furies, you see there is almost an equal number of ratings in each category, 1 through 5, which is pretty unusual for a book. Some people loved it, some hated it, and some, like me, felt ambivalent. You'll also see an almost endless list of glowing blurbs from highly acclaimed authors and publications. So, maybe I just didn't "get it." I did enjoy Groff's earlier novel, Arcadia. My book group ended up just cancelling the meeting when it got down to only three people left who were planning to go. From the e-mails that passed afterward and discussions with my friends, it seemed like most people in my group either felt the way I did and struggled with it or downright hated it. But, clearly, there are plenty of people who loved it. For a counterpoint, here is one of its many positive reviews, from Electric Lit, that highlights the links to mythology. And, hey, it was a finalist for the National Book Award, plus nominated for a host of other awards, so that has to count for something, right?

Did you read Fates and Furies? What did you think? I'd love to hear your views in the Comments.

390 pages, Riverhead Books

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

TV Tuesday: The Crossing

Way back in September, in my Fall TV Preview post, I mentioned that The Crossing was one of the new shows I was most excited to see. It was supposed to start in October, and I kept checking, but its start date kept getting pushed back. It finally started in March 2018, and my husband and I have been enjoying this intriguing sci fi thriller ever since!

Steve Zahn (one of our favorites from Treme) stars as Jude Ellis, the sheriff of a small seaside Oregon town, who moved to the area to escape his past and live a quiet life. That life is shattered one night when dozens of people wash ashore in his town, many of them dead but some still alive. There was no record of a shipwreck, and these unusual refugees claim to have come from 180 years in the future, where the world is war-torn and violent. Jude is intrigued, especially by a little girl named Leah, played by Bailey Skodje, who washed ashore without her mother, who is not among the dead, either. The refugees are cared for, while the dead bodies are catalogued, until Homeland Security suddenly arrives on the scene and takes over, shrouded in secrecy, and ferries the refugees off to a hidden spot. But Jude can't forget them - especially Leah - and can't shake the feeling that something is off in Homeland's response.

That's pretty much just a vague sketch of the plot of the first episode - to tell you any more would be giving away some of this show's many, layered secrets. It's a twisty, action-packed show with lots of suspense, but it has plenty of heart, too. Jude is estranged from his wife and eager to welcome his beloved son to his new home in Oregon, but it's a difficult time for some quiet father-son time with all that's going on. Jude is not the kind of guy to just forget about a group of people who seem to need his help. My husband and I are both loving this thriller with a time travel/sci fi twist and can't wait to see what happens next.

The Crossing airs on Mondays on ABC. Eight episodes have aired so far in the 11-episode first season. You can catch up On Demand or on the ABC website (where episodes 4 through 8 are currently available for free and you can unlock the first 3 episodes by logging in with your cable password). It is also available on Amazon with the TV Season Pass or for $1.99 an episode (or $19.99 for the entire season). So, you could buy the first 3 episodes on Amazon and then watch the rest for free at the ABC website.



Friday, May 25, 2018

My 2018 Big Book Summer

I have just announced the 7th year of my annual reading challenge, Big Book Summer Challenge, so I guess I should be the first to sign up!

I always enjoy tackling some big books in the summer, and I'm looking forward to doing it again and finally reading some of these bricks that have been collecting dust on my shelf (NOTE: for this challenge, a Big Book is defined as a book with 400 pages or more).

I don't know if I will get to all of these, but I like to have some options to choose from. These are all currently on my shelves, waiting patiently to be read (along with many others!):
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (599 pages)  
  • The City of Mirrors (#3 in The Passage trilogy) by Justin Cronin (602 pages)
  • Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (740 pages)
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (457 pages)
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (405 pages)
  • City of Savages by Lee Kelly (406 pages)
I like to alternate between grown-up books and kids/teen/YA books, so I have three of each on this list. All of these also qualify for my Mount TBR reading Challenge 2018 (which is good because I'm not doing very well on it so far this year). I doubt I will get through all of these (and one of my book groups is choosing a hefty one for July, too), but I will try! Oddly, all of these could be classified as sci fi, though they are all quite different.

I've just started The 5th Wave, so my Big Book Summer is officially kicked off!

How about you? Are you up for tackling a Big Book (or two or three) this summer?  Join me and sign up for the 2018 Big Book Summer Challenge! The rules, details, and link-ups are on that page.

(Note: You don't need a blog to participate - you can either leave a comment on the Challenge page or sign up in the 2018 Big Book Summer Goodreads group.

2018 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

About 7 years ago, I came up with the idea to use the relaxed freedom of summer to tackle some of the biggest books on my TBR shelf that I'd been wanting to read but never seemed to have the time for.  One of my book groups takes time off during the summer, so with fewer interfering commitments, I declared it The Summer of the Big Book and really enjoyed delving into some hefty tomes, like The Passage and Pillars of the Earth.

It was so much fun that six years ago, I created this challenge so that YOU can join me! And here it is Memorial Day weekend again and the unofficial start of summer 2018. So join in the fun!

The Details:
Hey, it's summer, so we'll keep this low-key and easy!

  • Anything over 400 pages qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 25 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 3 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal. Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with over 400 pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Sign up on the first links list below (or on Goodreads if you don't have a blog).
  • Write a post to kick things off - you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to this blog (no blog? No problem - see below).
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you've read...but you don't have to! There is a separate links list below for big book reviews or progress update posts.
That's it!  Go check out your shelves and your TBR list and sign up below!

(Don't have a blog? No problem! You can still participate in the challenge - just leave a comment in the Comment section below, stating your goals for the Big Book Summer Challenge or sign up in the Goodreads group.)

Check out my own list of books to read for the challenge this summer.

There is a group on Goodreads for the 2018 Big Book Summer Challenge, where we can talk about Big Books and our progress on the challenge. If you don't have a blog, you can also use the Goodreads group to sign up for the challenge, post updates, and show which Big Books you are reading.

At the end of the summer, there will be a Big Book Giveaway! After Labor Day, I'll select one name from among the participants (bloggers who leave a link below as well as those without a blog who leave a comment to announce their participation or participate through the Goodreads group) and will offer the winner a choice from a selection of Big Books from my own shelves - probably most of the titles I read this summer and perhaps a few others to choose from.

And help spread the word on Twitter with #BigBookSummer (you can follow me at @suebookbybook).

Be sure to include a link to your kick off blog post (not your homepage): 


   
   


Come back to this page during the summer to add a link whenever you review a Big Book or post a progress report:


   
   

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: Posted

I thought that the middle-grade novel Posted by John David Anderson sounded fun and humorous, and it was. But having never read any of Anderson's earlier novels, I was surprised by the emotional depth and warmth of this middle-school story and thoroughly enjoyed listening to it on audio.

Frost got his nickname years earlier when he won a 5th grade poetry contest. When he first started middle-school, his mother advised him to "find his tribe," but at first that seemed impossible. Then, he bonded with Bench during a field trip, and the two of them got to know Deedee and Wolf, and his tribe was formed. The four of them were each misfits on their own, but together - with their nicknames and inside jokes - they became an inseparable team. Then, one day, the unthinkable happened: a new girl named Rose started at their school, a misfit herself because of her large stature, and sat down at their lunch table, causing friction among the four of them for the first time.

At the same time, something revolutionary was happening at Branton Middle School. After a particularly inflammatory text message quickly spread throughout the school, their principal banned cell phones. The entire social structure of the middle-schoolers was threatened by this sudden absence of instant communication. Deedee started leaving Post-it notes on his friend's lockers, which started a trend that soon grew out of control itself. It might have been low-tech, but students were soon using the ubiquitous sticky notes for both good and evil, including some serious bullying.

I was quickly pulled into this engrossing story of Frost and his best friends, with its multiple, intertwined story lines. Will their tribe survive a new member? And how will the sticky note war finally end? Along the way, there is loyalty, bullying, parents' marital problems, and so much more. Anderson has captured the complexity of middle-school social structures, with their quickly changing connections, through the eyes of four outsider geeks and a new girl determined to have a better experience at her new school. Along the way, friendships are made and lost and made again, as each of the kids tries to figure out how to survive and thrive. I enjoyed this warm, poignant, and often very funny story of middle-school friendships.

384 pages, Walden Pond Press


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 Posted audio book to get a feel for Anderson's warmth and sense of humor.

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

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Memoir Review: My Life with Bob

The last book I read for Booktopia 2018 was one I was very much looking forward to: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul. This memoir about a life of reading was written by the editor of the New York Times Book Review and the host of its books podcast, which I listen to every week.

This memoir is truly a life story told through books, based on a book journal the author has kept since she was a young teen. Each chapter is headed with a book title and sub-headed with a theme, like the first chapter: Brave New World: You Shouldn't Be Reading That. The chapters, though, do progress in chronological order, starting with Paul's childhood and her earliest reading adventures and moving forward from there through high school, college, and adult life. She writes about a lot of different books that have been a part of her life or affected her in some way, but it's also the story of her life and her progress from naive child reader to editor of the NYT Book review.

I enjoyed this memoir and found I could often relate to what Paul was writing about, like when she explains how, as an avid young reader, she often mispronounced words that she had only seen in print (I still do this!). She has a self-deprecating style that put me at ease. Her story of mis-translating the title The Grapes of Wrath during a discussion in France had me laughing out loud and repeating it to anyone who would listen. On the other hand, some of her book choices were way, way beyond my realm of experience, and there is sometimes a trace of book snobbery and some name-dropping,  especially in her later accounts. But, just like when I am listening to her podcast, I could kind of ignore those bits and focus on the story and the mostly warm, friendly tone. Last year, for Booktopia 2017, I read another memoir in books, Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, which I absolutely loved. I also loved meeting Schwalbe in person, as he was just as warm and compassionate as his memoir. My copy of his book is filled with dog-eared pages and Post-it notes of books I want to read or quotes I want to remember. My Life with Bob was a different kind of reading memoir for me, but one that I also enjoyed.

242 pages, Henry Holt & Company

In addition to the New York Times Book Review podcast, I also enjoy listening to Will Schwalbe's new podcast But That's Another Story, where he interviews other writers about books that influenced them. I binge-listened to all of the episodes this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Order My Life with Bob from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order My Life with Bob from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, May 21, 2018

It's Monday 5/21! What Are You Reading?

After a very busy, hectic week that left me wiped out, we got some news that sent us into a family crisis. There was nothing to do over the weekend but wait in limbo until that the powers that be can decide our fate this week. So, that all led to a very stressful, exhausting weekend with a lot of disrupted sleep (but still a lot to get done at home). Fingers crossed it will all work out this week, but we just don't know yet.

In this state, our books become even more important in our lives, providing comfort and escape. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I did something I almost never do - set a book aside without finishing it. I read a little past halfway of Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff for one of my book groups and threw in the towel when I realized I wouldn't be able to make it to the meeting (which ended up getting cancelled). I was just not enjoying this novel. The concept is intriguing - the story of a marriage told first from the husband's perspective and then from the wife's - but the characters were unlikable, the narrative style was really strange, filled with lots of sentence fragments and a distanced feel that made it hard to feel anything for the story or characters. Turns out most of the group didn't like it, so I was in good company!
  • I picked up my next review book, The Possible World by Liesl O'Halloran Schwarz, which I am totally immersed in and loving - what a relief after forcing myself to slog through Fates & Furies! This is the intertwined stories of three people: a six-year old boy named Ben who witnesses a horrific mass murder at his friend's birthday party and loses his memory, an ER doctor named Lucy who takes care of Ben when he is first brought in and wants to help him, and across town, Clare, who will be turning 100 soon and finally decides to share her life story - including long-held secrets - with a new friend. It's just what I needed - hard to put down and engrossing.
  • On audio, I finished The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, and it was excellent and compelling. It starts in 1974, with a 13-year old girl as the main character, about a family that moves to Alaska. The husband/father was a POW in Vietnam and is clearly suffering from PTSD (though that diagnosis didn't exist back then) and moves the family to a remote cabin in Alaska impulsively. Things go well at first (it was summer!), but once winter begins, his mental condition deteriorates rapidly. Since he is at times abusive, parts of the book are difficult to listen to, but it's a moving, immersive, and powerful story.
  • For a complete switch to a lighter story, I am now listening to Deadzone, book 2 in the Horizons middle-grade series. This is one of those series with a different renowned author for each book, and this second book was written by Jennifer Nielsen. It's good so far, action-packed, suspenseful, and twisty, like its predecessor. It's about a group of kids who are the sole survivors of a plane crash that went down in the Arctic, but they find themselves in a strange alien-like landscape filled with unique (and dangerous) flora and fauna.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Troop by Nick Cutter, a thriller I gave to my dad as a gift that was among the many books we inherited from him when he died three years ago. Ken and I both love reading his old books because he shared our love of reading, and it makes him feel close. I have heard this one is a bit gruesome, but my dad loved it. Ken confirmed that last night when he said, "This is good, but I don't think you'll want to read it!"
  • I'm guessing that our son, Jamie, 23, is still reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is on book 7, A Crown of Swords, but without much reading time. Graduation is this week, and things have been difficult for him recently.
Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: Splitting Up Together - a light, fun sitcom with star power

Fiction Review: She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper - an Edgar Award-winning debut novel that I loved

Middle-Grade Review: Refugee by Alan Gratz - a moving, powerful story of 3 refugee children in 3 different time periods - a must-read

Summary of Books Read in April - it was a late spring but a great reading month for me!

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, May 18, 2018

Books Read in April

April was a busy reading month, mostly focused on preparation for Booktopia (summary coming soon!). In April, I finished:



Wow, what an excellent reading month! I loved every one of these, and the audio books were especially good. I finished 7 books, all fiction, in April.  Six books were adult fiction and just one was middle-grade/teen. I listened to three of them on audio. They were all very good, but She Rides Shotgun was my favorite for the month - and it just won an Edgar Award for Best New Novel! Give it a try.

Progress in 2018 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges, though I didn't make much progress this month. With all those Booktopia and review books, I read only 1 book from my own shelves (again) for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, bringing my total-to-date to only 9. Since my annual goal this year is 36, I have a long way to go! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, April was Read Locally. Since books set in my current state of Delaware are rare, I counted the two books I read set in my home state of New York. Nothing new for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I added She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper as "an award-winning book" for the 2018 Badass Books ChallengeI added Cuba and Syria (both in Refugee) for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2018 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added two new states - SC and ME (so many NY and CA's!).
 
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 17 squares in April: 



Spaces filled in:
The Immortalists - siblings, bright colors on cover, shelf love
She Rides Shotgun - girl power, road trip
Before We Were Yours - read a physical book, lawyer
Refugee - current events, one-word title
Anatomy of a Miracle - library book
The Woman in the Window - birthday, audio book
Beautiful Lies - cold case mystery
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in April?    

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: Refugee

Over the past few years, I have come to learn that I can always rely on Alan Gratz for a powerful and compelling middle-grade/teen novel. I loved both Code of Honor and Projekt 1065 on audio and was moved by both stories of boys in unusual circumstances finding uncommon strength to do the right thing. Gratz has done it again with Refugee, with a slightly different twist: this novel features stories of three different children, all refugees, holding up under horrible circumstances during three different periods in history.

Josef is a twelve-year old Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in 1938 when a group of Hitler's stormtroopers burst into their small apartment one night and drag his father off to a concentration camp. The family has already endured being moved out of their home, and his father lost his law practice. When his father is released from Dachau six months later, it is with the condition that the family must leave Germany within two weeks. They set off with a few belongings in suitcases and board a ship set for Cuba, which is said to be accepting Jewish refugees.

In 1994, a young Cuban girl named Isabel is already starving from food shortages when she is caught in a riot in town one day. Alarmed, her parents want to take steps to keep the family - including the unborn baby in her mother's belly - safe. When Castro announces a brief period where Cuban citizens may flee without repercussions, they set off in a tiny boat packed full with their family and their next-door neighbors, hoping to reach Florida and new, free lives.

And closer to the present, in 2015, Mahmoud is a young boy living in Syria. His city is already torn apart by civil war, but when a bomb actually hits their apartment building, leaving it open like a dollhouse, Mahmoud's family must flee. Hearing that Germany is accepting Syrian refugees, they set off toward Europe on foot, planning to cross multiple countries by multiple means to reach their destination.

The novel alternates between these three engrossing stories, as each family encounters massive challenges - bombings, storms at sea, drownings, thievery, and more - just to try to find safety. This  clever interweaving of three stories set in three different time periods brings the current refugee crises into perspective: these are not new problems. Each story is suspenseful, action-packed, and poignant on its own, but taken together, they are even more powerful. As you can see from the brief descriptions, the locations of each refugee crisis are linked cleverly - the place that is the problem in one time period becomes the refuge in another, which makes these stories even more thought-provoking. Be forewarned that, as you might expect, the children in all of these stories are in serious peril, and there are not happy endings for every single character, so this might be best for older middle-grade readers and teens. The author pulls everything together at the end with some historical notes about the parts of the stories that were based on fact (most of it, even some characters). This brilliant novel combines engaging and effective stories that shine a much-needed light on a significant issue in our world today; this novel should be required reading for everyone - young people and adults alike.

352 pages, Scholastic
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 here. The three different narrators really bring these moving stories to life.

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

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fiction Review: She Rides Shotgun

While listening to the Book Cougars podcast (a good one - check it out!) yesterday, the hosts were discussing the 2018 Edgar Awards, annual literary awards given to mystery, suspense, crime, and thriller books. I was excited to hear that She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper won the award for Best New Novel. I recently listened to this original and suspenseful book on audio, and I absolutely loved it.

Eleven-year old Polly hasn't seen her father in more than five years, but she recognizes him instantly when he shows up at her school at the end of the day; he has the same eyes as Polly, a faded blue color her mother calls gunfighter eyes. Nate has been in prison for years, but now - without warning - he's here to pick Polly up. It soon becomes clear that they are both in danger. Nate made some powerful enemies in prison, and now there are hits out on him, his ex-wife, and his daughter. Nate already found his ex-wife and her new husband dead in their home, so he grabs Polly and goes on the run to keep her safe. Gradually, father and daughter get to know each other, as Nate trains Polly so she can defend herself and teaches her how to rob so they can support themselves. The bond between them grows as those looking for them - both the criminals and the police - close in.

I loved every minute of this audio book and raced through it in record time. It's a fast-paced thriller, with plenty of action and suspense, but it's also a moving portrayal of the relationship between Polly and her dad. While I adored Polly and learned to like Nate from the way he cared about her, my favorite character was Polly's teddy bear, simply known as the bear. Painfully shy, Polly knows she is too old for teddy bears, but he is a friend to her. Through years of practice, she has learned to move the bear almost like a puppeteer so that he truly seems like a third person in the car and cheap motels with Polly and her dad. And the bear has a great sense of humor! This engrossing novel has it all, combining suspense, family drama, a coming-of-age story, and wit. I was sorry to say good-bye to Polly, Nate, and the bear. This is a book that truly deserved its award (and I see it also won an Alex Award - for adult novels that will appeal to teens - from the American Library Association).

272 pages, Ecco
HarperAudio

The audio version of this book was especially good - listen to this sample, and you will be hooked!

Order She Rides Shotgun from your favorite Indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order She Rides Shotgun from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

TV Tuesday: Splitting Up Together

My husband is not a huge fan of sitcoms, but there are a few that I enjoy watching on my own at lunchtime. One new one I am enjoying is Splitting Up Together, starring two favorite actors.

Jenna Fischer, who played the beloved role of Pam in The Office, stars as Lena, and Oliver Hudson, who played Adam on Rules of Engagement (a hilarious show), plays her husband, Martin. Well, technically he's her ex-husband because they split up in the very first episode. They tell their family and friends that they have the perfect solution to make sure their break-up doesn't affect their three kids. They remodel their garage into an apartment and trade off weeks - one lives in the house and handles all responsibilities while the other lives a single life in the garage, and then they swap. Sounds simple, right? Of course, it's not, and all sorts of problems crop up from Lena's inability to give up control to Martin's jealousy when Lena begins dating.

This is a typical family sitcom - light and funny - with an original concept. I adore both Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson, so I enjoy watching them both on-screen, and their three children are also played by able young actors. Diane Farr, another favorite of mine from Numb3rs, also co-stars as Lena's sister. There are plenty of unique twists in this strange situation to provide sitcom laughs, and even some warmth and heart as Martin realizes what he lost and Lena rediscovers herself as more than wife and mother. There are the usual stereotypes in the characters - the controlling mom and the hapless dad - but it's a fun show and a nice escape when I need a few laughs. Ellen Degeneres is an executive producer on the show. Check out the trailer below to sample the show's sense of humor.

Splitting Up Together airs on ABC Tuesdays at 9:30 pm Eastern time. I watch it On Demand, where most episodes are still available, and all of the episodes are available at the ABC website for free. Episode 7 airs tonight, with 8 episodes planned for season 1, and there is a season 2 planned.


Monday, May 14, 2018

It's Monday 5/14! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another exhausting weekend! We drove to Connecticut Friday evening to spend the weekend with my family for my mom's birthday and Mother's Day (fun but tiring) then rushed home Sunday in time for our son to get to work and to celebrate my father-in-law's 93rd birthday! Lots of celebrations (and cake) this weekend. It was good to see everyone and spend time together. Now we have less than two weeks until my oldest son's college graduation! Yikes - I need to plan the party, order announcements, etc.

Even in the midst of noise and chaos, we still enjoy our books. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished another Booktopia book, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review and host of its weekly book podcast. I enjoyed this memoir told through books and could relate to some of her experiences.
  • Now, I am reading Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff for one of my book groups this week. I'm not sure what to think of this one so far - it's a little weird. It's the story of a marriage, told first from the husband's perspective and then from the wife's. The narrative style is strange, though - third-person (an odd choice, I think, given the concept behind the novel) and a bit distanced. Also, I suspect that I am missing a bunch of mythological and literary references! We'll see how it goes - I'm not even halfway yet.
  • I am still listening to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah on audio, a novel I had heard rave reviews of. It's been excellent (I am nearing the end) and compelling. It starts in 1974, with a 13-year old girl as the main character, about a family that moves to Alaska. The husband/father was a POW in Vietnam and is clearly suffering from PTSD (though that diagnosis didn't exist back then) and moves the family to a remote cabin in Alaska impulsively. Things go well at first (it was summer!), but once winter begins, his mental condition deteriorates rapidly. Since he is at times abusive, parts of the book are difficult to listen to, but it's a moving, immersive, and powerful story.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Troop by Nick Cutter, a thriller I gave to my dad as a gift that was among the many books we inherited from him when he died three years ago. Ken and I both love reading his old books because he shared our love of reading, and it makes him feel close. I have heard this one is a bit gruesome, but my dad loved it!
  • I'm guessing that our son, Jamie, 23, is still reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is on book 7, A Crown of Swords, but without much reading time. Graduation is just two weeks away, so he is super busy with both school and job hunting.
Blog posts from last week:
TV Tuesday: Instinct - a funny detective show starring Alan Cumming

Author Interview & Fiction Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley - insightful & funny

Fiction Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin - 4 siblings learn the dates of their deaths

Fiction Review: All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson - a twisty & suspenseful mystery set in Maine

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.  
3 generations: Grandad, Dad, and son!
 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fiction Review: All the Beautiful Lies

I discovered yet another new-to-me author among the Booktopia line-up this year, Peter Swanson, and thoroughly enjoyed his latest fast-paced psychological thriller, All the Beautiful Lies.

Harry has been called home to Maine just days before his college graduation. His beloved father has died unexpectedly, and the police think it was suicide. Stunned and reeling, Harry returns to the small town in Maine where they moved shortly before he left for college, along with Harry's new wife, Alice. Although he's always felt an uncomfortable attraction to young, sexy Alice, Harry tries his best to ignore it...until Alice begins to come on to him, getting closer in their shared grief. Meanwhile, Harry spots a mysterious young woman named Grace at his father's funeral. When he talks to her later, Grace claims to be new to the area and looking for work at Harry's father's bookstore, but Harry suspects that's not the whole truth. As Harry digs deeper to find out how his father died, secrets and lies seem to pile up around him.

I read this novel in record time, staying up way too late each night, flipping virtual pages on my Kindle, promising myself just one more chapter. The narrative moves back and forth in time between "then," delving into Alice's history and background, and "now," as Harry tries to find the truth behind his father's death, until the two timelines converge. Suspense builds along with secrets in this little seaside town, with plenty of surprises along the way, prompting me at one point to yell out loud, "What?!" If you like psychological thrillers, you will enjoy this rollercoaster ride of suspense, murder, and strange domestic situations. I'm passing it on to my husband next!

304 page, William Morrow

P.S. The author, Peter Swanson, was very entertaining at Booktopia, sharing with us some of his many scribbled down ideas that didn't make it into his novels!


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

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

Listen to a sample of the audio book here - I bet this one is great on audio! I enjoyed the sample.

You can order All the Beautiful Lies from the wonderful Northshire Bookstore, which hosted Booktiopia.
   

Or order All the Beautiful Lies from your own favorite or local indie bookseller:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Fiction Review: The Immortalists

One of the books on the list for Booktopia this year was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. I was excited when I saw that, since this novel has been getting so much press since its release in January, was on the best-seller list for months, and I had heard it discussed on several of my favorite book podcasts. Unfortunately, the author got sick and couldn't attend Booktopia, but I enjoyed reading the novel. It's a unique premise with a dark underbelly.

The story begins in New York City in the summer of 1969. Four Jewish siblings, living in a crowded apartment with their parents, hear about a fortune teller and sneak out to visit her. The psychic tells each of them - individually - the date that he or she will die, which is very disturbing information for a child, especially if that date predicts an early death. The novel then focuses one at a time on each of the kids, following his or her life until death. Youngest child Simon escapes to San Francisco while still in his teens, to seek a life of freedom and vibrancy. His next older sister, Klara, accompanies him to the West Coast, following her lifelong dream to become a professional magician. Oldest brother Daniel does his best to keep the world safe, as a doctor working for the Army, and Varya, who has always loved books, becomes a scientist, obsessed with the study of longevity.

It's an intriguing concept for a novel: following four characters who have been told when they will die. There is suspense as to whether the death prophecies will come true or not, as well as the fascinating question of how they live their lives with this knowledge. Obviously, this is not going to be a light, fun book, since you know from the start that each of the four sections ends with a main character dying. But I felt - as did other readers at Booktopia - that the author took a particularly dark approach with this story. It is a tragedy and also a family drama, highlighting the bonds of the siblings (even when they are far from each other). Although I would have preferred a slightly more positive, uplifting outlook, I liked the thought-provoking question at the heart of the novel: does knowing when you will die affect how you live?

343 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons

P.S. Since I didn't get a chance to hear from the author or discuss the book much, I would love to hear what other readers thought of it! Let me know in the comments.


Disclosure: I purchased this book myself. 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.

You can order The Immortalists from Northshire Books (which hosted Booktopia):

   

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

Author Interview and Fiction Review: My Ex-Life

I couldn't wait to tell you about my latest author interview and book review for Shelf Awareness: I interviewed Stephen McCauley, author of the newly released novel, My Ex-Life, which is warm, insightful, and funny.

Although this is Stephen's 7th novel (and three of them were made into movies), it was the first of his that I have read. I absolutely loved My Ex-Life from start to finish. It's the story of David, a gay man, and Julie, his ex-wife, who reunite 30 years after their marriage ended, at a time when they could both use the comfort of an old friend. Stephen has a real talent for insightful writing that also makes you laugh. You can read my full review of his wonderful novel at this link.

After reading My Ex-Life, I was looking forward to interviewing Stephen and then meeting him in person last weekend at Booktopia, and I was not disappointed. He is just as warm and funny in person, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. You can read more about what went into writing this novel and Stephen's writing process in general in my interview with him.

My mother also loved his novel and developed quite an author crush on him this weekend! We are both looking forward to reading some of his previous novels (I came home with one from Booktopia). I'm so glad to have discovered this talented writer!

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

TV Tuesday: Instinct

My husband and I have been eagerly awaiting Instinct, a new TV show starring Alan Cumming (who we loved as Eli Gold on The Good Wife). We are now six episodes into this crime show with a sense of humor and are enjoying it immensely.

Cumming plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a seemingly mild-mannered college professor who teaches abnormal behavior, though it is revealed in the first episode that he used to be in the CIA. The show begins when Dr. Lizzie Needham, played by Bojana Novakovic, comes seeking Dylan's advice on a murder case. The killer has left a playing card at the scene of the crime, which was a theme Dylan used in his best-selling book on psychopaths, Freaks. Clearly, the killer is trying to get Dylan's attention, and Lizzie needs his help to track him down. Additional murders follow, and the two work together, running all over NYC, to find this serial killer. They do so well together that the NYPD asks Dylan to be an ongoing consultant for them, working with Lizzie when his expertise can help with a case. Dylan is reluctant at first - he left the CIA for a quieter life - but he loves solving puzzles and he enjoys working with Lizzie, so the two are soon partnered up.

As with most crime shows, Dylan and Lizzie face a new case in each episode, always involving some sort of abnormal psychology. Besides his expertise in that field, Dylan is also very observant, and he and Lizzie make a good team together. We are thoroughly enjoying this show so far. Cumming's character of Dylan is charismatic, mischievous, and very smart. Lizzie is also intelligent and likable. Best of all, the show has a great sense of humor (often bolstered by Dylan's grinning comments) - this is not a dark, brooding crime show. We look forward to watching it every week!

The first season of Instinct is airing on CBS on Sundays, with seven episodes aired so far (and a total of 13 planned for the season). We watch it On Demand, where the last four episodes are available. On the CBS website, you can watch the last 5 episodes for free or get all of them with a subscription to CBS All Access. You can also watch on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season (right now, you could buy the first two episodes and watch the rest for free on CBS).

I can't wait to watch the latest episode tonight!



Also, if you are a fan of Alan Cumming, check out this short interview with Seth Myers - I had no idea he was Scottish!! He does such natural U.S. accents - Chicago and now NY - that this interview blew our minds.


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.