Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teen/YA Review: A Study in Charlotte

Happy Halloween! One of my favorite reads this month for the RIP XIV Challenge was A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, a fun, clever, modern take on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries for teens and young adults (and grown-ups, like me!).

Charlotte Holmes and James Watson are descended from that Holmes and Watson (who, in this series, were real people). They are both teens at the same boarding school in Connecticut. Their families have remained entangled throughout the generations, but when Charlotte and Jamie encounter each other at school, it is their first time meeting. Charlotte is very much like her famous ancestor: brilliant, introverted, and often obsessive. She is a loner at school, though she runs an illicit (and popular) poker game one night a week. Most of the time, though, she works in her private lab, set up as an "independent study" project, and learns all she can about ... well, everything. She relaxes by practicing fencing in secret. James (who most people call Jamie, even though he prefers James) is not thrilled to be at this boarding school in Connecticut, but he's trying to make the best of it. He'd rather be at his old school in England and living with his mom, but he won a rugby scholarship here. It's also just an hour away from his father (of the Watson line), with whom he hasn't spent much time in many years. Charlotte and James meet and then are quickly thrown together when one of their classmates is murdered. He was a pushy misogynist who wronged Charlotte, and James got in a fight with him the day before he was killed. That makes them both potential suspects. The two of them begin investigating the case together to clear their names, which becomes even more urgent when another classmate is seriously injured. As they get to know each other and start to track down clues, the situation on campus gets more and more dangerous. They must figure out who the killer is before more kids get hurt or killed.

This original, smart novel works on several levels: as an intricate mystery with plenty of red herrings, as a teen drama set in a boarding school, and as a modern take on the intriguing Holmes-Watson relationship. The author ingeniously gives Charlotte and James similar characteristics to their famous ancestors, with Watson put in the familiar role of caring for and protecting Holmes when she becomes so fixated on the case that she forgets to take care of herself. The crime itself is just like a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery: intricate, twisty, and almost impossible to figure out! I kept developing and discarding various theories, and the final resolution took me by surprise. I especially enjoyed listening to this inventive and gripping mystery on audio, with both female and male narrators telling the story from Charlotte's and James' points of view. With plenty of suspense, wit, and the modern teen Holmes-Watson relationship, this novel was just a lot of fun. I can't wait to read the rest of the series! (It looks like there are four books so far.)

352 pages, Katharine Tegen Books
HarperAudio


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.
 
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Listen to a sample of the wonderful audio book, from chapter 1 (James' perspective), or download the audio from Audible.

You can also download all four novels in this series as e-books.

You can purchase A Study in Charlotte from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order A Study in Charlotte from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fiction Review: Good Me Bad Me

Continuing my theme of dark and creepy reading for the annual fall RIP XIV Challenge, I listened to the psychological thriller Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land on audio. This gripping suspense novel was the very darkest of all the dark reading I did these past two months (and that includes a Stephen King novel!).

Milly, a fifteen-year-old girl, has been given a fresh start since her mother was arrested for child abuse and murder. She has a new name, a new home with wealthy foster parents, and a new start at an exclusive private school. Her foster father, Mike, is also the therapist who is helping her prepare to testify against her mother in court. No one else in her new world, except her foster mother and the school's headmistress, knows about her past. Milly grew up in that house of horrors, abused herself and helpless (and made to watch) as her mother abused nine young children and then murdered them. That kind of upbringing is damaging to a child, to put it mildly, and Milly can still hear her mother's taunting, cruel voice in her head. As Milly struggles to fit into her new family and her new life, she secretly wonders how much she might be like her mother. As her foster family's less-than-shiny secrets are revealed and Milly is bullied at school and by her foster sister, she feels an internal fight between the good Milly and the bad Milly. Which is stronger, nature or nurture?

As you can tell by the subject matter, this is a dark, dark story about the absolute worst in human nature. It was almost too dark for me, though Milly's struggle is compelling, and the constant sense of dread throughout the novel lends plenty of suspense. The audio book was especially effective because the story is told from Milly's perspective, and hearing it narrated in her chilling voice lends an extra layer of creepiness. Milly's internal struggles kept me listening, as that sense of low-level horror keeps building. It's a thoughtful story, too, about the effects of childhood trauma. Will Milly take advantage of the new opportunities offered to her or will her horrific childhood win out? While difficult to listen to at times, as Milly remembers the events of her past, it is a captivating and original suspense novel.

304 pages, Flatiron Books

Macmillan Audio


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

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.
 
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Listen to a sample of the audio, to hear that chilling narration from Milly, or purchase it from Audible.


You can purchase Good Me Bad Me from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Good Me Bad Me from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Middle-Grade Graphic Novel Review: The Midwinter Witch

I enjoyed the third book, The Midwinter Witch, in Molly Knox Ostertag's fun middle-grade fantasy graphic novel series that began with The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch. This action-filled book continues the exciting story about a family of witches.

Aster, the boy witch of the title of the first book in the series, is once again at the center of this story in which the family is traveling to the annual Midwinter Festival. His immediate family has mostly accepted that he is a rare male witch (and a good one, at that), but they are worried about what the extended family at the reunion will think. Aster wants to enter the Jolrun, a competition for young witches, and some family members are worried about how the rest of the group will respond to a boy in the traditionally all-female contest. Sure enough, some of Aster's older male cousins begin teasing him as soon as they arrive at the festival. Meanwhile, Aster's non-magical best friend, Charlie, gets permission from her fathers to go to the festival with Aster's family, and their other friend, Ariel, the newly-discovered witch from The Hidden Witch, also attends, though she is hiding a secret. Her long-lost Aunt Isabel contacts her through a dream and is trying to convince Ariel to train with her, instead of with Aster's family. She practices a dark magic, though, and Ariel is torn between the enticement of a stronger, more powerful magic and what she has been learning in her training with Aster's grandmother.
Sample page from The Witch Boy, with Aster and Charlie

As with the first two books in the series, The Midwinter Witch is filled with suspense and plenty of magical action to keep young readers rapt. However, also in keeping with the rest of the series, there are plenty of real-life issues that kids will relate to, even if they're not witches or shape-shifters! Here, bullying, gender identity, figuring out who you are, and friendship are at the center of the kids' struggles, as well as making good choices and doing what's right, without harming others. Ostertag does a wonderful job of wrapping these serious topics up in a fun, supernatural tale, illustrated in bright, eye-catching colors with realistic-looking diverse characters. She combines fantastical magic and witchcraft with the ordinary fun of close friendships. I can't wait to see what's in store next for Aster, Charlie, Ariel, and the others!

202 pages, Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic


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

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

The Midwinter Witch is available in e-book or paperback format from Amazon.

You can purchase The Midwinter Witch from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

It's Monday 10/28! What Are You Reading?

Whew! I wasn't sure I'd have time for a Monday post today, but I just sent my book back to my editor after another round of editing. This one wasn't as tough as the first, but it still required concentrated effort the past week, so now it's time (again) to catch up on everything I've been ignoring. I have a lot of work to do this week, but hopefully I will have time for visiting blogs, too (sorry for those I missed last week).

We did manage to have a nice quiet weekend at home, with a good mix of productivity, fun with friends, and relaxation. Sometimes, my weekends are all work, trying to catch up on everything around the house, so this was a good balance. And it's Halloween time! My family loves this holiday, and we got in the spirit Saturday by carving pumpkins with our friends.



Here's what our family has been reading this week:

I finished Pachinko by Min Jin Lee for my neighborhood book group, a temporary departure from my dark October reading. I've been hearing rave reviews about this novel from all my bookish friends ever since its 2017 release, when it appeared on just about every Top Ten list and was nominated for several big awards, including the National Book Award. It's a multi-generational epic set in Korea and Japan, about a Korean family that lives through WWII in Japan. It was absolutely compelling, with in-depth characters I cared about from the first chapters. I was also utterly fascinated by the history (and how much I didn't know about the history of this region!), including the horrible racism aimed at Koreans living in Japan (and the huge barriers to returning home), which continues to this day. I loved this novel from beginning to end - a must-read!

Next, I got right back to RIP XIV reading with The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, a novel my husband highly recommended (that I gave to him as a gift). He was right - this thriller is SO good! It's about a woman named Naomi, known as The Child Finder. She was a missing child herself, with no memory of anything prior to her escape from her captors, and now she has devoted her life to searching for missing kids. She gets involved in two cases in Oregon in this book. The first is a 3-year-old cold case of a 5-year-old girl named Madison who disappeared in a thickly wooded National Forest. The second is a new case of an infant missing from her mentally disabled mother. From the beginning, the reader knows Madison is still alive because parts of the story are told from her perspective. It's a completely compelling and unique story. I just finished it this afternoon and am wondering if I can squeeze in one more dark book before the end of the month on Thursday!

I am also reading one last dark and creepy graphic novel (I sort of fit those into spare moments here and there) this month, Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea (author) and Yana Bogatch (illustrator). It's a spooky story about a teen boy whose little sister goes missing, in a town called Blackwell where all of the females are witches with magic powers. I've only just started it, but I was immediately taken in by the gorgeous pen and ink illustrations, done mostly in shades of brown and black but with tiny, bright splashes of color here and there. The illustrations are enchanting, and the story is intriguing so far. I'm curious to see what happens next.

On audio, I finished listening to a teen/YA mystery, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro. This one was a lot of fun, about Charlotte Holmes and James Watson, two teens who are descendants of that Holmes and Watson. They both attend a boarding school in Connecticut, and when there is a murder on campus, of course, they begin to investigate it! It was quite dark in some respects, with a murderer on the loose and some pretty ingenious ways to hurt or kill students, but it was also a whole lot of fun. The author plays with the Holmes-Watson theme, imbuing the teen characters with many of the characteristics of their famous ancestors (who were, of course, real people in this book), with a modern young-person twist. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to read more books in this fun series.

Now, I am listening to one last creepy audio book, Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson. I know she is a very popular fiction author, with many fans, but this is the first Jackson novel I have read or listened to. It's about a new neighbor in a typical suburban community who may not be who she seems. Angelica Roux is sexy and enigmatic as she inserts herself into a group of moms by coming to their book group. Instead of their usual quiet discussion of a classic, Roux pours the drinks freely and convinces the women to play her version of Never Have I Ever, volunteering the worst things they have each done yesterday, last week, last month, and in their whole lives. Amy, happily married with a new baby and a sweet step-daughter, wants nothing to do with Roux's games because she wants her secrets to stay safely in her past. Roux's nefarious purposes slowly become clear as she insinuates herself into the neighborhood, while Amy tries to protect herself and her family. I'm enjoying it so far - it's an intriguing plot with some mild suspense and plenty of unexpected twists.

My husband, Ken, just finished reading Finders Keepers by Stephen King, the sequel to the popular Mr. Mercedes. He enjoyed it very much, though there were some gasps and "oh, no!"s last night while he read the last pages. I wasn't all that interested in reading this trilogy until I read King's The Outsider last month. Some of the characters from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy appeared in The Outsider, and now I definitely want to read more about them! We both enjoy reading King novels, and this one is extra-special because it's one of dozens that we inherited from my dad when he died. We both miss sharing our love of reading with my dad, so it's fun to read his books. I think Ken wants to read the third in this trilogy, End of Watch, too. Not sure what he will read next - he has a big stack to choose from!

Our son, 25, is reading a book we gave him for Christmas, Defender by Robert J. Crane, book 1 of The Sanctuary Series. It's a shorter novel than the epic fantasies he usually reads, which is probably why he didn't read it sooner. The setting and plot, though, are right up his alley: "The world of Arkaria is a dangerous place, filled with dragons, titans, goblins and other dangers." If he enjoys it, there are at least eight books in the series. He seems to be liking it so far.



Blog posts from last week:
Movie Monday: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie - sequel to the Breaking Bad TV series, about what happens to Jesse

TV Tuesday: Unbelievable - this Netflix limited series based on a true story is powerful, gripping, and compelling

Middle-Grade Graphic Novel Review: Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke - an exciting cross-over with two of Hatke's most popular series

Fiction Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie - a fun, clever, unique puzzle from the Queen of Mysteries

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

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

What are you and your family reading this week?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Fiction Review: And Then There Were None

I recently read an Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None, for the first time in decades! When I was in high school, I plowed my way through every Christie novel my public library had on its shelves (so I probably read this one, too), but I hadn't read any of her books in many, many years. I was looking for a Christie novel for both my RIP XIV Challenge and my Back to the Classics Challenge, and I'd heard this was one of the best. I absolutely loved every minute of this very unique mystery.

And Then There Were None does not follow the usual formula for most Christie novels. There is no Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot here, no detective at all in fact. A group of ten separate people are each invited to a private island off the coast of England, all with a different excuse for requesting their presence. Each has been invited by a Mr. Owen, though none of them can quite place who that is. They arrive on the island and find no sign of their host. None of them know each other, and all are a bit confused about why they are there. At dinner that first night, a phonograph record is played that accuses each of them of murder, each in a different way and at a different time (some of the accusations mentioning events from many decades before). The ten guests begin dying under mysterious circumstances, one at a time. Clearly, there is a killer at work, but it's a small island with no place to hide. The guests begin to realize it must be one of the people among them, and tensions rise as they die, one by one, and suspect each other. Through it all, a super-creepy nursery rhyme about "10 little soldier boys," in which each boy dies in a different way (apparently a common childhood poem in England!), provides even more suspense and anxiety to the guests.

I know this is a weird thing to say about a book in which every character is murdered, one by one, but ... this story is so much fun! You can just tell that Christie was having a blast writing this super-twisty mystery. I'm not worried about spoilers because you will not figure out who the killer is. In fact, Christie included an epilogue to explain what actually happened, via a written confession found later. This is no ordinary murder mystery, taking the closed-room mystery concept to a whole new level. Despite the fact that characters kept dying in horrible ways, I found myself smiling while reading this fast-paced novel--it is just so clever! You've still got a week before Halloween, and this is a quick read. I highly recommend you pick up this entertaining and enigmatic mystery today! It's easy to see why it's a much-loved classic.

247 pages, William Morrow (75th Anniversary edition)


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, which sounds wonderful, or download it from Audible at the link.

Lifetime made a TV show out of the book a few years ago, now available on Amazon for $3.98 for the 2-part show. It looks great!




You can purchase And Then There Were None from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order And Then There Were None from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Middle-Grade Review: Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl is the first cross-over graphic novel featuring Ben Hatke's two popular middle-grade series. I've read Mighty Jack and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King and enjoyed them both, though Zita was new to me. I enjoyed this fun, action-packed story combining the two kid superheroes.

In this exciting installment, Jack and Zita are joined by their usual collection of siblings and sidekicks, plus a slew of interesting alien creatures. The ragtag group must prevent a horde of giants from bursting through a portal that the kids thought they'd closed for good. The giants want to take over Earth for themselves and destroy the whole human race, so when they start trying to break through the door, it's a very urgent matter. Jack and Zita and their friends, Lilly (who is now King of the Goblins) and Joseph, manage to get through to the other side of the portal to look for elves to provide back-up in this epic battle. The rest of the group, including Jack's mom and sister, Maddy, and Zita's interplanetary friends, stay in Jack's backyard to try to keep the giants from breaking through the portal. The odds are against them, but can the good guys manage to win this battle that could otherwise mean the end of humanity?

All of the kid characters together in the Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl cross-over


I haven't read the Zita books yet, but Hatke includes plenty of details for readers like me who need to catch up on the story (and who wonder who all these strange characters are!). As with the other books I've read in the series, this cross-over story is filled with suspense, plenty of action, and lots of fantastical creatures. It's a unique and imaginative world, and I imagine it's extra fun for those kids who are fans of both series to see their favorite characters come together. My only disappointment was that I had an Advance Reader's copy, so only the first few pages are in color, which is a shame because the full-color panels of these books are bold and eye-catching, perfect for pulling reluctant readers into the gripping story. An extra section in the back, The Evolution of Mighty Jack, features a collection of Hatke's earliest drawings of the characters, and it is fascinating to watch how they evolved. As with all of Hatke's graphic novels that I've read, this one is pure fun, with just enough tension and excitement to keep young readers engaged without being too scary. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

269 pages, First Second


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

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

You can purchase Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

TV Tuesday: Unbelievable

My husband and I recently finished watching the Netflix series Unbelievable. It is based on a true story, described in a Pulitzer Prize-winning article, about a young woman who is charged with lying about being raped and the two female detectives who manage to track down a serial rapist. This powerful and compelling series kept us rapt.

The story begins with Marie, played by Kaitlyn Dever, a young woman in Washington state who recently "aged out" of the foster care system, after being bounced around from one home to another. Marie is trying hard to establish an adult life for herself, though her difficult upbringing makes that challenging as she tries to gain self-confidence and learn to support herself. In the first episode, Marie is raped when a man breaks into her apartment in the middle of the night. Shaken and terrified, she calls the police, but they can't find any forensic evidence. Two male detectives interview Marie about the details of her horrifying experience over and over and pressure her until she finally agrees that maybe she's mistaken, making her a pariah in her community for "lying" about being raped. Meanwhile, that same year in Colorado, another young woman, a college student named Amber, is raped in her apartment, and the details are remarkably similar to those of Marie's case. Detective Karen Duvall, a female detective in her small town played by Merritt Wever, becomes obsessed with Amber's case, wanting to help the now-terrified young woman, and begins looking at other nearby towns. She meets Detective Grace Rasmussen, played by Toni Collette, a more experienced detective who has a case in her city that could be the same rapist. The two women team up and find other potential matches across Colorado, but this perpetrator is very careful and leaves little or no forensic evidence. The two detectives are certain, though, that they are on the trail of a serial rapist who has ruined many women's lives, so they work hard to get to the bottom of the cases.

Unbelievable is a super-suspenseful detective show, but it is also so much more than that. It delves into the victims' lives and takes a close-up (and horrifying) look at the way that rapes are often not taken seriously, especially when the victim "seems" unharmed physically. Even if the women do report their rapes - and many do not - they are subjected to hours-long physical exams that are humiliating and traumatizing, on top of the assault they already endured. And then, if there is no obvious evidence, some of them are further damaged by disbelieving police officers, as Marie was. Obviously, given the subject matter, parts of this show are disturbing, though there is nothing too graphic shown. The rapes themselves are mostly seen in victims' flashbacks, as brief memories. As a police procedural, the show is riveting, and the team of Wever and Collette completely pulls you into the story, showcasing the detectives' determination and commitment, as they ignore their families and their own health to try to solve the cases. The fact that all of this is based on a true story just makes it even more gripping. All of the actresses playing victims do a great job, but Dever, as Marie, is particularly moving n her portrayal of this young woman who feels she has no control over her life. We were rooting for Marie to not only be vindicated but able to heal and move forward. The entire series is just eight one-hour episodes, but there is a lot of emotion and power packed into this high-quality show.

Unbelievable is a Netflix original program, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Movie Monday: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Saturday night, after a nice dinner out with friends, my husband and I settled onto the couch and recliner with our hot cups of herbal tea (me) and decaf coffee (him) and enjoyed a new movie on Netflix called El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. We were big fans of the Breaking Bad TV show (though very late to discover it, just last year!), and we enjoyed this sequel that shows what happened to Jesse after the end of the TV finale.

If you haven't yet watched the Breaking Bad series or seen the finale (and you want to), then go finish that before reading this review. It's impossible to describe the movie without spoiling the show's ending a bit. On the other hand, if you are not interested in watching Breaking Bad, I've heard some reviewers say that this movie still works as a stand-alone.

This movie is an immediate sequel to the TV show, beginning just seconds after the finale of the TV show ended. Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, escaped an absolute bloodbath of criminals at the end of the finale. As the sole survivor, Jesse flees the scene of the massacre in an old El Camino that was owned by one of his captors. A group of Neo-Nazis kept Jesse prisoner in an underground cage, letting him out only to cook that special blue meth that he and Walter were famous for, keeping him chained up even as he worked in the makeshift lab. As the movie opens, Jesse is finally free, but the police are after him, knowing he was the sole survivor. Of course, Jesse begins by heading to the home of his two best friends, Badger (played by Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (played by Charles Baker). Jesse looks...well, like he's been kept chained up in a cage for many months, and his friends let him in and help him out. Once Jesse is cleaned up and rested, he trades cars with Badger and heads out, to keep his friends from getting in trouble. Jesse wants to disappear, like he's previously planned before everything went wrong, but first, he needs money. He's searching specifically for money hidden by one of the criminals, Todd, played by Jesse Plemons. Todd is the coldest, scariest psychopath you will ever come across! (Well, hopefully, you and I won't ever come across a psychopath, but you know what I mean.) Flashbacks fill in details of some of what happened between Jesse and Todd, painting an even creepier picture of the violent criminal. Much of the movie is about Jesse trying to get enough money and set up his escape, with flashbacks to previous events new to the viewer.

We thoroughly enjoyed this movie, especially getting to see what happened to Jesse after Breaking Bad ended. It's a satisfying ending to his story. I've heard others say that you don't need to have watched Breaking Bad at all to enjoy the movie, but I think you would miss a lot of references without that background. Aaron Paul is wonderful in his role as Jesse, not only bringing all the talent he brought to the TV show but also showing how deeply damaged Jesse is from his experiences, while still holding onto his humanity. Jesse Plemons, on the other hand, shows not an ounce of humanity in his role as the freakishly cold Todd, an odd combination of ordinary guy and stone-cold killer. He is completely void of emotions, and the scenes when he takes Jesse on a "field trip" from his prison to help him with something are powerful. Just wait until you see Todd's apartment! Beaver and Skinny Pete provide a sense of humor, as always, and show the depth of their friendship with Jesse. As with Breaking Bad, there is plenty of action in the movie but also plenty of thoughtfulness. There is even a touching flashback of Walter and Jesse, before Walter got so crazy. It's a perfect wrap-up of Jesse's story, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A must-see for any Breaking Bad fans and probably entertaining for non-fans, too.

El Camino is a Netflix original movie, so it is available on Netflix, as are all seasons of the Breaking Bad TV show. Breaking Bad is also available for streaming on Amazon, starting at $2.99 an episode or $9.99 a season. It is also available on DVD, including the complete 6-season series.


It's Monday 10/21! What Are You Reading?

I had to skip my Monday post last week (and most other posts!) because I was scrambling to finish editing my book the past two weeks and get it back to my editor. It took longer than I expected. I had forgotten how much work it is at this stage - whew. And the last time I did this was over 20 years ago, when editing was done with pen and paper (though I did hand my chapters in initially on floppy disks!). I turned it back over to my editor last Thursday, after completing two rounds of edits. It was exhausting work, but I think it's in good shape now (funny, I thought it was in good shape when I first gave it to her, too!).

Since then, I have been catching up - on the blog and with everything else in my life that I let slide this past month or so.

So, here is what we've all been reading for the past two weeks - so many great books!

I read another book for the fall RIP XIV Challenge, Threatened by Eliot Schrefer, part of his teen/YA Ape Quartet, thrillers set in Africa that center around endangered primates. Years ago, I read Endangered, another novel in this series, about a young girl trying to save bonobos in the Congo amid political violence. In Threatened, a young, orphaned African boy gets hired by a primate researcher to travel deep into the jungle of Gabon to find and study chimpanzees. Both books were finalists for the National Book Award - and with good reason! I loved this one just as much as the first and was completely immersed in the world of the chimps. The story is fast-paced and suspenseful, and I loved the main character, Luc, but on top of that, the information and research behind these novels is fascinating. I never wanted it to end...but there are two more in the series to read! I won't wait so long this time. Definitely give this series by this talented author a try, if you haven't yet.

Being so busy and under stress lately, I fit in two brief but fun middle-grade graphic novels that also fit with the RIP XIV theme. The first was Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, a new cross-over book featuring Hatke's two most popular characters and graphic novel series. I have read the Mighty Jack books but not the Zita ones yet, but he included plenty of details for readers like me who needed to catch up on the story. In this exciting installment, the kids (and an interesting group of siblings, sidekicks, and alien creatures) must fight off a horde of giants from bursting through a portal that the kids thought they'd closed for good. The giants want to take over Earth, so when they start trying to break through the door, it's a very urgent matter. As with other Jack books, this one is packed with action, adventure, and suspense, as well as a host of weird other-worldly creatures.

I also read the middle-grade graphic novel The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag, a continuation of her series that began with The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch. Though these books are about a family of witches and shape-shifters and thus firmly in the fantasy realm, Ostertag also brings real-world kid issues into her stories, including bullying, fitting in, friendship, and breaking gender barriers. In this book, Aster and his family and friends are attending the annual Midwinter Festival, and Aster, an unheard-of boy witch, wants to go public and compete in the witch's competition, showing his entire extended family that he is training to be a witch, something that has always been taboo for boys. This entire series is warm, fun, and action-packed with magic.

I had to set aside the dark and creepy books temporarily to read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee for my neighborhood book group. I've been hearing rave reviews about this novel from all my bookish friends ever since its 2017 release, when it appeared on just about every Top Ten list and was nominated for several big awards, including the National Book Award. It's a multi-generational epic set in Korea and Japan, about a Korean family that lives through WWII in Japan. It's absolutely compelling, with in-depth characters I cared about from the first chapters. I have also been utterly fascinated by the history (and how much I didn't know about the history of this region!), including the horrible racism aimed at Koreans living in Japan (and the huge barriers to returning home). I have about 150 pages to go, and I am loving it - all my friends were right!

On audio, I listened to Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land, a psychological thriller that might have been a little too dark for me! It's about a 15-year old girl whose mother is a serial killer who abused and murdered very young children (that's the part that was a bit too much for me). The girl was one of her mother's first abuse victims, but she turned her in and the murder trial is now approaching. She's been given a new name, Millie, and is living with a well-off foster family (the dad is her therapist, helping prepare her for the trial). She's enrolled in a private school, and no one there, except the headmistress, knows who she really is. She is haunted by her past and her mother, though. The entire book is narrated by Millie, which made it excellent for audio, as she wonders about nature vs. nurture, struggles with both her old life and her new one, and tries to decide if she is good or bad. Super creepy but a good, twisty story.

Whew, after that, I needed something lighter, though still in the dark fall theme, so I chose a teen/YA mystery, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro. This one is a lot of fun, about Charlotte Holmes and James Watson, two teens who are descendants of that Holmes and Watson. They both attend a boarding school in Connecticut, and when there is a murder on campus, of course, they begin to investigate it! This one is also quite dark in some respects, with a murderer on the loose and some pretty ingenious ways to hurt or kill students, but it is also a whole lot of fun. The author plays with the Holmes-Watson theme, imbuing the teen characters with many of the characteristics of their famous ancestors (who were, of course, real people in this book), with a modern young-person twist. I am really enjoying it and looking forward to finishing it as soon as I finish this post!

My husband, Ken, finished Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley. We've both gotten into Mosley's novels after enjoying The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, a novel about aging with a touch of sci fi that was our All-County Reads pick back in 2015. Since then, my husband has read some of Mosley's mysteries starring Easy Rawlins, and one of his sci fi novels, Inside a Silver Box. This one is a stand-alone mystery that won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2019, about an NYPD investigator who was framed for assault, spent time in prison, and now has a chance to solve his own case. Ken didn't especially like the main character and prefers Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries but said the plot was good and the novel was suspenseful. I need to get busy and catch up on some of these novels from this excellent writer!

Now, Ken is reading Finders Keepers by Stephen King, the sequel to the popular Mr. Mercedes. At first, he thought he might have read it before, but I suggested there could have been sample chapters at the end of Mr. Mercedes (a mistake my son just made, too!), and sure enough, that was the case. He's enjoying it so far. I wasn't all that interested in reading this trilogy until I read King's The Outsider last month. Some of the characters from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy appeared in The Outsider, and now I definitely want to read more about them! We both enjoy reading King novels, and this one is extra-special because it's one of dozens that we inherited from my dad when he died. We both miss sharing our love of reading with my dad, so it's fun to read his books.

Our 25-year-old son, Jamie, finished reading Half a King, book 1 of the Shattered Seas trilogy. It was named a Best Book of the Year by both TIME and The Washington Post, with rave blurbs by George R.R. Martin and James Dashner on its cover! It's another epic fantasy, and he's enjoying it so far. Previously, he read Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, which he loved. I picked out book 1, The Blade Itself, for him at Northshire Bookstore during Booktopia one year, and he immediately plowed through the whole trilogy. Clearly, he enjoys Abercrombie's writing.

Now, Jamie is reading Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas, another favorite fantasy author of his. It is the second book in the Throne of Glass series, and he loved book 1. He also made the mistake of starting the book and thinking he'd already read it, for the same reason: book 1 had sample chapters of book 2 at the back. Luckily, he told me that, so I knew what was going on when the same thing happened to my husband a week later! UPDATE: Actually, my son just got back from a weekend away and told me he DID already read this one! He got far enough in that he started remembering plot points from later in the story. So, he has set it aside for now and hasn't chosen his next book yet.

Blog posts from the past two weeks:
Movie Monday: The Crimes of Grindewald - action-packed sequel to Fantastic Beasts

Graphic Novel: Old Souls by Brian McDonald (illustrated by Les McClaine) - engaging, powerful story about reincarnation

My Summary of Books Read in September - a dark & creepy reading month!

Saturday Snapshot: Lewes, Delaware - a lovely beach weekend

Fiction Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim - unique courtroom mystery to keep you guessing!

Teen/YA Review: The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey - action-packed sequel to The 5th Wave

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

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

What are you and your family reading this week?



Friday, October 18, 2019

Teen/YA Review: The Infinite Sea

Last year during my Big Book Summer Challenge, I read - and loved - The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, and earlier this month, I finally read the second book in the series, The Infinite Sea, which continues the post-apocalyptic adventure of a group of kids and teens. It was action-packed and suspenseful - now I can't wait to tread the third and final book in the trilogy!

This might be a very short review because I don't want to give away any spoilers of book 1, The 5th Wave (you can read my no-spoilers review of that book at the link). The second novel continues to follow teenager Cassie and her little brother, Sammy, in this frightening post-apocalyptic world. Circumstances have become even worse since the first book, with fewer people left, worsening conditions, scarcity of food, and the fear of being discovered. The two siblings are hiding in an abandoned, broken-down hotel (much like the rest of their surroundings) with a small group of other children and teens from the first book. Ben, Cassie's high school crush pre-apocalypse, is still a part of the story, as is Evan, whom Cassie is still not sure she can trust. The group, like all remaining humans, are being hunted by the human-looking aliens.

That's the set-up at the beginning of the book (leaving out spoilerish details). From there, the rest of the novel is non-stop action, as the group of kids fights to survive against all odds. In fact, at first, the story seemed a bit too full of action and violence for my tastes (though my son says that's why he liked book 2 even more than book 1!). The intriguing and complex plot that grabbed my attention in the first book continues here, though, and I was soon engrossed in the suspenseful thriller. By the time I came to the end of the book, I was eager to read book 3, The Last Year.

300 pages, SPEAK (an imprint of Penguin Random House)

My husband, son and I all want to see the movie adaptation of The 5th Wave, too! Here's the trailer:




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 sampleof the audio book here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the very creepy prologue of the novel. It sounds very good on audio!

You can purchase The Infinite Sea from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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



Thursday, October 17, 2019

Fiction Review: Miracle Creek

Ever since its release this spring, I've been hearing rave reviews of and "you must read this!" about the novel Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. Combining family and community drama, insights into living with chronic medical conditions, mystery, and an edge-of-your-seat courtroom thriller, this unique and beautifully written novel surpassed my high expectations and was excellent on audio.

Korean immigrants Young and Pak Yoo live in a small Virginia town and run an unusual family business: a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) chamber called Miracle Submarine. Though they share a small shack with their teen daughter, Mary, they want a better life for her and are working hard so that she can go to college. Patients with a wide variety of ailments come to Miracle Submarine for HBOT. Many of the patients are children, including several with autism and a teen girl with cerebral palsy, accompanied by their parents, though Matthew, a grown man getting HBOT for infertility, is also a patient. A small group do "double dives," coming to the Yoo's barn for twice-daily treatments, every morning and evening, and have therefore gotten to know each other well, as they sit together in the confined space every day. The novel opens in a local courtroom, one year after a horrible explosion of the Miracle Submarine killed and injured several people. Elizabeth, one of the mothers of a son with autism who died in the explosion, is on trial for starting the fire that caused the tragedy. The Yoo family and all the other double-dive patients are present in the courtroom, waiting to see what happens and what evidence will be presented. Did Elizabeth really do this horrible thing? Was it possibly another patient, a protestor of the treatments, or even one of the Yoo family who started the fire? Could it have been an accident or was this arson? The questions pile up as the trial begins.

This novel jumps right into the action immediately, with the trial beginning on page 1. The author was a trail lawyer herself, and it shows, as each day's witnesses and evidence slowly come together into a cohesive story. As with any good mystery, the reader is pulled right along, with almost every character taking their turn as the possible perpetrator of this horrific crime. As I listened to the audio book, which brought the drama to life, I guessed at and discarded one culprit after another. Narration of each chapter moves from one character to the next so that the reader gains insight into each of them and bit by bit, learns more details from that deadly day and the time leading up to it. They each carry secrets, and there are plenty of surprises in store, for the observers and lawyers at the trial, as well as for the readers. This unique novel has far more depth than a typical mystery/suspense story, though. It also digs deep into the challenges of immigrants trying to assimilate and the lives of disabled children and the parents (especially the mothers) who care for them, providing a glimpse into a secret world that most people don't even know exists. Since our family (myself and, at various times, both of my sons) has lived with chronic illnesses for almost two decades now, I immediately recognized and could relate to the experiences of these exhausted, overworked moms. I could tell that Kim herself must have had experience with chronic conditions in her own children, and sure enough, she discusses this in the interview with her editor at the end of the audio book. Miracle Creek is a stunning and suspenseful mystery, wrapped around a world most people never see, that will keep you guessing until its last pages.

368 pages, Sarah Crichton Books
Macmillan Audio

Listen to a sample of the audio book, with Young narrating in the first chapter, thinking back to the day of the explosion. You'll be hooked! You can also use this link to download the audio from Audible.


You can purchase Miracle Creek from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Miracle Creek from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.