Friday, February 22, 2019

Fiction Review: Finding Dorothy

I was intrigued by the premise of Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts, so I chose it as my January review book for Shelf Awareness. It far surpassed my expectations!

This magical, unique novel features parallel narratives. In one story, Maud Baum, widow of Frank L. Baum, gets involved with the making of the movie adaptation, The Wizard of Oz, of Frank's book in the 1930's. In the other, Maud is a child, growing up in the 1870's in upstate New York with her suffragette mother and kind father. The two stories alternate, so the reader goes along as Maud meets and marries Frank and they raise their children and also sees the details of their lives that made it into Frank's famous children's book...and eventually onto a Hollywood soundstage.

The novel is beautifully written, the characters are three-dimensional, the historical fiction is fascinating, and the behind-the-scenes details of a beloved Hollywood classic (one of my personal favorites) are such fun! I really loved this novel!

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness.

368 pages, Ballantine Books


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 - it sounds wonderful!


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

Or you can order Finding Dorothy from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Nonfiction/Graphic Novel Review: Escaping Wars and Waves

At the end of the year, I reviewed a unique graphic novel-style nonfiction book for Shelf Awareness. Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees by Olivier Kugler is a powerful chronicle - in both words and drawings - of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The author, a journalist illustrator, visited various refugee camps in different countries (plus a couple of refugee families now settled in other countries), and tells the refugees' stories in this unique and moving book. He uses the refugee's own words to describe what they've been through, why they left, what their lives were like before the war, and what things are like in the camps now. Those heartbreaking and inspirational stories are illustrated with drawings made from photos he took during his visits. Here's an example page from the book:


I spent hours poring over these detailed pages, absorbing the stories of these remarkable people - and the people who are helping them. It's a truly unique book that everyone should read.

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness.

80 pages, Penn State University 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.



You can purchase Escaping Wars and Waves from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


Or you can order Escaping Wars and Waves from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

2019 Reading Challenges

Since it's February 20, I figured it might be time to choose and sign up for my reading challenge for the "new year"!! Ah, well, best laid plans...

I might have gone a little overboard this year, signing up for more reading challenges than ever before, but most of them fit perfectly with my reading goals. So, I don't see them as adding any extra pressure - just some fun ways to track my progress!

Throughout the year, you can check on my progress in each of these on my 2019 Reading Challenges page.

Better late than never, here are my 2019 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2019 hosted by My Reader's Block

I am again signing up for the Mount Vancouver level this year and aiming to read at least 36 books from my own shelves. Last year I almost made it and read 33!

I have an entire TBR bookcase (that now has double rows on every shelf!), so I really need this challenge.

There are monthly summary link-ups (I will try to remember!)


 
2019 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo.

I enjoy this challenge every year! I only missed one monthly motif last year, so I will try to hit them all in 2019!  This also has monthly review link-ups.

JANUARY – New to You Author
Read a book by an author whose writing you’ve never read before.
FEBRUARY – Cover Love
Yes. We’re giving you permission to judge a book by its cover and read a book with a cover that really caught your eye.
MARCH – Royalty, Kingdoms, Empires, Governments
Read a book in which the character is involved in a ruling or governing body in some way.
APRIL – Crack the Case
Read a mystery, detective story, true crime, cozy mystery, or book involving a puzzle to solve.
MAY – One Sitting Reads
Read something that is short enough you could get through it in one sitting- try a graphic novel, comic book, short story, essay, or short collection of poetry.
JUNE – Diversify Your Reading
Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own or read about a culture you want to learn more about.
JULY – Through The Years
Read a book involving time travel, a book with a ‘time’ setting such as The Great Gatsby (20s), read a historical fiction/nonfiction, or choose a book published in your birth year.
AUGUST – Mode of Transportation
Read a book where the mode of transportation plays a role in the story (ex. Murder on the Orient Express or The Boys in the Boat)
SEPTEMBER – Animal, Number, Color, Name
One of those things needs to be in the title of the book you choose (ex. Water for Elephants, Red Queen, Fahrenheit 451, Rebecca, Harry Potter)
OCTOBER – Tricks and Trades
Read a book set in a theater, an amusement park, a circus, or a book involving magic, illusions, or characters with special powers.
NOVEMBER – Seasons, Elements, and Weather
Embrace a winter wonderland setting, pick a beach read, or read about a natural disaster. As long as a season, element, or the weather plays a key role in the story or is part of the title, it counts. (ex. Little Fires Everywhere, The Snow Child, On The Island)
DECEMBER – Last Chance
Finally read that one book that you’ve been meaning to get to all year long.




Back to the Classics hosted by Books and Chocolate.

Another one I am returning to this year. For the last two years, I aimed to read 6 classics and managed just 5, so I am once again setting my goal at 6 classics. Here are the categories:

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 

3. Classic by a Woman Author.

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.

5. Classic Comic Novel. Any comedy, satire, or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it's a work that's traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. Some classic comic novels: Cold Comfort Farm; Three Men in a Boat; Lucky Jim; and the works of P. G. Wodehouse.

6. Classic Tragic Novel. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. Examples include The Grapes of Wrath, House of Mirth, and Madame Bovary.

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages. 

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either North or South America or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America). 

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those continentss or islands, or by an author from these regions. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria). 

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you've lived, or by a local author. Choices for me include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany). 

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.
 
 

Monthly Keyword Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block

I was looking for something new and interesting for 2019, and this one caught my eye. Here's how it goes:

"Your task is to read at least one book for each month whose title includes one or more of the key words for that month. For instance, for January you might read Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie. A full chart of all key words for the year - "


Sounds like fun!





2019 Diversity Reading Challenge hosted by Lukten Av Trykksverte

I usually count these up myself anyway at the end of the year, so I thought it would be fun to join a challenge and track it as I go. Last year, I read 22 books (25%) that counted as diverse books (though I might have had a few more, using this criteria - it's pretty broad). So, I will aim for 25 diverse books for 2019 (but hope for much more!). This one also has monthly review linkups.
 
 


Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge hosted by Mom's Small Victories, one of my favorite blogs. I signed up for this one back in 2014, so this is a continuation (it's a perpetual challenge) - I can't wait to see what places I visit in books in 2019! Last year I read 31 books set in other countries/cultures (30 different countries/regions - I read a trip-around-the-world memoir at the end of the year!), so I hope to do even better this year (though that will be hard to beat).



2019 Literary Escapes Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas Into a Good Book.

I love tracking where I read! Last year, I read books set in 25 different states for this challenge last year, so I hope to do even better this year.
Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Stop by to print out this month's Bingo card and play along!



Big Book Summer Challenge hosted by Book By Book (me!)

Starting at the end of May. I usually aim to read 6 Big Books (400+ pages) during the summer for the challenge. All are welcome to join the fun! I'll post the sign-up page at the end of May.
 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Teen/YA Review: The Beautiful Lost

Sometimes by the time I get around to listening to an audiobook, I've forgotten why I chose it and what it's about. So, I was pleasantly surprised to get partway into The Beautiful Lost by Luanne Rice and realize it involved a road trip! As much as I love any story with a roadtrip, this one has far more depth than just a romantic journey; this engaging YA novel also deals with some serious issues like depression, mental illness, and family trauma.

Maia has struggled with depression ever since her mother left. She even spent some time in a mental hospital when it got really bad, but she doesn't want to go back there, even though she can feel some of the effects of depression beginning to dig its claws into her again. Her father and stepmother, Astrid, are worried that she might harm herself, but Maia insists she is just missing her mother. When she decides to sneak away to drive to Canada and find her mother, someone else unexpectedly comes along. Billy is a boy from her class who she's got a secret crush on. He lives in the group home in town, and everyone knows that his father killed his mother and is in prison now. As Billy and Maia set off for the north, they barely know each other, but all those miles on the road together help them to get closer. They have a lot in common, beginning with absent mothers. Maia can still feel that inevitable slide toward depression beginning, but she feels certain she will be OK if she can just be with her mom again, listening to whale songs and looking at constellations.

Billy and Maia have a long, challenging trip from Connecticut to Canada, but along the way they get to know each other and better understand what each has been through. I enjoyed the mix of fun, romantic roadtrip chronicle with real-life issues. The story doesn't end when they reach their destination, and, as you might have expected, there are some surprises in store when Maia is finally reunited with her mom. Billy's and Maia's problems are complex and deep-seated, but by learning to trust each other, they both realize they don't have to face them alone. Because Maia's mom is a scientist, there is also a thread of the natural world throughout the story - especially the lives of whales - that enhances it. I'm glad I went along for the ride with Maia and Billy.

304 pages, Point Paperbacks
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 audiobook.


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

Or you can order The Beautiful Lost from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.
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Monday, February 18, 2019

It's Monday 2/18! What Are You Reading?

Another late Monday for posting my weekly reading summary. Whew, last week turned out to be a doozy! Monday through Wednesday were supposed to be quiet days, set aside for writing. Nope. The week was one crisis after another - lots of doctor's appointments, family stuff, other appointments, plus yet another trip to the Apple Genius Bar for my laptop! The good news is that I can once again get audiobooks onto my iPod - the bad news is that I have to manually rebuild much of my iTunes library playlists, etc. As long as I can listen to my books!!
I spent the weekend preparing all our tax stuff, especially the medical expenses. It's a complicated calculation because I can't count anything paid for with before-tax dollars (like insurance premiums and anything we paid with our HSA). Anyway, we just got back from meeting with our tax guy and turned everything over - done with that mess for another year!

Thank goodness for our books in hectic, busy times like this! Here is what we've all been reading this past week:
  • I finished reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017 and was on every Top Ten list that year - all well-deserved praise! It's historical fiction but with some fantastical twists added. For instance, the Underground Railroad is a literal railroad underground! Also, each state that Cora, a runaway slave, travels through on her way north has its own unique identity and approach to slavery and race relations. Much of it is chilling and some of it is brutal, but it is also a completely compelling and captivating novel, with a wonderful main character. 
  • Now, I am reading another hardcover from my TBR shelf, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, for my neighborhood book group. I am already loving it! It's a split narrative that takes place in one house in Vineland, NJ, which was created as a utopian community in the 1860's. One side of the story takes places back then, when a female botanist who corresponded with Charles Darwin lived in the house, with a high school science teacher who's not allowed to teach about Darwin's theories next door. The other half of the story takes place in the same house in the present, with a family dealing with a lot of crises - the husband's father is very ill and living with them, and their two adult children have both had to move back home (along with a newborn baby). I love Kingsolver's novels to begin with, and her way of connecting the two stories is so clever & engaging. 
  • I am still listening to The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea on my iPod - I had hoped to read it for Nonfiction November and ran out of time. This works out well now because I just pitched a book column to Shelf Awareness for Cinco de Mayo that includes this book (and was accepted by my editor). It's the true story of an attempt in 2001 by 26 Mexican men to cross the border into Arizona through a desolate stretch of desert known as the Devil's Highway. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and is certainly relevant to the immigration controversies and challenges rocking our nation (and the world) right now. However, the author really doesn't address political or moral issues related to immigration - his focus is on telling this harrowing story from the facts collected through interviews and police reports and on the human toll. It's fascinating, compelling, and eye-opening.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a paperback I gave him for Christmas: Edge by Jeffrey Deaver. Though we both love Deaver's Lincoln Rhymes series, this is a stand-alone novel, so we were intrigued by it. He says it's very good so far.
  • Our son, Jamie, 24, finished the FINAL book 14 of The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson - woohoo! This one weighs in at a hefty 1168 pages. He loves this series and has been looking forward to the conclusion. He says this last book was action-packed right from the first chapters and wrapped up everything very well.
  • Now, Jamie would like to read book 4, Kingdom Blades, of the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, another favorite series of his. But, being him, he decided he wanted to first re-read the first 3 books in the series. So, he's just re-started book 1, Cephrael's Hand, a mere 780 pages.
Blog posts from last week - I had big plans to catch up, but the week got too busy! -
Fiction Review: True Enough by Stephen McCauley - insights & humor combined

Middle-Grade Review: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall by Drew Weing - book 2 of this fun, creative graphic novel series is just a good as the first!

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?  

I managed to squeeze in a walk last week when the weather turned warm!
 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Middle-Grade Review: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall

Back in October, I read, reviewed, and raved about The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing, a fun new graphic novel about a bad-ass child Monster Mediator. Last month, I had the pleasure of reading its follow-up, The Monster Mall. It's just as creepy, cool, funny, and uniquely clever as the first book and an excellent sequel to Margo's adventures.

In this book, new Echo City resident Charles again teams up with Margo Maloo, renowned Monster Mediator, to tackle his new town's toughest issues between monsters and humans. Echo City has a whole diverse monster population that lives just out of sight of its human residents - ghosts, trolls, ogres...and now, in this sequel, imps, blobs, lizard people, and vampires. Margo acts as a very efficient go-between when problems crop up where monsters and humans cross paths. For instance, in this book, some kids move into a new house and think it is haunted, so they call Margo. Then Margo and Charles get called to an old shut-down mall where some young vampires are complaining about the human Goth teenagers who've been hanging around (in an awesome bit of irony).
Sample pages from Monster Mall, copyright Macmillan Publishing

As in the first book, Weing's plots, stories, and drawings are totally original. It's such a clever idea, monsters living unnoticed among humans in their own communities, and he makes the best of it. Margo is a fabulous heroine - smart, pulled-together, and ever-calm, coming up with creative and peaceful solutions to each monster/human problem she encounters. Charles is her trusty sidekick, learning about monsters by her side and writing a blog to help educate human kids. The underlying message is that we can all get along and live together if we'll just take the time to understand and be tolerant of those different from us. Weing's brightly colored drawings are engaging and creative, depicting a wide variety of humans and monsters on pages that just beg to be pored over. It's an absolutely delightful and entertaining series that will be a big hit with middle-grade readers.

120 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 see additional sample pages from Monster Mall here.


You can purchase The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Fiction Review: True Enough

Last year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to not only review Stephen McCauley's latest novel, My Ex-Life (which was wonderful - review at the link) but also to interview the author for Shelf Awareness and then meet him in person at Booktopia, an annual weekend book event, and even sit with him at dinner. McCauley is a smart, witty writer (and in person, too), and I thoroughly enjoyed both the interview and my time with him at Booktopia. I recently read a novel from his backlist, True Enough, and found it has that same combination of insight and humor that I loved so much in My Ex-Life.

Jane Cody is forty years old, married to her second husband, mother to a 6-year old son, a TV producer for a local Boston PBS station, and...restless. Her husband is kind and caring (as opposed to her self-absorbed, cheating first husband), so why doesn't she feel as happy as she should be? Her precocious son is brilliant but a bit cool, though he is an excellent baker, and her critical mother-in-law lives in their carriage house. Jane likes to keep lists to try to keep her life organized, but many of the items on the lists are lies, like her son's therapy appointments listed as gymnastics and her own therapy listed as facials.
"It was a simple system that caused her problems only when she confused the code and started missing dental appointments and showing up at restaurants for imaginary lunches, both of which had happened in the past three weeks."
In New York City, Desmond is also fortyish, happily partnered up with Russell for five years, and similarly feeling dissatisfied. He's struggling to wrap up his biography of Pauline Anderton, a little-known, only mildly talented singer from the 60's, but feels he's missing something to pull the story together. Desmond accepts a teaching job for one semester at a Boston college, thinking the time away will be good for him and for his book. Since Desmond's new job puts him in the same department as Jane's husband, the two soon meet and decide to produce a series of biographical documentaries for Jane's station, beginning with one on Pauline. Now, they are both searching for something to unlock Pauline's life...and to bring  excitement and satisfaction back to their own lives.

As with My Ex-Life, Stephen's true talent lies in his ability to write sentences that stop you in your tracks, mixing insights into human nature with a clever wit. I am often surprised by the way he says something and find myself laughing out loud while reading his novels. Here's an example of his sense of humor, which is woven throughout the story:
"Earlier in the summer when he and Russell were in a Wal-Mart in New Jersey looking for an air conditioner, someone had stopped him and said: "Excuse me, do you work here?" a comment that continued to echo in his brain like a reproach for his lack of physical grace and intellectual authority."
And here's a simple line showing Stephen's uncanny grasp on human nature: "Maybe, Desmond, thought, true love was an acute form of tolerance."

Most often, though, his wit and wisdom go hand-in-hand, as here:
"Everyone claimed they were too "intense," an amorphous term that usually indicated an obsessive-compulsive disorder they were trying to pass off as a surfeit of intelligence."
This astute and funny writing style makes True Enough a lot of fun to read, while also providing plenty of insight into modern relationships. As Jane and Desmond get to know each other and dig deeper into Pauline's life story, they begin to uncover their own secrets, lies, and true desires. I was happy to go along for the ride.

314 pages, Washington Square Press


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 True Enough from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


Or you can order True Enough from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, February 11, 2019

It's Monday 2/11! What Are You Reading?

Beautiful white, fluffy snow is falling outside this morning. This is the first of two storms heading our way. My husband hates when it snows, but I grew up in the snowbelt (Rochester, NY), and I like it. It's just right here in Delaware - a few small snowfalls each winter, with some warmer days in between! I'm planning to go for a snowy walk around the neighborhood after I finish this post.

Believe it or not, I had more computer problems last week, after my crisis on Monday was resolved. Now, whenever I try to update my iPod, iTunes locks up, I can't connect to WiFi, and everything comes to a screeching halt. Thankfully, restarting seems to reset the WiFi, BUT...this means I have been unable to load any new audiobooks onto my iPod - talk about a crisis! Luckily, I found one still on there that I hadn't listened to yet, but I need to resolve this problem ASAP.

Here are the books (and audiobooks) we've been reading this week:
  • I finished my next review book for Shelf Awareness, Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson, a Booktopia author from last year. I read and enjoyed his thriller, All the Beautiful Lies, last year for the annual event. This one is also a thriller, about a woman who discovers she's living next door to a murderer. The problem is that no one believes her because she has a history of mental illness that once included paranoia and false suspicions. The real suspense comes from the fact that he knows that she knows! I enjoyed this page-turner that's due out on March 5.
  • Next, I turned to one of my TBR books that I've been dying to get to: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017 and was on every Top Ten list that year. I am so glad I finally got to it because it is just as amazing as everyone said. It's historical fiction but with some fantastical twists added. For instance, the Underground Railroad is a literal railroad underground! Also, each state that Cora, a runaway slave, travels through on her way north has its own unique identity and approach to slavery and race relations. Much of it is chilling and some of it is brutal, but it is also a completely compelling and captivating novel. 
  • So, on audio, I couldn't listen to The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh as planned last Monday because I couldn't get it onto my iPod. Luckily, I realized I still had The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea on my iPod - I had hoped to read it for Nonfiction November and ran out of time. This works out well because I just pitched a book column to Shelf Awareness for Cinco de Mayo that includes this book (and was accepted by my editor), so I needed to read it anyway. It's the true story of an attempt in 2001 by 26 Mexican men to cross the border into Arizona through a desolate stretch of desert known as the Devil's Highway. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and is certainly relevant to the immigration controversies and challenges rocking our nation right now. I'm not very far into it yet, but it's fascinating so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a paperback I gave him for Christmas: Edge by Jeffrey Deaver. Though we both love Deaver's Lincoln Rhymes series, this is a stand-alone novel, so we were intrigued by it. He is finally recovered from all his recent traveling, so he's able to stay awake for more than a few pages at a time now!
  • Our son, Jamie, 24, is now reading the FINAL book 14 of The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. This one weighs in at a hefty 1168 pages! He loves this series and has been looking forward to the conclusion. He says this last book is action-packed right from the first chapters, he's down to the last 200 pages, and he's loving it.
Blog posts from last week:
Middle-Grade Review: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson - mystery, history, and realistic fiction all rolled into one!

Fiction Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer - warm, insightful, very funny novel about love & life

Graphic Memoir Review: Form of a Question by Andrew Rostan - coming-of-age memoir by a young man who realized his dream of appearing on Jeopardy!

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?   
Winter Wonderland Outside This Morning
 

Friday, February 08, 2019

Graphic Memoir: Form of a Question

One of the graphic novel-form books I enjoyed last month was Form of a Question by Andrew J. Rostan and Kate Kasenow, a coming-of-age memoir that weaves in the author's love of the game show Jeopardy and his experiences competing on the show.

The memoir opens when Andrew is a very young child, not yet in school, and yelling out the answers to Jeopardy while sitting on his grandfather's lap. It's clear that the two of them have a very close relationship...and that Andrew is an extremely smart little kid! His parents and grandparents have always encouraged Andrew's incessant curiosity and precocious intellect, so it's a bit of a shock when he starts school and is surrounded by other kids who don't appreciate his big words and constant questions. Andrew often feels like a misfit, and that feeling continues somewhat into college, though he does makes some friends and even has a girlfriend - or two. He struggles throughout college with overthinking things - what he should do with his life, which girlfriend is better for him, why he can't just relax and not worry, like so many others on campus. The story builds to its grand finale - Andrew's appearance on Jeopardy, something he has wanted since he was a small child.
Sample page from start of Form of a Question

Jeopardy is a theme that runs throughout this unique memoir, with behind-the-scenes facts about the show, its contestants, and what it takes to win woven in throughout the narrative of Andrew's life. His growth from child to teen to adult is a relatable coming-of-age story, filled with the uncertainties and awkwardness that most of us have felt at one time or another, though Andrew makes it very personal. The illustrations help tell the story, with realistic, black and white drawings that are highlighted with splashes of primary colors. By the end of the memoir and the end of his Jeopardy appearance, Andrew has learned some important life lessons and figured some things out, with the help of his friends and his beloved grandfather, who is never far from his mind. It's an interesting and entertaining graphic memoir, and as someone who watches Jeopardy most evenings, I also found it fascinating!

128 pages, Archaia


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.

Check out a few more sample pages from the memoir here.


You can purchase Form of a Question from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
 Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Form of a Question from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Fiction Review: Less

My husband gave me the novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer for my birthday last summer, and in my usual rush to read older book gifts by the holidays, it was my first book finished in January! This 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction surprised me because I think of books that win that prize as serious tomes. Less is a warm, insightful, and very funny book that explores love and life.

Arthur Less is approaching fifty and clearly having some problems with that milestone. When he receives a wedding invitation from Freddy, his recently ex-boyfriend of nine years, he decides to leave town so that he has an excuse not to go. But to just go on a single trip that week would be too obvious, so Arthur, who is a mildly successful but not well-known novelist, puts together a year-long trip around the world by accepting a bunch of decidedly second-rate invitations that he's been ignoring. He starts in New York City, with an unpaid job to interview a famous science fiction author, H.H.H. Mandern, whose next best-selling novel is about to be released. From there, he is attending a conference in Mexico City, where - unbeknownst to him - the wife of his long-time lover, Robert (who was before Freddy), is also invited. Then, he will head to Turin, Italy, where he has been nominated for a literary award he's never heard of for one of his novels that was translated into Italian. He will spend the winter in Germany, teaching a writing course at a college in Berlin; both Arthur and the college think that he is fluent in German, but it turns out he learned German from a teacher who'd never been there herself. His next stop is for pleasure rather than work: spending a luxurious week in Morocco on an expedition through the Sahara to celebrate the 50th birthday of a friend of a friend (and Arthur's 50th is the same week). Arthur will then focus on his next novel at a writing retreat in India. He will cap off this worldwide journey with a stop in Japan, to research and write an article for an in-flight magazine on a particular Japanese cuisine. Finally, he will return home, with the dreaded wedding long past.

As you might have guessed, things don't exactly go according to plan for Arthur. In fact, this is one of those stories where everything that could go wrong, does. Far from becoming tedious or depressing, though, Arthur's adventures are constantly surprising and hilarious. His challenges are never predictable and often had me laughing out loud and wanting to read passages out loud to my husband (he loves when I do that while he's trying to read his own book). Greer has a way of inserting humor into every situation, as in this one line from Arthur's attempt to drive to a remote location in Japan:
"Less is grateful the signs are clear because the GPS, after giving crisp, stern directions to the highway, becomes drunk on its own power outside the city limits, then gives out completely and places Arthur Less in the Sea of Japan."
Arthur is an endearing character, authentic and sincere, and as he's traveling across the globe and experiencing one crazy thing after another, he's also musing about his past and about love and life. The novel is narrated by an invisible third-party, someone who clearly knows Arthur well and knows all the details of this wild ride but who is removed enough to provide insights into Arthur's thoughts and actions. I enjoyed every moment of Less and look forward to reading more from this award-winning author.

261 pages, Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Audio


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