Thursday, February 20, 2020

Nonfiction Review: An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People

One of my book groups chose the adult version of this hot nonfiction title, but since it was not available through my library at the time, I requested the YA version, An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (adapted by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese). While I was reading it, the adult version of the same title also became available, so I was able to compare both books. Whichever version you choose, this book is a must-read for every American: certainly horrifying but also eye-opening and necessary.

This unique book is, as its title suggests, the history of the United States but from the perspective of the 15 million indigenous people who were here many thousands of years (BCE) before white Europeans came to claim the land as their own. It starts with early history of the full Americas and then zeroes in on the area that is now known as the United States. Topics include geography and the importance of the land to indigenous people; the role of corn in their societies, in both North and South America; the arrival of white settlers from Europe; and all that came later. Many historical myths are busted in this engrossing narrative, like that North America was wilderness when the Pilgrims arrived (rather, the Native Americans had strong communities and nations and plenty of infrastructure in place across the entire continent) or that American Indians were violent savages who scalped their victims (in fact, it was the European settlers who began the practice of scalping in order to reward those who killed indigenous men, women, and children). The book proceeds through the entire history of the U.S. to the present, discussing in detail our well-known historical events from the perspective of Native Americans.

This historical book is stunning, powerful, and often absolutely horrifying, but it is also immensely educational. It is shocking to read words that our beloved founding fathers and esteemed presidents (even Lincoln!) wrote about needing to exterminate Indians. The adult version of the book is more detailed and includes ample footnotes, but I preferred the "for Young People" YA version. It includes maps, graphics, and photos that help in understanding the facts but are completely missing from the original version (why did they think adults wouldn't find maps and photos interesting and additive?). Also, oddly, the last two chapters of the YA version are--about modern-day issues, including the conflicts and protests over oil pipelines going through Native American lands--are entirely absent from the adult version. I found these chapters extremely informative and would have read the adult version, if they'd been included, for even more details. Admittedly, this is a heavy and difficult narrative to read but such an important book for all of us. It was incredibly enlightening, opened my eyes to the details of our nation's historical and continuing impact on indigenous people, and I am glad to have read it.

244 pages, Beacon Press

NOTE: My book group postponed its meeting until March, so I don't yet know what the other members thought of this book.


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 (based on the adult book--there is no YA audio) here and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Monday, February 17, 2020

It's Monday 2/17! What Are You Reading?

No time today, with appointments all morning and the family coming home for dinner, but since we are all still reading what we were last week, I think I can fit in a quick update. Here's what we are reading:

I finished re-reading my Favorite Book of 2019, Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais (my review at the link). This outstanding novel is set in South Africa during apartheid in the 1970's. It's about the loving relationship between an orphaned white girl, Robin, and the black nanny, Beauty, who cares for her while also searching for her own missing teen daughter. I loved the novel even more the second time around, and knowing the basics of the plot also allowed me to notice more fully the beautiful writing. I was so glad to be immersed in Robin's and Beauty's lives again. It is, at times, a heart-breaking story, but it is also filled with warmth, love, hope, and lots of humor. Bianca has a particular (often hilarious) talent for capturing the internal life of a little girl. I met and got to know the author last year at Booktopia, and I've invited her to videochat with my book group on Wednesday - can't wait! I finished reading it last night, and my husband laughed when I said, "Oh, no, it ended again." This book has a solid place in my ever-changing Best Books Ever Read list.


On audio, I am still listening to State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Somehow, I missed it when it was published in 2011 and just found the audio files sort of hidden on my laptop and unlabelled--a pleasant surprise! It's the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceuticals researcher from Minnesota who has been tasked with traveling to a remote area of Brazil. Another researcher at her company, Dr. Annick Swenson, has gone missing there and cut off all communication with the company, and the first guy sent to find her has now died. It's a very intriguing story with in-depth characters and an immersive and fascinating sense of place. There are lots of unexpected plot twists as Marina heads into the Amazon with her former mentor. I'm enjoying it and wondering how it will end.

Ken has been reading a Christmas gift from me, End of Watch by Stephen King. This novel is the end of the trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes and continued with Finders Keepers, so he said he wanted to read book three while the rest was still fresh is his mind from last fall. According to the blurb, it's about a serial killer with a traumatic brain injury who is in a persistent vegetative state. Behind his still body, though, his mind is working fast thanks to a new experimental drug, and he is scheming to get revenge on those who crossed him, including retired police detective Bill Hodges, the hero of the trilogy. After reading The Outsider last year and realizing that one of my favorite characters in that novel was from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, I now want to read this series, too!

Our son, 25, is still reading The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, book 1 in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, one of the books he bought recently with a Christmas gift card. Sounds like this one features dark sorcery, an elf-like race, royals and servants, a deadly riddle, and plenty of swords--all right up his alley! I can't remember, but I don't think he's read this author before. He's enjoying it so far.



Just one blog post last week:
My Summary of Books Read in January - a good reading month & a great start on my 2020 reading challenges

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?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Books Read in January

Winter reflections
January was a good reading month for me and a great start to the new year! Here are the books I finished in January:


I read six books totals, which is about average for me. All six were adult books last month--no middle-grade or YA. I listened to two of them on audio, and one book was nonfiction, while the rest were all fiction (again, about average for me!). They took place in a wide variety of locations, so I got a good start on my reading challenges (see below). I focused in January on books on my shelves or that I've been meaning to read for a while (in addition to two book group choices), so I enjoyed all of these. It's hard to choose a favorite some I liked them all and they were all very different, but I think Asymmetry grabbed me the most.

Progress in 2020 Reading Challenges:
You can see all of the reading challenges I am participating in and full lists of the books read for each at the link above. I have some fun ones going this year! Here's how January stacked up:
Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2020 - Interestingly, I only read 2 books from my own shelves since some of my "TBRs" last month were audios (which I am allowed to count, but I usually just focus on physical books taking up space on our shelves!).

2020 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - January was Winter Wonderland, so Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk fits. I wouldn't exactly call the setting wonderful or magical, but it was very wintry and snowy, with some fairy tale overtones.

Back to the Classics 2020 - no classics in January, but I am determined to do better than last year!

PopSugar Reading Challenge - this is a unique one! I fit all six of my books into categories last month:
  1. Book recommended by favorite podcast: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
  2. Book that passes the Bechdel test: Running on Red Dog Road by Drema Hall Berkheimer
  3. Book with the same title as a movie but unrelated: Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
  4. Book I meant to read in 2019: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  5. Medical thriller: Recursion by Blake Crouch
  6. Book with a main character in her 20's: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center 
2020 Nonfiction Reader's Challenge - Running on Red Dog Road by Drema Hall Berkheimer fit the memoir category.

2020 Diversity Reading Challenge - I read three diverse books last months. The January category was diverse folktales/culture/mythology; or diverse retelling; or non-western setting and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk fit.

Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I read books set in Iraq, Poland, and Sweden last month - quite a world tour!

2020 Literary Escapes Challenge - I read books set in three states: New York, Massachusetts, and West Virginia (a rare one!)

And finally, 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. In January, I filled 20 spaces on my bingo card:




Spaces Filled:
Things You Save in a Fire - free book, achievement, quest
Running on Red Dog Road - family, read an e-book, antiques, historic
Asymmetry - shelf love, read a physical book, not in a series
A Man Called Ove - meant to read in 2019, audio book
Recursion - ulterior motive, repercussions, favorite author
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead - library book, diet, cold weather
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in January?
 

Monday, February 10, 2020

It's Monday 2/10! What Are You Reading?

BIG news here today! My new book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic
Illness was published last week! If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I have been working hard on this, so I was thrilled to finally share it with the world. Visit my writer's website for more details about the book and the links to buy it. It is currently available as an e-book on multiple platforms, and the print paperback will be available in the next two weeks. The book is all about not only surviving with chronic illness (of any type) but thriving and finding joy and peace in your life, and it is based on my own experiences, those of my family, and many other people living with chronic illness whom I have interacted with over the years. So, if a loved one (or you!) has some sort of chronic medical condition or disability, please share the book information with them.


The book's release was the big event of last week, and I didn't have much extra time for anything else, so I apologize for not making the rounds to all the blogs I wanted to visit - I hope to make up for it this week!

Health-wise, I am doing much better. My Lyme disease recurred/flared up recently, but I finally got to a stable point in the treatment last week, so my joint (hip) pain is improving, and I am feeling better overall. Trying to catch up and get back to "normal" (my new normal, as the book says!).

As always, we have been reading lots of good books at our house this past week:

I finished reading An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People, the YA version of the nonfiction book of the same name by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. This (the adult version) was the January choice for one of my book groups, but the meeting got postponed until March. I actually have both versions of the book here, from the library, so I mostly read the YA version but also dipped into the adult one sometimes, when I wanted more detail on a certain topic (though I was surprised to see that the YA version had two excellent chapters at the end on modern issues/advocacy that were missing from the original). A friend clued me in that the YA version includes maps, graphics, photos, and other visual information that really enhances the book; I don't know why they wouldn't include all that for adults, too! The maps are especially helpful. The book is just what its title suggests: a history of the U.S. from the perspective of Native Americans. As you might expect, it is absolutely horrifying but also quite enlightening. Did you know that it was actually the colonists, not Native Americans, who began the practice of scalping? Leaders of the new colonies offered cash for scalps (i.e. proof of killing an Indian), including those of children. Ugh. Whichever version you choose, this is such an important book, but it is very heavy reading.

After that, I needed some comfort, and I had the perfect book for it. I am re-reading my Favorite Book of 2019, Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais (my review at the link). This outstanding novel is set in South Africa during apartheid in the 1970's. It's about the loving relationship between an orphaned white girl, Robin, and the black nanny, Beauty, who cares for her while also searching for her own missing teen daughter. I am loving the novel even more the second time around, and knowing the basics of the plot is also allowing me to notice more fully the beautiful writing. I am so glad to be immersed in Robin's and Beauty's lives again. It is, at times, a heart-breaking story, but it is also filled with warmth, love, hope, and even humor. Bianca has a particular (often hilarious) talent for capturing the internal life of a little girl. I met and got to know the author last year at Booktopia, and I've invited her to videochat with my book group next week. Favorite books are like old friends.

On audio, I am still listening to State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Somehow, I missed it when it was published in 2011 and just found the audio files sort of hidden on my laptop and unlabelled--a pleasant surprise! It's the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceuticals researcher from Minnesota who has been tasked with traveling to a remote area of Brazil. Another researcher at her company, Dr. Annick Swenson, has gone missing there and cut off all communication with the company, and the first guy sent to find her has now died. It's a very intriguing story with in-depth characters and an immersive and fascinating sense of place. I'm sure there will be plenty more interesting plot twists as Marina heads into the Amazon with her former mentor (I am sensing some Heart of Darkness themes here). I'm enjoying it so far.

My husband, Ken, finished a Christmas gift from me, Blue Moon by Lee Child. This is his all-time favorite author and series, so he was excited to read this latest book (number 24!) about Jack Reacher, just released in October 2019. According to the blurb, this one involves an elderly couple who get into financial trouble, both Ukrainian and Albanian gangs, loan sharks, thugs, and assassins! Ken enjoys the writing and the suspense and fast-paced action of these novels, and this one was no exception. He enjoyed immersing himself in his favorite fictional world and flew through the novel in record time.


Now, Ken has moved onto another Christmas gift book, End of Watch by Stephen King. This novel is the end of the trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes and continued with Finders Keepers, so he said he wanted to read book three while the rest was still fresh is his mind from last fall. According to the blurb, it's about a serial killer with a traumatic brain injury who is in a persistent vegetative state. Behind his still body, though, his mind is working fast thanks to a new experimental drug, and he is scheming to get revenge on those who crossed him, including retired police detective Bill Hodges, the hero of the trilogy. After reading The Outsider last year and realizing that one of my favorite characters in that novel was from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, I now want to read this series, too!


Our son, 25, is still reading The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, book 1 in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, one of the books he bought recently with a Christmas gift card. Sounds like this one features dark sorcery, an elf-like race, royals and servants, a deadly riddle, and plenty of swords--all right up his alley! I can't remember, but I don't think he's read this author before. This first book is almost 700 pages, so that should keep him busy, though I don't think he had much time for reading last week, as he was visiting his girlfriend in another state. He did mention he's enjoying it so far, though.



Last week's blog posts:

 TV Tuesday: Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector - new TV series based on one of our favorite book series is great so far!

Fiction Review: Recursion by Blake Crouch - another time-twisting, mind-bending thriller

Fiction Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk - a quirky, funny mystery set in Poland

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, February 07, 2020

Fiction Review: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

When Book Cougars, one of my favorite podcasts, announced a February read-along of the novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones), I thought it was a very odd--and sort of creepy--title! Then I found out that this little novel from Poland was short-listed for the International Booker Prize, long-listed for the National Book Award for Translated Fiction, and won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. Impressive! This quirky, funny, thoughtful novel deserved all those accolades, and I am glad to have read it.

An older Polish woman named Janina (though she dislikes her name and anyone who calls her by it) lives in a remote rural area near the Czech border. She is an ex-civil engineer who used to build bridges and now teaches English to children and studies astrology. While her home is in a lovely area during the short summer, the winters there are fierce and lengthy, when Janina helps to caretake for the people who own summer homes there. One night, Janina's neighbor, Oddball (she often nicknames people rather than remembering their names), comes to her door to ask for her assistance; their other neighbor, Big Foot, is dead. As the only three people in the area during the winter, the two of them go to Big Foot's small cabin and find he has choked to death on a deer bone, with evidence of the deer he poached in the kitchen. Janina, a staunch vegetarian, is certain that the animals took revenge on the man who had killed so many of their brethren, though the police don't seem impressed by her theory once they arrive. Shortly afterward, another suspicious death occurs in the same area, and this time, the police determine that it was murder. As Janina consults the stars and spends time with her friends--including Dizzy, her former student who engages Janina in helping him translate William Blake's works--other deaths occur, and she continues to hound the police about her theory that the animals are taking revenge on the hunters in the area.

I know this sounds like an odd plot description ... and it is an odd sort of book but in a good way. It is unexpectedly funny--often in a way that had me reading passages aloud to my husband, like this one, with Janina musing about her quiet neighbor, Oddball:
"With age, many men come down with testosterone autism, the symptoms of which are a gradual decline in social intelligence and capacity for interpersonal communications, as well as a reduced ability to formulate thoughts. The Person beset by this Ailment becomes taciturn and appears to be lost in contemplation. He develops an interest in various Tools and machinery, and he's drawn to the Second World War and the biographies of famous people, mainly politicians and villains. His capacity to read novels almost entirely vanishes; testosterone autism disturbs the character's psychological understanding. I think Oddball was suffering from this Ailment."
We both laughed over this, since I often complain my husband barely speaks to me (though he does still love to read novels). The entire novel is peppered with passages that either made me laugh out loud or were insightful thoughts that made me nod my head in agreement, like:
"Once we have reached a certain age, it is hard to be reconciled to the fact that people are always going to be impatient with us."

In fact, the incredible cleverness and humor in this book make its translation seem even more amazing. I think it must be hard to translate humor and wordplay into a different language, but this translator has done a magnificent job, including passages from Blake that Janina and Dizzy translate  (the title itself is a line from Blake). Aside from the pure pleasure of reading the narrative and being privy to Janina's thoughts, it's an interesting and intriguing plot, a murder mystery set in a small community. Who is killing off the local hunters? Could Janina actually be right? The novel does make you stop and wonder. My book is filled with tabbed pages with quotes that I want to write down, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the mystery and spending time with quirky Janina and her friends.

274 pages, Riverhead Books


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, narrated by Beata Poizniak in a lovely Polish accent, here and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Fiction Review: Recursion

I absolutely loved the novel Dark Matter by Blake Crouch when I read it in 2017, so I was excited to hear about his latest novel, Recursion. Crouch is also the author of novels that formed the basis for two of our favorite TV shows, Wayward Pines and Good Behavior, so he has become a favorite author for both my husband and I. Recursion continues Crouch's trend of super twisty, mind-bending sci fi novels with great characters.

At the start of the novel, the narrative moves back and forth between two different characters in two different times. In 2018, Barry, an NYPD detective, is called to the scene of a potential suicide. A woman is standing on the edge of a tall building, ready to jump, when Barry arrives. She tells him that she has FMS or False Memory Syndrome, a recently discovered medical condition where a person has memories of a completely different life, in addition to their memories of their current life. She describes the agony of remembering a husband who no longer knows who she is and a son who is no longer there, while Barry tries to talk her off the ledge.

Back in 2007, Helena, a neuroscientist, has devoted her life's work to the study of memories, specifically how to preserve memories for dementia patients so they can "replay" them after their disease progresses. Her inspiration is her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Struggling to continuously find research funding in her position at Stanford, Helena is shocked one day by a proposal she simply can't refuse. A super-wealthy high-tech entrepreneur (kind of an Elon Musk type guy) offers her unlimited funds to bring her dreams of building a "memory chair" to fruition. Of course, she agrees. The narrative moves back and forth between Barry's story and Helena's, until the two people (and timelines) meet, with scientific advances creating unforeseen changes in the very fabric of reality. Can Barry and Helena actually stop the destructive forces that have been set in motion?

I love sci fi plots that have to do with time travel, alternate timelines, or any sort of manipulation of time, and this novel has that and much more. It's a rich, twisty exploration of memory, time, and reality that just twisted my brain up in knots (in a good way). Recursion is also a fast-paced thriller, with the main characters racing against time to try to literally save the world, so it is filled with tension and suspense, all wrapped around a completely original and thought-provoking story with in-depth characters I came to care about. My husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed the wild ride this unique novel took us on, and we can't wait to see what Crouch comes up with next!

326 pages, Crown


Listen to a sampleof the audio book, with two narrators voicing Barry and Helena, here and/or download it from Audible.

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

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

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

TV Tuesday: Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector

My husband and I were thrilled to see that NBC was bringing one of our favorite book series to the small screen this winter: the series of mysteries/thrillers by Jeffrey Deaver, starring paraplegic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme. The new series is called Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector, referring to the main character and the title of the first book in the series. Featuring a great cast and suspenseful mysteries, we are thoroughly enjoying this new show so far.

In the beginning of the first episode, we see how Lincoln Rhyme, played by Russell Hornsby, came to be in his current state, confined to his home. While tracking a serial killer dubbed The Bone Collector, the killer gets the best of Lincoln, and the detective ends up falling from a height flat on his back and unable to move, as the killer taunts him and sneaks away. The show then flashes forward three years to the present. Lincoln is confined to his home, able to move only his head and a few fingers, aided by a lot of expensive electronic systems and a nurse. When a series of murders in the city appears to indicate the return of The Bone Collector, Lincoln's old boss Michael Selitto, played by Michael Imperioli, consults with Lincoln. Lincoln chooses a young NYPD officer, Amelia Sachs (played by Arielle Kebbel), to wear a body cam and investigate the crime scenes with him watching from home. With that, the partnership between Lincoln and Amelia is born. In each episode, the two investigate a difficult case, along with a forensics team and Detective Selitto, but all the while the threat of The Bone Collector (who seems to have gone back underground) is in the background.

So far, the show is an excellent recreation of the outstanding novels. The characters are slightly different than as described in the books (my husband says they didn't make Lincoln nearly cranky and mean enough), but the essence of the stories is here: a brilliant but paralyzed forensic criminologist paired with a young female police officer solving unsolvable crimes. Each episode presents a new case that grabs the team's attention, while the tension around The Bone Collector slowly builds. The audience can see who the Bone Collector is and what he's doing, so that adds to the suspense. When the killer makes it clear that he knows who Amelia is and targets her family, as he did years ago with Lincoln's, the stakes are even higher. The weekly mystery plots are twisty and compelling, the cast is outstanding, and the suspense keeps growing. We've watched the first three episodes so far and can't wait to see more--Lincoln Rhyme has quickly become one of our favorite TV shows that we wait for each week!

Lincoln Rhyme airs Fridays at 8 pm Eastern time on NBC. We watch it On Demand, and for now, all three episodes are also available for free on the NBC website. It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the full first season.






Monday, February 03, 2020

It's Monday 2/3! What Are You Reading?

Happy February! This is a fun month--short but with lots of little celebrations built in, including Valentine's Day and Mardi Gras (our favorite). Hope that everyone in the U.S. enjoyed Groundhog Day and the Superbowl last night. The best ad was definitely the one that combined the two "holidays," featuring Bill Murray reprising his Groundhog Day role, though I also loved the Mountain Dew ad with Bryan Cranston as Jack in The Shining (hmmm...just noticed those were both based on movies). Oh, and the game was good, too! Very exciting. We had a couple of friends over last night to enjoy the festivities with us, so it was extra fun.

That was the very nice end to a very bad week! Stress and pain both escalated. It's a long story, but the person I hired to format my book said she could do it in three hours, ended up spending three weeks on it, and then quit last week abruptly without finishing it. It was extremely upsetting, and I am now back to square one on the book formatting--I had hoped to publish in early Janiuary. At the same time, my hip and back pain from Lyme disease (I am certain now that's what it is) got much, much worse. My low back muscles started spasming Wednesday, with intense pain--it felt like childbirth, only in my back! I guess with all the hip pain on one side, I was favoring that side and moving funny, sitting weird, etc. until my back decided it was tired of carrying all the weight. Muscle relaxants, massage therapy, loads of anti-inflammatories, and lots of heat helped, and by yesterday, I was feeling up to having our friends over. But I ended up not getting much done last week because the pain just totally wiped me out. I have huge respect for those who live with chronic pain all the time. I'm feeling quite a bit better today, so here's to a new week and a fresh start!

As always, books provide a welcome distraction! Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

I finished a library book I borrowed for the Book Cougars podcast readalong: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones). Sounds like a really cheery title, right? Actually, it's a line from a William Blake poem, and the novel is quite funny! This book was originally published in Poland and has garnered a lot of recognition. It was short-listed for the International Booker Prize, long-listed for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature! It's about an older woman named Janina living in a remote rural area in Poland, near the Czech border. Her quiet life of caretaking for the summer residents and working on her astrology projects is disrupted when her neighbor dies suddenly, soon followed by another death, ruled a murder, nearby. Janina, a staunch vegetarian and animal lover, personally thinks the local animals are taking revenge on hunters, but the police don't put much credence in her theories. It's a bit quirky, but I enjoyed this unusual, amusing, and thoughtful novel.

Now, I am reading An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People, the YA version of the nonfiction book of the same name by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortis. This (the adult version) was the January choice for one of my book groups, but the meeting got postponed until March. I actually have both versions of the book here, from the library, so I am mostly reading the YA version but also dipping into the adult one sometimes, if I want more detail on a certain topic. A friend clued me in that the YA version includes maps, graphic, photos, and other visual information that really enhances the book; I don't know why they wouldn't include all that for adults, too! The maps are especially helpful. The book is just what its title suggests: a history of the U.S. from the perspective of Native Americans. As you might expect, it is absolutely horrifying but also quite enlightening. Did you know that it was actually the colonists, not Native Americans, who began the practice of scalping? Leaders of the new colonies offered cash for scalps (i.e. proof of killing an Indian), including those of children. Ugh. This is such an important book, but it is very heavy reading.

I started a new audio book, another very popular novel I've been meaning to read for ages, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Somehow, I missed it when it was published in 2011 and just found the audio files sort of hidden on my laptop and unlabelled--a pleasant surprise! It's the story of Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceuticals researcher from Minnesota who has been tasked with traveling to a remote area of Brazil. Another researcher at her company, Dr. Annick Swenson, has gone missing there and cut off all communication with the company, and the first guy sent to find her has now died. I am still early in the book--Marina has just arrived in Brazil--but it's already a very intriguing story with in-depth characters. I'm sure there will be plenty of interesting plot twists as Marina heads into the Amazon to search for her former mentor (I am sensing some Heart of Darkness themes here).

My husband, Ken, finished The Lying Game by Ruth Ware, a book I put in his Christmas stocking. He and I have both enjoyed other Ware novels, including The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood. This one is about four women who attended boarding school together, playing what they called The Lying Game, telling lies to their fellow students and even the staff at every turn. Now they are adults, and one of them texts the other three that she needs them. The four women converge on the seaside town where they went to school, as the secrets from their past threaten to emerge. He enjoyed reading it, and I'm looking forward to it as well (this is why my TBR shelves never get any less full, in spite of reading 45 TBR books last year!).

Now, Ken has moved onto another Christmas gift from me, Blue Moon by Lee Child. This is Ken's all-time favorite author and series, so he was excited to read this latest book (number 24!) about Jack Reacher, just released in October 2019. According to the blurb, this one involves an elderly couple who get into financial trouble, both Ukrainian and Albanian gangs, loan sharks, thugs, and assassins! Ken enjoys the writing and the suspense and action of these novels. He is loving this one so far, immersing himself in his favorite fictional world.

Our son, 25, had a tough choice last week. He had just gone on a shopping spree at Barnes & Noble with his Christmas gift card and had three new books to choose from, all of which he couldn't wait to read! He settled on The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, book 1 in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Sounds like this one features dark sorcery, an elf-like race, royals and servants, a deadly riddle, and plenty of swords--all right up his alley! I can't remember, but I don't think he's read this author before. This first book is almost 700 pages, so that should keep him busy.


Last week's blog posts:
Fiction Review: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center - I enjoyed this unique novel on audio about a female firefighter.

Fiction Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Another audio hit - warm and funny

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?

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Fiction Review: A Man Called Ove

For years, everyone I know--including my mother--has been saying, "You have to read A Man Called Ove!" I finally had the chance this month to listen to the popular and acclaimed Swedish novel by Fredrik Backman on audio. Everyone was right! I started laughing from the first moments of this warm, funny, poignant novel and loved every moment of it.

Ove is a fifty-nine year old man in Sweden with a reputation as a curmudgeon. Recently forced to retire early (and reluctantly) from the job he loved, he still likes to feel useful. Each morning, he makes the rounds of his planned townhouse community, checking to see that no one had parked where they shouldn't, that recyclables and trash are each in their respective bins, and that the neighborhood is generally following the rules; as you might expect, his efforts are not always appreciated. One morning, Ove's life is upended when new neighbors move in next to him, knocking over his mailbox while trying (unsuccessfully) to back up their rental trailer. This does not go over well. The woman, whom Ove christens The Pregnant One, seems to be foreign; the man, known in Ove's mind as The Lanky One, is clearly useless if he can't even back up a trailer; and their two little girls are chatty and annoying. Despite Ove's scathing comments to them about the trailer in his flower bed, the woman, Parvaneh, sees something in Ove worth working to get to know. Through a series of emergencies, crises, and other situations that require Ove's assistance, he gradually gets closer to not only the new family but some of his other neighbors as well. This new family softens Ove ... a bit. There is more to Ove than meets the eye.

As I said, this audio book had me laughing right from the start of chapter 1, but there is so much emotional depth to it, in addition to its humor. Both the reader and Parvaneh gradually get to know Ove, and in each chapter, there is both action in the present and Ove's musings about his past that help to explain much of his behavior and demeanor now. I was a tiny bit irritated that Ove kept getting depicted as an "old man" when he's only 59, but that was a very small complaint in an otherwise wonderful book. It was especially engaging on audio, read by actor J.K. Simmons, with both the laughs and the touching moments continuing throughout the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this hilarious and heartwarming story of a stubborn and cranky man who finds a new purpose in life.

337 pages, Washington Square Press
Simon & Schuster Audio


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, read by actor J.K. Simmons, and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the start of the novel, a scene with Ove in an Apple Store looking at iPads - hilarious!

You can purchase A Man Called Ove from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order A Man Called Ove from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


And the popularity of the novel means that it is a hot one for movie adaptation!

Here is a trailer for the Swedish movie (with subtitle), a multi-award winner (a few spoilers from early in the novel if you haven't yet read the book):


And if you prefer an American movie without subtitles, Tom Hanks has signed on to produce and star in the Hollywood version!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fiction Review: Things You Save in a Fire

All last year, I kept hearing rave reviews of the novel Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center, so I chose it for my First Audio Book of the New Year. That was an excellent decision because this unique story about a female firefighter is engrossing, suspenseful, and poignant.

Twenty-something Cassie is one of San Antonio's few female firefighters and a trained paramedic. She loves the thrill of the job and the adrenaline rush, being able to help people and make a difference in their lives, and how all-consuming her career is. She fills her limited spare time with teaching self-defense, volunteering, and helping her dad build an addition on his house. And she does not date, ever. After a violent and embarrassing incident the night she's given a special award for valor, Cassie is in danger of losing the job that defines her. Instead, she bargains with her captain and makes a deal. Her estranged mother recently called, begging Cassie to come to Boston to help her through a medical problem for a year. Cassie was completely against the idea, still hurt by her mother's leaving her and her dad when Cassie was just 16, but now it seems like a solution that will allow Cassie to keep doing what she loves.

So, she moves to a small town north of Boston and joins a very traditional firehouse that has never even seen a female firefighter. They insist on calling her a "lady," curtail swearing and joking in her presence, and generally underestimate her. The only thing that makes the job halfway tolerable is the new rookie who started at the same time, mostly known by all as simply The Rookie. He is kind and friendly toward her and also very handsome. Cassie finds herself attracted to him, but she doesn't date ... and she certainly doesn't date firefighters. That would make her colleagues think even less of her. There are plenty of surprises in store for Cassie, though, in her new life and new job, things that will test her resolve and shatter her carefully controlled life.

I was fascinated to learn all the details of a female firefighter's life, and Cassie is a likable--if damaged--character. When the handsome rookie was first mentioned, I admit I kind of groaned to myself because I don't normally read romances, but this novel does not fit neatly into a single genre. It deals with some very serious and challenging issues, life and death situations, and focuses mainly on how a person overcomes trauma. It's about the long, twisted road to healing and is filled with emotional complexity. The audio book was especially engaging, and I was always eager to pop in my earbuds and listen to a few more minutes of Cassie's compelling story. This original novel has it all: excitement, suspense, family drama, overcoming adversity, and yes, romance, too.

320 pages, St. Martin's Press
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.



Listen to a sample of the excellent audio book, narrated by Therese Plummer, here and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Things You Save in a Fire from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Things You Save in a Fire from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.