Monday, April 12, 2021

It's Monday 4/12! What Are You Reading?


It was kind of a rough week for me physically, still struggling with this relapse of my chronic illnesses that began last March. I even had to spend one day in bed, but the up side was lots of reading time last week! And I had a good appointment with my Lyme specialist, so I am newly committed to keep pushing forward, trying new treatments, increasing doses, and yes, more lab tests, too! To give you an idea of my foggy state of mind last week, I spent an hour writing, editing, posting, and sharing a book review ... then finally realized I'd reviewed the same book the week before!

Felt crummy last week but that left plenty of reading time on the deck!
 

On the brighter side, I decided to take a short trip to the beach this coming week, on my own. We had to cancel mid-week camping plans because my husband's work schedule is so crazy, so friends are lending me their beach condo (which is empty this week) for a mini getaway! After this past year, I am looking forward to some quiet alone time and a change of scenery. I love the ocean 💕 and find it instantly calming and peaceful. Besides packing today, I will make sure I have plenty of audiobooks on my iPod for the drive!

Can't wait to be back at the beach!
 

For more on what I am currently reading and just finished, check out my Friday Reads video--a short overview from last Friday (and to hear me gush over A Gentleman in Moscow). 

Here's what we have all been reading this week:

I finished reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles for one of my book groups. I said to my husband one night, "When everyone I know says a book is amazing, I should listen!" Why did I wait so long to read this one? It's about Count Alexander Rostov, a 33-year-old poet in 1922 Russia who is put before a Bolshevik tribunal, where they determine he is "an unrepentant aristocrat." He is sentenced to house arrest in the grand hotel, Metropol. He's been living in a luxury suite there for years, but now he is moved to a tiny room in the attic. He can move freely around the hotel but can not leave the premises. He struggles at first, but a precocious nine-year-old girl named Nina, who also lives at the hotel, introduces him to an entire world behind the scenes of the familiar hotel (think Eloise in Moscow). Rostov is also naturally resilient and upbeat. The novel is warm, funny, and engrossing and is all about living in the present and finding small joys in every-day life--all very uplifting. I loved everything about it, and my book group rated it an unprecedented 9.6 out of 10!

Now, I am reading Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, a gift from my Easter basket. I've never read Capote before, though I saw the famous movie adaptation with Audrey Hepburn. I watched the movie a long time ago and didn't remember much of the plot, but it's impossible to read the book without picturing Hepburn in the lead role (even though she's blond in the book). In case you're not familiar with it, it's the story of a young woman named Holly Golightly, as told by an unnamed male narrator who lives in the apartment above hers in a brownstone in NYC. Holly is an unusual woman, to say the least. She has loads of charm and poise and hobnobs with wealthy men, though her own past is quite mysterious. I really enjoyed this novella, with its rich descriptions and dialogue that make you feel like you are right there, in post-war New York with them. I actually finished it last night, though there are three short stories by Capote included in the book that I am still enjoying.

On audio, I finished listening to a YA novel, One Way or Another by Kara McDowell. I love novels that play with time, and this one is about alternate timelines. Seventeen-year-old Paige struggles with anxiety and is in love with her best friend, Fitz, but he's always dating someone else. Now, as much as she hates even trivial decisions, she has a big one to make: go with Fitz to his family's mountain cabin for a Christmas worthy of a Hallmark holiday movie (and Fitz just broke up with his latest girlfriend) or go to NYC with her mother for her dream trip of a lifetime. As she's agonizing over the choice with her friend in a store, Paige slips and hits her head. From then on, the novel splits into two different storylines: on one path, Paige goes to the cabin with Fitz and his family and on the other path, she goes to New York with her mom. I like that this novel is fun, with the alternate timelines and rom-com feel, but it also tackles the serious issue of Paige's crippling anxiety and self-doubt.

Now, I am listening to Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss. I really loved Krauss' earlier novel, The History of Love, which has two disparate stories/characters that eventually come together in a story about (you guessed it) love. I also read her next novel, Great House, a finalist for the National Book Award, which was also good, though it felt a bit too bleak for my tastes. Forest Dark is so far following a similar approach as those earlier novels, in starting out with two separate stories, with just a location/place in common between them. Sixty-eight-year-old Epstein has just gone missing in Tel Aviv, and his daughters are staying at the city's Hilton, as they try to figure out what happened to him and what to do next. The story flashes back to Epstein's past, where he grew up in Long Island and later became very successful and wealthy. In an alternate storyline, a successful female novelist has writer's block, so she leaves her husband and children at home to travel to Tel Aviv, where she also stays at the Hilton. She has stayed there every summer of her life, and she has a vague idea to set her next novel there and is hoping the surroundings will get her writing again. That's it so far, but as always with Krauss, it's very well-written, intricate, and engaging.

My husband, Ken, is still reading The Night Fire by Michael Connelly. This is book three in the Renee Ballard series, and the second one that teams up Ballard with classic Connelly character Harry Bosch. My husband and I both love Connelly's books and the Harry Bosch series. Ballard has been an excellent addition to Connelly's thrillers, as a younger, female lead character. We both enjoyed her debut in The Late Show, and my husband also read book two, Dark Sacred Night (I have some catching up to do). In this book, Bosch and Ballard team up again to tackle a cold case that was important to Bosch's mentor who just died. Apparently, the two of them begin to really come together as a team in this novel, so that sounds great to us! Ken's already enjoying it. Thrillers are his favorite kind of book, and it's so much fun to just get sucked right into a gripping story.

Our son, 26, finished re-reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, book three in the Stormlight Archive series, in preparation for book four, which his girlfriend got for him (released in November). I love how she understands his love of reading and of favorite book series, even though she's not a big book lover herself. This is one of his favorite authors, and he loves this series! He lugged this 1248-page hardcover book home with him over Easter, and has now started the much-anticipated book 4, Rhythm of War, which is about the same length! He's in heaven with these huge books in a favorite series by a favorite author! 

 

Last week's blog posts:

Fiction Review: Rabbit, Run by John Updike - interesting & engaging, though I had some mixed feelings

Fiction Review: Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur - take 2! Still liked it 😀

Middle-Grade Review: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart - loved it! Warm, funny, moving story of grief, loss, family & friendship

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, April 09, 2021

Middle-Grade Review: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

I always enjoy Dan Gemeinhart's novels, like The Honest Truth (one of his best), but now I have a new favorite: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. I absolutely loved this warm, funny, moving story about loss, grief, family, and friendship.

Twelve-year-old Coyote lives with her dad, Rodeo (yeah, he's a bit of a hippie), in a refurbished school bus. The two of them have been on the road in the bus continuously for the past five years, ever since a tragedy that they don't talk about happened. Coyote mostly enjoys their quirky lifestyle, though it does get lonely sometimes, especially when she meets someone she thinks might become a friend and then they move on. At that start of the novel, Coyote adopts a kitten, whom she names Ivan after her favorite book (The One and Only Ivan, of course), and he provides a bit of the companionship she's been missing. One Sunday, when Coyote makes her weekly phone call home to her grandma, she finds out that something big is happening in their hometown next week, something that Coyote just has to be there in time for. The problem is that her dad has refused to even talk about their hometown, let alone return to it, for five years. So, Coyote hatches a plan to get her dad to drive cross-country for four days straight ... without knowing their real destination. As they begin their journey from Florida to Washington state, they also begin to pick up stray travelers along the way (as long as they can answer Rodeo's three questions satisfactorily). There's Lester, who has to get to Idaho to return to the woman he loves, and Salvador and his mom, who also seem to have some sadness and loss in their own recent past, and Val, a young woman looking for a safe place to be her true self. This ragtag bunch of travelers come together on this epic journey, each moving toward his or her own destiny.

As always, Gemeinhart here digs into some serious issues of loss and grief but always with warmth and a great sense of humor. Coyote is a truly remarkable character, strong and kind, who has been through a lot of tragedy and hurt in her young life. The secondary characters are just as wonderful, each bringing his or her own unique traits to the group so that they are truly stronger as a whole. Our family has always loved cross-country road trips, so I especially enjoyed the travel descriptions and Coyote and Rodeo's pursuit of the perfect sandwich. There are plenty of laughs here, as well as some happy tears toward the end. Khristine Hvam does an excellent job narrating, I was engrossed from the very beginning, and I loved every minute of the audio. All of this comes together in a heartwarming, poignant, funny story of healing, family, and friendship. I'm already missing Coyote!

352 pages, Square Fish

Macmillan Audio


Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the excellent audiobook here, from the opening scene of the book, and/or download it from Audible.

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

     
  

 

Or you can order The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Fiction Review: Heart Spring Mountain

In March, I listened to Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur on audio. It was the first novel I've read/listened to from this author, and I enjoyed the multi-generational family drama with a strong focus on nature.

Vale is living in New Orleans and working as a bartender and dancer when she gets an unexpected phone call from home. Tropical Storm Irene has come through her home state of Vermont and devastated the local area with heavy winds and flooding. A bridge near Vale's home was washed out, and her mother, Bonnie, was last seen on that bridge and is now missing. Though Vale and Bonnie have been estranged for many years due to Bonnie's drug use, Vale gets on a bus immediately and heads back to Vermont. Once there, she is immersed in the place and among the people where she grew up, for the first time in decades. As she helps in the search for Bonnie, she reconnects to her roots, once again seeing family and friends, visiting the old cabins that her ancestors lived in, and jumping back into this world she had left behind. Chapters alternate between narrators, including Vale, her mother, her grandmother, her great-aunt, her great-grandmother, and more. In all, five generations of Vale's family narrate this novel, from different time periods spanning almost a hundred years, all in this remote area of the Vermont woods. As the reader learns more about Vale's family history in the past, Vale uncovers some long-held family secrets in the present. Nature, the outdoors, and wildlife are ever-present in both Vale's present and in the past, providing a connection through the generations.

I enjoyed this family drama with several surprising twists in it. Listening on audio, I was a bit confused at first by all the different female narrators from different time periods, but a quick family tree sketched out on a Post-It note while I listened helped me keep them straight! By the time some unexpected secrets were revealed, I had a good grasp of the family dynamics and understood the consequences of those surprises. The novel has a strong sense of place, and nature plays a significant role in the story and in Vale's family. I enjoyed listening to this emotionally complex family narrative set in such a unique, wild, and beautiful place.

368 pages, Ecco

HarperAudio

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.

 

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the beginning of the novel, as Bonnie experiences the storm.

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

    
  

 

Or you can order Heart Spring Mountain from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Fiction Review: Rabbit, Run

I had never read anything by John Updike and wanted to, so for Christmas my husband gave me Rabbit, Run, the first novel in Updike's famed Rabbit series. I finally read this modern classic last month. It was interesting and engaging, though I did have some mixed feelings about it. I'd love to hear from other readers if I should read more of the series!

Twenty-six-year-old Harry Angstrom is known as Rabbit and was a high school basketball star. Life's been pretty much downhill since then. After a stint in the Army stationed in Texas, Rabbit is now back in his hometown in eastern Pennsylvania. He's working as a salesman for a kitchen peeler, is married to Janice, and has a toddler son and another baby on the way. One day, Rabbit gets fed up with his life and with Janice, and when he goes out to pick up their son from his grandparents' house, he just keeps driving. As he drives out of town and then through several states well into the dark night, the sense of freedom makes Rabbit ecstatic. He does return back to the area but not to his home. Instead, he lives in the next town over and without a backward glance, starts a new life. He checks in with his old basketball coach, looking for guidance. And, though he doesn't ask for it, support comes from another source, too: the young Father Eccles (or just Jack), the Episcopalian minister of his in-law's church. They are understandably worried about Harry, so Jack goes looking for him and tries to counsel him. The two men begin to play golf together and talk, and it becomes obvious that Jack has some issues of his own, though he never stops trying to convince Harry to return home.

This is a twisty, compelling story that kept me guessing (mostly because I kept expecting Rabbit to do the right thing!), and it has a strong sense of place. Updike's writing is mostly excellent, and I can see why he's achieved so much critical acclaim in his career. Sometimes, a sentence or phrase would just jump off the page at me, like his description of Rabbit finally sleeping soundly after many nights of insomnia:

"Sleep this night is not a dark haunted domain the mind must consciously set itself to invade, but a cave inside himself, into which he shrinks while the claws of the bear rattle like rain outside."

Many of his passages are also thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I always enjoy that in a novel. At other times, I got irritated by long sentences inside long paragraphs that went on for pages. Rabbit is not a likable character, but I don't think he's supposed to be. He's selfish, immature, and completely self-centered. In fact, there weren't a lot of characters to feel empathy for or root for in this novel, other than the children. I certainly felt sorry for Janice, but she is not painted in an especially positive light. The novel was originally published in 1960, which was both good and bad for me. I did enjoy many of the pop culture references of the time, especially during Rabbit's late night drive listening to the radio, and descriptions of daily life. However, parts of the novel felt very misogynistic to me, and women were highly sexualized (except for Rabbit's mother and mother-in-law). I couldn't tell whether that was intentional and supposed to be Rabbit's perspective, or the inadvertent biases of the author, or simply a product of its time. So, certain aspects of the novel were problematic for me, but I did enjoy reading it, had no trouble finishing it, and admired some of the writing.

So, my question is ... should I continue the series and read more Rabbit books? Those who have read them, let me know if Rabbit grows and redeems himself in later books!

325 pages, Random House

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.

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the beginning of the novel and provides a good look at Rabbit's life and into his head, as he impulsively joins some kids in a pick-up basketball game.

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local:


  

 

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

Monday, April 05, 2021

It's Monday 4/5! What Are You Reading?


Of course, the highlight of our week was the Easter holiday! Our older son came home on Friday and enjoyed a very relaxing weekend with us. We three caught up on NCIS, Star Trek Discovery, and The Good Place, three favorite shows we watched together when he lived here. His younger brother came for dinner Easter Sunday with his girlfriend, and my 95-year-old father-in-law was able to once again join us at the holiday table. We had a great time together and also enjoyed a Zoom catch-up with some extended family on Saturday.

All here and ready for our Easter feast!
 

I cooked a lot this weekend, too. My family has always enjoyed all of the traditional Ukrainian foods for Easter, based on recipes that my great-grandparents brought with them from Ukraine in the 1910's. We found some locally-made pierogies (missed the curbside pick-up at the Ukrainian church this year), and I cooked holubtsi (cabbage rolls) and hren (a beet and horseradish relish that is delicious), along with ham, Polish sausage, and green beans. It was a feast that brings back lots of great memories for me of my childhood, with my whole extended family together, from my great-grandfather down to me. And we have plenty of left-overs for dinner tonight!

All of our Ukrainian favorites!
 

As always, everyone got an Easter basket (even the 95-year-old!), and my husband, son, and I all got books in our baskets: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for me (yay!), Camino Winds by John Grisham for my husband, and Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell (book 3 of the Spellslinger series) for our son.

Easter baskets - with books, of course!

I was thrilled to be Bookshop's Social Media Affiliate Shout-Out on April 1! Bookshop is an awesome website that provides the convenience of buying books online, while supporting independent bookstores! My Bookshop page has a bunch of fun book lists that I created, and on April 1, Bookshop featured my Celebrate Spring with Books list, with my picks for books that focus on nature, renewal, and fresh starts. Check it out! Do you have any favorite books that are good springtime reads?

I had fun making this spring book list!
 

Finally, I posted two new bookish videos to my YouTube channel last week. My usual Friday Reads update went up on Friday (just a quickie overview of what I am reading). My favorite, though, was a tag called Hindsight is 20-20 Reader, all about the books I loved to read as a child and how I became an avid reader - my favorite topics! Since I still have many of my favorite books from my childhood, I did lots of show-and-tell with this one and had so much fun with it! Check it out, and let me know which books you loved as a child.

Here's what we have all been reading this past week:

I have been reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles for one of my book groups. I said to my husband one night, "When everyone I know says a book is amazing, I should listen!" Why did I wait so long to read this one? It's about Count Alexander Rostov, a 33-year-old poet in 1922 Russia who is put before a Bolshevik tribunal, where they determine he is "an unrepentant aristocrat." He is sentenced to house arrest in the grand hotel, Metropol. He's been living in a luxury suite there for years, but now he is moved to a tiny room in the attic. He can move freely around the hotel but can not leave the premises. He struggles at first, but a precocious nine-year-old girl named Nina, who also lives at the hotel, introduces him to an entire world behind the scenes of the familiar hotel. Rostov is also naturally resilient and upbeat. I'm about halfway through now and absolutely loving it. The novel is warm, funny, and engrossing and is all about living in the present and finding small joys in every-day life--all very uplifting.

On audio, I am now listening to a YA novel, One Way or Another by Kara McDowell. I love novels that play with time, and this one is about alternate timelines. Seventeen-year-old Paige struggles with anxiety and is in love with her best friend, Fitz, but he's always dating someone else. Now, as much as she hates even trivial decisions, she has a big one to make: go with Fitz to his family's mountain cabin for a Christmas worthy of a Hallmark holiday movie (and Fitz just broke up with his latest girlfriend) or go to NYC with her mother for her dream trip of a lifetime. As she's agonizing over the choice with her friend in a store, Paige slips and hits her head. From then on, the novel splits into two different storylines: on one path, Paige goes to the cabin with Fitz and his family and on the other path, she goes to New York with her mom. I like that this novel is fun, with the alternate timelines and rom-com feel, but it also tackles the serious issue of Paige's crippling anxiety and self-doubt. I'm enjoying it so far.

My husband, Ken, is still reading The Night Fire by Michael Connelly. This is book three in the Renee Ballard series, and the second one that teams up Ballard with classic Connelly character Harry Bosch. My husband and I both love Connelly's books and the Harry Bosch series. Ballard has been an excellent addition to Connelly's thrillers, as a younger, female lead character. We both enjoyed her debut in The Late Show, and my husband also read book two, Dark Sacred Night (I have some catching up to do). In this book, Bosch and Ballard team up again to tackle a cold case that was important to Bosch's mentor who just died. Apparently, the two of them begin to really come together as a team in this novel, so that sounds great to us! Ken's already enjoying it. Thrillers are his favorite kind of book, and it's so much fun to just get sucked right into a gripping story.

Our son, 26, is re-reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, book three in the Stormlight Archive series, in preparation for book four, which his girlfriend just got for him (released in November). I love how she understands his love of reading and of favorite book series, even though she's not a big book lover herself. This is one of his favorite authors, and he loves this series! He lugged this 1248-page hardcover book home with him this weekend (this is the guy who, when he was about twelve years old, carried a giant hardcover collection of all the Sherlock Holmes stories/novels in his backpack on a long travel day through multiple airports!). He's almost finished with Oathbringer and is looking forward to book four, which is just as long.

 

Just some light reading for a travel weekend!


Blog posts from last week:

Movie Monday: Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand in this quiet, uplifting story based on real life

Fiction Review: Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur - family drama spanning five generations of women in the backwoods of Vermont

Middle-Grade Reviews: Two Graphic Novels for Middle-Graders - I enjoyed both of these realistic middle-grade graphic novels

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, April 02, 2021

Middle-Grade Reviews: 2 Graphic Novels for Middle-Graders

In March, I read two graphic novels for middle-grade readers and enjoyed them both!

I just finished reading Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. Identical twins Maureen and Francine are starting middle school (6th grade) together, but suddenly, everything seems different between them. They've always been inseparable, but now, Francine wants to be called Fran, is in different classes than Maureen, and wants to establish a separate identity. Maureen feels lost in the new school without her sister by her side and is devastated by the changes. To top it off, Maureen is stuck in Cadet Corps, while Fran is taking regular PE, and Maureen is terrible at marching. Then, things get even worse when they both decide to run for President of Student Council. Suddenly, it's sister versus sister, with their joint friends feeling caught in the middle. Gradually, Maureen makes some new friends and discovers that maybe things aren't as perfect as they seem for Francine, either, as the two girls learn more about themselves and each other and finally breach the new gap between them.

I really enjoyed this story that is perfect for kids facing all the new challenges of middle school. Between Maureen and Francine, kids will be able to relate to issues of academic struggles, friendship, self-confidence, and of course, sibling squabbles. The story and its characters feel real, with true-to-life challenges and flawed people. There's just enough conflict here to keep kids engaged, with a happy but not predictable ending. Each girl learns to accept her own flaws and celebrate her own strengths, and the twins develop their own identities while still maintaining a close relationship.

249 pages, Graphix by Scholastic

 

Earlier in March, I read All Together Now by Hope Larson. I realized too late that this is the sequel to another middle-grade graphic novel, All Summer Long, that I hadn't read, but I was still able to enjoy this story about friendship and the beginnings of romance.

Even though Darcy has only lived in L.A. for a few months, she and Bina have become fast friends. Darcy is from Brooklyn, and the two eighth-grade girls both love music. They even started a band together, with Darcy on keyboards and Bina playing guitar. Bina writes original songs for them to play. (Much of that happened in the first book, but there is plenty of info here to catch you up.) Now, they decide they need a drummer to complete their band. They find one in Enzo, a quiet, nerdy kind of guy at school who was recently moved up a grade. He's a great drummer, and it seems like things will work out well. Then, Enzo and Darcy begin seeing each other, and both of them want a harder, more punk sound for the band. Suddenly, everything has changed, and Bina feels left out in the cold. To add to her confusion, her neighbor and best friend, Austin, seems to be interested in her romantically, and Bina isn't sure how she feels about that. After the new school year began with such high hopes, life feels distressing and confusing to Bina now. Can Darcy and Bina repair this rift between them?

Even though I missed the first book, I caught on pretty quickly to Darcy and Bina's friendship and the status quo. This book is all about upheavals and changes, topics familiar to any middle-schooler! While the challenges here begin with creative differences, the focus is really on relationships: Darcy and Bina's friendship and the experiences of first love. These topics are dealt with intelligently and sensitively, with an ever-present focus on music as the driving force in Bina's life. I enjoyed this unique music-oriented look at the challenges of navigating relationships as a young teen.

178 pages, Farrar Straus Giroux

Disclosure: I received these books from the publishers 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 buy the books through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!    
  

 

Or you can order Twins or All Summer Long or All Together Now from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Fiction Review: Heart Spring Mountain

I recently listened to Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur on audio, and I enjoyed this  emotionally complex family drama spanning five generations of women. 

Vale lives in New Orleans and works as a bartender and dancer. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene devastates her home state of Vermont, and she gets a phone call that her mother, Bonnie, is missing. Though they've been estranged for many years, Vale gets on a bus and travels to Vermont to help search for Bonnie. Once up there, she is surrounded by old friends and family, memories, and her family's history, including some long-held shocking secrets she uncovers. As her search for Bonnie, who is a drug addict and unreliable, continues for months, Vale slowly returns to this place and these people where she spent her childhood. Chapters alternate between different narrators from different time periods, going back through five generations of women in Vale's family who all lived in this remote section of Vermont woods. There is an intricate sense of place in their stories and a strong connection to nature, as Vale unravels secrets and perhaps finds a future for herself among the past.

This is an intricate, poignant story of family history woven with nature. Listening to the audio, I was a bit confused at first by all the female characters (and jumping around in time), but I finally got the generations of women straight in my mind (a family tree I sketched on a Post-It helped)! Vale's emotional journey back into her family and her heritage is a moving one. I enjoyed both the family dynamics and the strong focus on the Vermont woods and the natural world. I especially liked the links between the generations, as Vale slowly discovers things she never knew about her family. I enjoyed listening to this engaging and touching story of coming home and rediscovering herself through her family's history.

368 pages, Ecco

HarperAudio

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.

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

 
  
 

Or you can order Heart Spring Mountain from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Movie Monday: Nomadland

A few weeks ago, my husband and I watched Nomadland on Hulu, after it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (it's now been nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture). It's based on a nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder. We loved this beautiful, gentle film set in a real-life community of travelers.

Fern, played by Frances McDormand, is at loose ends. Her husband died and the company where they had both worked for decades shut down the mine they worked in. Worse, their tiny town of Empire was wholly a company town, and when the mine shut down, the town pretty much did, too, with no jobs left in the remote area of Nevada (this is all real-life true and happened in 2011). Fern has lost her job, her husband, and her town, and can not find a job of any kind locally. So, she outfits an old van for camping/living and sets off on the road. She finds seasonal jobs along the way--working in Amazon distribution centers, helping with harvest at a beet farm, working in National Parks--but the biggest surprise to her is the community she finds on the road. She's not the only one living out of her van and traveling from place to place, finding work where she can; an entire community of people, most of them older like her, is doing the same. She makes friends, and it's hard to say goodbye at the end of a stay, but then she realizes that they will see each other again at the next place or the next. She particularly bonds with a woman named Swankie who has lived this life for years and shows Fern the ropes, and with a man named Dave, played by David Strathairn. She runs into Dave for the second or third time when they are both working summer jobs at Badlands National Park, and then they both get jobs at nearby Wall Drug when the season is over. The two of them connect but a series of events leads them each to make some decisions about their lives.

While this movie begins with the reality of the economic devastation of the Great Recession and is about people living in poverty, it is a thoughtful, quiet film with lots of joy. The nomads themselves find joy in simple, everyday moments, like community campfires, helping each other, and dancing. The story is not only based on real-life people who live this way, but all of the actors in the film, except McDormand and Strathairn, are the real people living this life, playing themselves in the film. McDormand has also talked about other ways that she brought realism to her role, like including some of her own treasured items and photos in the van. Here's a great article from PBS about the real-world nomads, if you are interested in the background.

Nomadland is also a road trip movie, which we especially loved. We used to take 3-week-long road trips every summer with our sons, towing our own small camper, cross-country, and in the film, Fern visits places that we've been to and loved. We have camped--many times--in the exact campground at Badlands National Park where Fern works and visited Wall Drug many times as well. The familiar sights, especially after 18 months with no travel at all, were a wonderful balm for us. True, Fern's life (or that of any of the nomads) isn't easy, but they are kind and upbeat and making the best of things. Many of them now enjoy their lives of freedom and wouldn't want things any other way. We absolutely loved this gentle, thoughtful, uplifting movie about an invisible segment of society. It deserves those awards it's winning!

We watched Nomadland on Hulu. It is also playing in theaters, where they are open.


It's Monday 3/29! What Are You Reading?


It was a very rough week for me, emotionally and physically, due to some family conflict causing lots of stress, so I feel like the week passed in a blur, and I didn't get much of anything done. 

I did get around to some blog visits Monday and again last night (nothing like last-minute!), and I finally managed one review post this weekend.

On the plus side, my husband and I have been trying to get away for a day trip to the beach for ages, and on Friday, the stars finally aligned! His work schedule was clear (nonstop meetings since working from home), his dad's aide was visiting, and the weather at the beach was decent. 

My happy place.
 

Well, we did have 25+ mph winds, but otherwise it was nice! Our quiet walk on the beach wasn't quite as peaceful as usual, with the wind whipping sand at us. The sunscreen made a nice layer of glue, so the sand really stuck everywhere. But, we enjoyed our little escape. We got donuts from this amazing place down there, took our beach walk, and had lunch on an outdoor deck. Even the 90-minute drive was relaxing--we miss our road trips! And we were back in our own area by 4 pm to help his dad get ready for dinner. We did return home to a neighborhood without power for the next 5 hours, but that was OK--just made the vacation feeling last a bit longer and kept us off our laptops!

A little windy at the beach Friday!
 

Here's what we were all reading last week:

I am still reading one of my Christmas gifts from my husband, Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I've never read Updike before, so I've been eager to read this modern classic. It's about a twenty-six-year-old man named Harry Angstrom, who goes by the nickname Rabbit. Rabbit was a high school basketball star and now lives in his small hometown in Pennsylvania with his wife and young son, working as a sales rep for a home goods company. One day, Rabbit is suddenly dissatisfied with his life and does something pretty drastic. The novel is, of course, well-written and interesting (it's been popular for a long time for a reason!), though I have to admit that I don't like the main character much. It was written in 1960, which is both fun, for the pop culture references, and problematic, for gender roles, racial stereotypes, and other standards of the time. It's also quite misogynistic, but I can't figure out if that's the character or the author! I keep hoping Rabbit will redeem himself, and now, at the end of the book, he's a little bit better. It is an engrossing story, though, and well-written.

I just started another middle-grade graphic novel (I read graphic novels sort of between the cracks of other books, reading a few pages here and there), Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. I've heard a lot of great things about this one and have been looking forward to it. It's about a set of identical twins, Francine and Maureen, who are starting middle school (6th grade). They've been inseparable their whole lives but now Francine (who suddenly wants to be called Fran) wants to create her own separate identity. Maureen, of course, feels abandoned and left out. I've just started it, but it's already interesting and engaging, and I'm enjoying the full-color illustrations. I also enjoyed The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson on audio.

And on audio, I just finished The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, a middle-grade novel I have been waiting to read since its 2019 release (thanks for the reminder, Unleashing Readers!). I always enjoy Gemeinhart's novels (The Honest Truth is especially good), but this is definitely my new favorite! It's about a twelve-year-old girl named Coyote who lives and travels in a refurbished school bus with her dad, Rodeo (yeah, he's a bit of a hippie). They've been living in the bus and on the road for five years now, since a tragedy occurred in their lives that Rodeo doesn't want to talk about. But on one of her weekly calls to her grandma, Coyote learns that something is about to happen in their hometown the following week. She needs to get back there to rescue some precious memories, but Rodeo has refused to return for five years. Coyote must somehow get him to drive four days straight, across the entire country, to get there ... without him knowing their true destination! Along the way, they pick up some stray travelers who both complicate the situation and improve it. As with all of Gemeinhart's novels, he address serious issues with warmth and plenty of humor. All that plus a road trip plot? I'm in! I absolutely loved every moment of this novel, and it was excellent on audio.


My husband, Ken, finished reading Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline, which we have both been looking forward to! I gave it to him for Christmas (the best kind of gift, the kind I can enjoy, too). He, I, and our son all loved Ready Player One when it came out (and we all enjoyed the movie, too), so we've been happily anticipating the sequel. According to the cover blurb, this book begins just after the events in the first book ended. Wade is now in charge of OASIS and the empire left by genius creator James Halliday (kind of a Willy Wonka-like set-up!) and discovers a new secret in his vaults, a brand-new technology that could change OASIS and the real world dramatically. Apparently, there is a a new riddle, a new quest, and. ... a new evil villain ready to thwart Wade and his friends. Ken says it is very much like the first book, which makes it enjoyable, though no longer the novelty that the first book was when it made such a huge splash. He enjoyed it--I'm next!

Now, Ken has started reading The Night Fire by Michael Connelly. This is book three in the Renee Ballard series, and the second one that teams up Ballard with classic Connelly character Harry Bosch. My husband and I both love Connelly's books and the Harry Bosch series. Ballard has been an excellent addition to Connelly's thrillers, as a younger, female lead character. We both enjoyed her debut in The Late Show, and my husband also read book two, Dark Sacred Night (I have some catching up to do). In this book, Bosch and Ballard team up again to tackle a cold case that was important to Bosch's mentor who just died. Apparently, the two of them begin to really come together as a team in this novel, so that sounds great to us! Ken's already enjoying it. Thrillers are his favorite kind of book, and it's so much fun to just get sucked right into a gripping story.


Our son, 26, is re-reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson, book three in the Stormlight Archive series, in preparation for book four, which his girlfriend just got for him (released in November)! I love how she understands his love of reading and of favorite book series, even though she's not a big book lover herself. This is one of his favorite authors, and he loves this series! I texted my son last week to ask if he's still reading this, and he, "Of course, Mom - it's 1230 pages!" ha ha This is pretty typical for him; he routinely reads huge epic novels and thinks my Big Book Summer Challenge is funny!

 

Two new blog posts last week:

Movie Monday: Palmer - we both loved this poignant, uplifting film that had me both laughing and crying!

Fiction Review: Whisky for Breakfast by Christopher P. Mooney - collection of smart, thought-provoking & engrossing short stories

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?