Thursday, August 09, 2018

Summertime...and the Reading is Easy!

My latest book column has been published on Shelf Awareness, and it is all about summer reading! No, not about reading Big Books (though that is my favorite part of summer), but in this column, I recommend four wonderful books - two novels, one graphic novel, and one nonfiction - that are all about summer, with luscious summer settings - perfect for this time of year! You can read the full article here.

Here are links to my book reviews for all four books described in the column, plus a bonus - two more novels with summer-themes that I enjoyed:
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
What books have you enjoyed that are about summer or have a summer theme?

Monday, August 06, 2018

Movie Monday: How It Ends

Last weekend, my husband and I were in the mood for a movie, so we watched How It Ends, a suspenseful, action-packed, thoughtful apocalypse film that kept us glued to the screen.

This disaster/road trip movie starts fast and keeps moving. In the opening scene, Will, played by Theo James (who played Four in the Divergent movies), is in Chicago, talking to his girlfriend, Sam, played by Kat Graham, on the phone. She is in Seattle, and he is headed home today, but while they are talking, he hears strange sounds through the phone, Sam says something is wrong, and then the connection cuts out. Unable to reach Sam again and hearing disturbing reports on the news of a huge seismic event off the West Coast, Will heads to Sam's parents' house, even though Sam's father, Tom, doesn't like him. Tom, played by Forest Whitaker, is ex-military and has high standards for his daughter. But with Sam's life apparently in danger and all planes grounded, the two men set aside their differences and head west in a car, while Sam's mom goes to stay with their son. Thus begins an epic cross-country road trip, while a series of cascading disasters unfolds around them. Mega storms, fires, and more bombard the travelers, as they get closer and closer to the center of the apocalyptic disaster. Plus, they have to deal with other people they meet along the way, some of whom are kind and in need of help themselves, but others who are taking advantage of the situation. It's a harrowing survival situation, and as the two drive westward, they gradually and grudgingly begin to bond and respect one another.

This apocalyptic disaster movie features nonstop action and plenty of suspense. Anytime you think the pair will be OK, some other unexpected challenge suddenly pops up. There is a fair amount of violence, but it is also a thoughtful movie, focusing in on the emotional relationship between Will and Tom as well as the physical challenges they face. The disaster itself is never fully explained, though all kinds of theories have popped up on the internet since it came out. It's a nail-biter thriller that certainly kept our attention, and the acting is excellent. We both enjoyed it.

How It Ends is a Netflix original movie, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.


It's Monday 8/6! What Are You Reading?

Whew - I am both relieved and alarmed that it is now August! It's been a chaotic and stressful summer, with unbearable heat and very little relaxation, so I am ready for September. On the other hand, we are running out of summer days very quickly! We have managed to somehow find a few days when all four of us are available, so next week, we will have a tiny pocket of vacation time - first attending the wedding of my cousin's daughter (the first one in my sons' generation to get married!) and then leaving from there for a few days of camping. Hopefully, we will be up high enough (in the Pocono Mountains of PA) that it will be comfortable there.

As always, through all the ups and downs, we are enjoying our books, especially our Big Books this summer. Here's what we've all been reading:
  • I finished Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (review at the link), a YA novel that's been on my shelf for way too long. My 3rd book for my Big Book Summer Challenge, this engrossing YA novel has two intertwined narratives that are both great. In the first, a teen girl participates in NaNoWrMo (a month-long writing challenge every November), writes a paranormal YA romance, sells it to a publisher, and moves to NYC. The other story is the actual novel she wrote, as she struggles with edits and rewrites. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and both are absolutely compelling. 
  • Next, I moved onto Big Book #4 for this summer: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I bought this novel at Northshire Bookstore in VT because one of the hosts, Ann, of my favorite book podcast (Books on the Nightstand - now retired but still available) said it was her favorite book. It's the story of a group of people, including some Jesuit priests, who travel to another galaxy in search of extraterrestrial life. Something horrible and tragic happens during that mission, and only one man returns (not a spoiler). The novel begins with the present (2060), after the mission, and flashes back to the first ideas of the mission, ironically in 2019 (the book was published in 1996), so I am just now (at about 150 pages in) getting to the actual mission. It is engrossing and completely unique so far, and the characters feel real.
  • I am still listening - and really enjoying - Plus One by Elizabeth Fama, a YA novel (a freebie from SYNC). It's set in an alternate reality, where the reduced population after the flu pandemic of 1918 led to the remaining people being divided into Rays, who live during the day, and Smudges, who live at night. Sol is a seventeen-year old Smudge. Her brother was transferred to day-living as part of a court settlement four years ago, and is now married with a newborn baby. Since Sol and her brother are now on opposite schedules, they are not allowed to see each other (except for an occasional Unity Day). Sol's beloved grandfather who raised them both is dying, though, and Sol is determined for him to hold his new granddaughter before he dies. To accomplish that, she must break a lot of laws and take a lot of risks. A Ray doctor's apprentice named D'arcy gets pulled into helping Sol. This novel combines dystopia, action, suspense, and romance, and it's very engaging so far.
  • My husband, Ken, started and finished (taking a break from the Big Books!) a thriller that was one of my potential review books, Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas. It was just released in June. I listened to and enjoyed another of Douglas' novels, Local Girl Missing, on audio. He enjoyed this one, and I plan to read it, too.
  • Now, Ken is reading another thriller (his favorite kind of book!), The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz, another in the series that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Lagercrantz took over the series after its author, Stieg Larsson, died.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is reading book 10, Crossroads of Twilight, of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He has been plowing through this series, one huge book at a time. 
Blog posts last week:
Movie Monday: The Incredibles 2 - my husband and I went to a kids' movie alone...and enjoyed it!

Teen/YA Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld - I loved this YA novel!

My Summary of Books Read in July - a good reading month

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?   


P.S. I normally keep my chronic illness blog and my book blog lives separate, but I would love some support from my book-loving friends! I was nominated for a WEGO Health Patient Leader Hero award. In order to move onto the finals, I need lots of endorsements. It only takes a moment - just use this link to my award profile and click Endorse Sue Jackson. This means a lot to me because I now spend a lot of my time helping other patients, and the award would help me to reach even more. Thanks!

Friday, August 03, 2018

Books Read in July

Ahh...it's so much easier to keep up with my reviews during summer, when many of my books are longer ones for my Big Book Summer Challenge, which means fewer reviews to write!

July was a good reading month, in spite of 2 Did-Not-Finish books. Here's what I did finish in July:
  • Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (France, Scotland) - adult fiction
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (UK) - adult fiction on audio
  • Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter (NY) - adult fiction (reviewed for Shelf Awareness)

  • Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (WY, MT, SD) - adult fiction on audio
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (NY, CA) - teen/YA fiction

(Note: I also started but did not finish (DNF) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe and Made for Love by Alissa Nutting)

I finished just five books in July, but they were all excellent, and two of them were Big Books (more than 400 pages) for my Big Book Summer Challenge. My favorite? Impossible to choose! I absolutely loved every page (or minute) of Dragonfly in Amber (#2 in the Outlander series), Great Expectations, and Afterworlds. Of the five books I read, four were adult fiction and one was YA, and two were on audio. I'll share the link to my review of Red, White, Blue once it is published on Shelf Awareness.

Progress in 2018 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 3 books from my own shelves for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, bringing my total-to-date to 14. I can always rely on my Big Book Summer Challenge to boost my TBR numbers! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, July was Vacation Reads so I chose Dragonfly in Amber. I added Great Expectations for the Back to the Classics Challenge, bringing my total for the year so far to 3! That also counted for the 2018 Badass Books Challenge: a book published more than 100 years ago. I added France & Scotland to my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2018 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added just one new state but it was a rare one for book settings - Montana (Dragon Teeth). And for my own Big Book Summer Challenge, I finished my second Big Book for 2018 - Dragonfly in Amber (and am now reading my 3rd one). There is still plenty of time to join the summer fun - click the link for details!
 
Finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month. I filled in 21 squares in July - a good Bingo month for me!




Spaces filled in:
Dragonfly in Amber -  Over 400 pages, in a series, foreign country, in a series, time travel (& distance travel), feast, shelf love
Great Expectations - Hat on the cover, lol
Red, White, Blue - Multi-word title, dual POV, read a physical book, free book
Afterworlds - Mythical creature, character wears glasses, special powers, magic, young adult
Dragon Teeth  - Historic
Free Space
What was your favorite book read in July?   

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Teen/YA Review: Afterworlds

I just finished my third book for my Big Book Summer Challenge, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, and I loved it! As with many of the big books I read during the summer that have sat on my shelves for years...why did I wait so long? I read this clever and suspenseful novel that incorporates a book-in-a-book in record time and loved every minute of it.

Seventeen year-old Darcy Patel has a very lucrative publishing contract for her first novel, which she wrote in just 30 days (though not mentioned by name, clearly Darcy participated in NaNoWrMo - National Novel Writing Month - which occurs every November). This sudden good fortune is hard for her to believe, a dream come true for the young book lover. After high school graduation, she moves to New York City to live her dream as a writer, living off her substantial advance while she works on edits and rewrites and struggles with starting her sequel. Darcy's novel is titled Afterworlds, and alternate chapters in Westerfeld's novel are the actual chapters from Darcy's book. In that story, her protagonist, named Lizzie, survives a terrorist attack by somehow finding her way into the afterworld. There, she meets a handsome teen boy (who is actually thousands of years old) who is also a living person able to visit the afterworld, as Lizzie discovers she can now do. As Lizzie deals with the aftermath of the attack in the living world, she explores the afterworld, which is sometimes frightening and sometimes fascinating, and makes friends with a young ghost.

The set-up of this novel is original, compelling, and perfect! I loved the detail of Darcy writing her novel during NaNoWrMo, and the unfolding of her novel as she writes and edits it is genius. Chapters alternate between Darcy in the real world, learning to be an adult and working on revising her novel, and her fictional world with the story of Lizzie. So, for instance, Darcy when has a discussion with writer friends in the real world, the reader sees the result of that conversation work its way into the novel she is working on. Both stories are engrossing, and the whole novel kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime many nights. I enjoyed both parts of the novel equally and couldn't wait to get back to each of the main characters. Afterworlds combines realistic fiction with paranormal fiction, both sides fascinating and original, resulting in a suspenseful, clever, and engaging book. What avid reader doesn't dream of hitting it big with a first novel and moving to NYC to become a professional writer? Don't the make the mistake I did and let this gem of a book gather dust on your shelf - read it now! I'm so glad I did...though I'm sorry that it's over.

599 pages, Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)


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.
 
While I read this book in print, I think it would be great on audio! Listen to an audio sample here.

Purchase Afterworlds through an indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

Movie Monday: The Incredibles 2

We lost power for a few hours on Saturday, so we escaped to the a/c in the local movie theater! Much of what is playing now are the typical summer blockbusters - sequels of action movies filled with car chases and explosions - not really my kind of thing. So, instead, we watched The Incredibles 2, the sequel to an old favorite animated movie from when our kids were young. Yes, we have now graduated to going to children's movies without children! Just like the first movie, it was clever, funny, action-packed, and a lot of fun.

It's been 14 years since The Incredibles first hit theaters, but the original cast is back in this wonderful sequel. In case you somehow missed the original, it's about a family of superheroes, taking place in a 50's/60's style but modern world where superheroes have been outlawed because of the collateral damage they often cause while saving the day. As in the first movie, mom Helen (played by Holly Hunter) and dad Bob (played by Craig T. Nelson) are trying to act like a normal family and keep their superpowers under wraps. Teenage daughter Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) and over-active son Dash (voiced by Huck Milner) also have powers, as does baby Jack Jack (which the family doesn't know yet, though the audience does). The sequel begins with a major crisis, as the Underminer, voiced by John Ratzenberger, causes big problems in the city with his mole-like digging machine. Elastigirl (Helen) and Mr. Incredible (Bob) stop the rampage but not before the Underminer gets away and lots of that collateral damage occurs. Things change, though, when they are approached by a tech mogul named Winston Deaver, played by Bob Odenkirk, and his sister, Evelyn, played by Catherine Keener. They want to change the laws outlawing superheroes and have a plan for Helen and Bob to help them - all they need is some good PR!

As with the first movie, everything here is super-clever (pun intended!) and happens on two levels: one for the kiddos and one for the adults. Helen goes to work as Elastigirl, while Bob stays home with the kids, so there are the expected "inept dad left with the kids" jokes (only this time it's a superhero dad), but everything is executed perfectly, with plenty of suspense and lots of laughs. It's an intriguing plot with lots of twists and turns, and of course, this all-star cast is wonderful in their roles. Our favorite character, superhero costume designer Edna (voiced by Brad Bird), is back and even funnier, along with best super buddy Frozone, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. Of course, the animation is top-notch, and the settings - a combination of high-tech and 50's/60's style - are a lot of fun. Whether you have kids to bring along or not, The Incredibles 2 is nonstop fun from beginning to end, with the cleverness and humor you expect from Pixar. Oh, and the animated short at the beginning of the movie, Bai, was excellent as well - and right on the mark for two parents with young adult sons like us!

The Incredibles 2 is currently in theaters (click Fandango below to check times and locations near you). Streaming (now available for pre-order) and DVD will be released in October 2018.





It's Monday 7/30! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what a hectic, crazy, whirlwind week! Lots of time with my sons last week, helping them (and them helping me) with shopping, financial stuff, student loans...and of course, feeding them! We couldn't find a dinnertime when everyone was free, so we had a nice family lunch on Saturday. All that running around last week left me pretty wiped out this weekend (due to my chronic illness), so we focused on catching up and also relaxing at home. I had to turn down two invitations from friends, but we made up for it with a wild Friday night watching the first two episodes of the new (last!) season of Orange is the New Black - soooo good! And when we lost power for a few hours on Saturday (we've had storms every day for weeks now), we escaped out to try a new BBQ place and see The Incredibles 2 at the theater (both with lovely a/c). Both were very good. Yes, we are at the point now where we go see children's movies by ourselves!

So, busy, busy week, but we always find time for books...and especially our Big Books this summer! Here's what we've all been reading:
  • I am still reading - and loving - Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, a YA novel that's been on my shelf for way too long. This is my 3rd book for my Big Book Summer Challenge. This engrossing YA novel has two intertwined narratives that are both great. In the first, a teen girl participates in NaNoWrMo (a month-long writing challenge every November), writes a paranormal YA romance, sells it to a publisher, and moves to NYC. The other story is the actual novel she wrote, as she struggles with edits and rewrites. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and both are absolutely compelling. This is what summer reading should be - where you can't wait to pick up the book again and you stay up way too late reading just one more chapter! 
  • I mentioned last week that I started listening to Made for Love by Alissa Nutting, a novel with some strange elements. It's about a young woman escaping a bad marriage to a tech mogul, after he demands she has a chip implanted in her brain so he can "meld their minds," so she moves to her father's trailer in a senior citizen trailer park, where her dad is happily setting up housekeeping with his new lifelike sex doll, Diane. I was going along with the strange bits until one character encountered a dolphin in the ocean and became...uh...sexually attracted to dolphins instead of women. Yeah, it slid from merely quirky to seriously weird, so I gave up. Life's just too short, and I have WAY too many other books waiting!
  • Instead, I started another audio book that I am thoroughly enjoying so far, Plus One by Elizabeth Fama, a YA novel (another freebie from SYNC). It's set in an alternate reality, where the reduced population after the flu pandemic of 1918 led to the remaining people being divided into Rays, who live during the day, and Smudges, who live at night. Sol is a seventeen-year old Smudge. Her brother was transferred to day-living as part of a court settlement four years ago, and is now married with a newborn baby. Since Sol and her brother are now on opposite schedules, they are not allowed to see each other (except for an occasional Unity Day). Sol's beloved grandfather who raised them both is dying, though, and Sol is determined for him to hold his new granddaughter before he dies. To accomplish that, she must break a lot of laws and take a lot of risks. A Ray doctor's apprentice named D'arcy gets pulled into helping Sol. I am really enjoying it so far - lots of suspense and action, and I think a love story is coming, too.
  • My husband, Ken, finished his second Big Book of the summer and one of my all-time favorites, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This was one of my Big Book Summer reads a few years ago, and Ken gamely watched the movie adaptation with me, even though he found it pretty confusing (I loved the movie). It's a complicated but engrossing book, with multiple interwoven stories that show how we are all connected across space and time. He enjoyed it, though not quite as much as I did.
  • Now, Ken is taking a break from the Big Books to read a thriller that was one of my potential review books, Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas. It was just released in June. I listened to and enjoyed another of Douglas' novels, Local Girl Missing, on audio.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is reading book 10, Crossroads of Twilight, of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He has been plowing through this series, one huge book at a time. It's Big Book Summer all year-round for him; he rarely reads a book with under 400 pages. Most of the books in this series are between 900 and 1200 pages! 
Just a couple of blog posts last week -
TV Tuesday: GLOW - entertaining show about 80's women's wrestling - fun!

Fiction Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton - historical fiction published posthumously

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?   

P.S. I normally keep my chronic illness blog and my book blog lives separate, but I would love some support from my book-loving friends! I was nominated for a WEGO Health Patient Leader Hero award. In order to move onto the finals, I need lots of endorsements. It only takes a moment - just use this link to my award profile and click Endorse Sue Jackson. This means a lot to me because I now spend a lot of my time helping other patients, and the award would help me to reach even more. Thanks!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fiction Review: Dragon Teeth

My husband and I were both intrigued to hear that when best-selling author Michael Crichton died a decade ago, he left behind a finished but unpublished manuscript. We were both big Crichton fans and read most of the books he published in the 80's and 90's, so on a recent road trip, we enjoyed the audiobook of Dragon Teeth, a historical novel about early paleontology and the Wild West.

In 1876, William Johnson, a young student at Yale, gets involved with a dinosaur bone-hunting expedition to the West with renowned paleontologist Professor Marsh. Though Marsh assured William's parents that he'd be safe, the group head further and further West, well into areas where Native American tribes are warring with U.S. soldiers. Along the way, William realizes that his teacher is more than just eccentric - he's paranoid and obsessed with another paleontologist, Edwin Cope. He's so convinced Cope is out to get him that he abandons William alone in the rugged town of Cheyenne, WY, thinking he is a spy for his nemesis. Alone and scared, William does end up joining Cope's group when he encounters them. They journey far into the wilds of the American West with an Indian guide, encountering native tribes, soldiers, and Marsh's group, too. William, as part of Cope's group, helps to make a major discovery, but getting the bones back East could prove impossible.

Although this novel is unlike Crichton's later sci fi thrillers, it reminded us a bit of The Great Train Robbery. It is historical fiction, and Marsh and Cope were real-life paleontologists - and real-life adversaries. Crichton also mixes other real historical figures into the story, including Wyatt Earp. The novel combines science, suspense, history, and action. We both enjoyed listening to the compelling story. Crichton brings the Old West to life (the latter part of the novel takes place in Deadwood, South Dakota, a region very familiar to us), and there is plenty of suspense to keep the story moving along. Dragon Teeth was a very entertaining and engaging story that keep us rapt during our long hours on the road.

320 pages, Harper Paperbacks


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 Dragon Teeth audio book here (or download it from Audible).

You can purchase Dragon Teeth from an independent bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order Dragon Teeth from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

TV Tuesday: GLOW

After hearing rave reviews of the Netflix series GLOW for more than a year - and more raves when the second season was recently released - I finally found time to try it and was instantly hooked on this show about a group of women starting a women's wrestling TV program in the 1980's.

Ruth, played by Alison Brie of Community and Mad Men fame, is an out-of-work actress having an affair with a married man and struggling with her life. Her best friend (who she has a serious falling out with in an early episode) Debbie, played by Betty Gilpin, is also an actress who had an ongoing role in a soap opera and is now at home with her baby. Ruth goes to a casting call at an LA gym and realizes it's not a typical acting job. The director, Sam, played by stand-up comic Marc Maron (here with an awesome 80's mustache) is looking for women to star in a new low-budget TV show, GLOW - Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It's meant to be a female-centered spin-off of the popular men's wrestling circuit, with stars like Hulk Hogan. Most of the women hired are a bit reluctant but in need of work, but after a while, they all begin to get into the spirit of it, as they figure out their characters and costumes and learn fake wrestling moves. Along the way, Ruth and the other women gradually get to know each other better.

If you are thinking - like I did this past year - that you're not interested in wrestling, you should still give this show a try. It is really about the women, their lives, and their relationships with each other. The 1980's are perfectly captured here - with the real clothing and hairstyles that we wore back then (as opposed to some of the over-the-top depictions of the 80's we often see on the screen). I noticed Ruth wearing the same Reebok hightops I treasured! But it's more than just a fun recreation of that time; the show also focuses in on issues like women's rights, racism, and equality - not in a hit-you-over-the-head way, but in a way that makes you think. Despite its serious moments, this show is also a LOT of fun to watch with the costumes, the moves, the shows, and the music. It is taking me back to the 80's and making me laugh, smile, and think. I finished season 1 and have just started season 2 (which many viewers say is even better).

GLOW is a half-hour Netflix original program, so it is available solely on Netflix.



Have you watched GLOW yet?

P.S. Ruth also drives my beloved car (that I still drive today!) - a VW convertible, though hers is yellow and mine is red. How could I not love this show?

Monday, July 23, 2018

It's Monday 7/23! What Are You Reading?

Happy Birthday to me! 53 years old today and don't feel a day over 80 - ha ha, just kidding (sort of)! Both of my sons are home and spent the night, which is rare these days, and one of them even got out of bed briefly this morning to wish me a happy birthday! I am spending my morning writing a review for Shelf Awareness and writing this post - work that I love. Tonight, we have a family dinner planned (OUT - no cooking!), so all in all, a good day.

This is a two-week catch-up post because last week, my husband and I went on a whirlwind 5-day trip to my home state of New York for a double-reunion weekend. We spent two days in Potsdam, NY, where my alma mater, Clarkson University is, for my annual sorority weekend. My husband is a good sport, hanging out on the porch with me and my old friends while we reminisce, catch up, sing old songs, and LAUGH - so much laughter! I brought my old photo albums from 30 years ago, which were a big hit. These are such amazing women and friends - we get together, and it's like it was just yesterday that we were there at the house together in college (it wasn't). We rushed to Rochester on Sunday for a family reunion but arrived 6 hours late! There had been 90 people there earlier, and luckily, a few were still left, so I was able to reunite with a few family members and meet some new ones I'd never met before. My dad's family is HUGE - he would have loved this revival of the old summer reunions, and I've been thinking about him a lot.

So, not a lot of reading time the past two weeks, but as always, we have been enjoying our books. Here's what we've all been reading:
  • I gave up on The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe after about 120 pages. It was the choice for one of my book groups this month and is a memoir Wolfe wrote in 1968 about a road trip with Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and a bunch of other drug-addled hippies in a psychedelic school bus. It is written in 60's slang (groovy is just the tip of the iceberg), including some rather offensive racial terms, but mostly its stoned/high stream-of-consciousness style just drove me a little crazy. I missed the book group meeting, but it sounds like almost no one finished it.
  • So, next I needed to read my next review book for Shelf Awareness, Red, White, Blue by Lea Carpenter. That's the review I've been working on this morning. It's an unusual kind of spy novel with a unique narrative style, alternating between the current life story of a woman who recently lost her beloved father and a CIA case officer talking about aspects of her father's life and work. Intriguing and unique.
  • And now I am back to my Big Book Summer Challenge! Yay! This weekend, I started Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, a YA novel that's been on my shelf for way too long. Once again, as with all my Big Books...why did I wait so long? I am LOVING this novel!! It has two intertwined narratives that are both great - a teen girl participates in NaNoWrMo (a month-long writing challenge every November), writes a paranormal YA romance, sells it to a publisher, and moves to NYC and the other story is the actual novel she wrote. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and both are totally engrossing. I actually stayed up until 11:30 pm Saturday reading, which is a wild late night for me!
  • On audio, I finished listening to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, a freebie from SYNC in 2015. I last read this novel in 9th grade and remember enjoying it, but I absolutely loved revisiting it on audio! It has in-depth characters you care about, a multi-layered and intriguing plot, suspense, and humor - some passages had me laughing out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute (my review at the link).
  • On our road trip, my husband and I listened to Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. This historical novel was found - complete - after Crichton's death. It's different than most of his sci fi thrillers, but we enjoyed it very much. It tells the story of two feuding paleontologists in 1876 who each head out west with a team to try to find the next big thing in dinosaur bones. It's historical fiction set in the Wild West with the dangers of warring Indian tribes, the US Army, bandits, and more. Based on a true story with plenty of suspense and intrigue, it kept our attention on our long trip.
  • Now, I am listening to Made for Love by Alissa Nutting, a novel with some strange elements that I am enjoying so far. It's about a young woman escaping a bad (and weird) marriage to a tech mogul, after he demands she has a chip implanted in her brain so he can "meld their minds," so she moves to her father's trailer in a senior citizen trailer park, where her dad is happily setting up housekeeping with his new lifelike sex doll, Diane. Yup, a little weird, but so far it is good, with suspense and humor mixed in.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading his second Big Book of the summer and one of my all-time favorites, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This was one of my Big Book Summer reads a few years ago, and Ken gamely watched the movie adaptation with me, even though he found it pretty confusing (I loved the movie). It's a complicated but engrossing book, with multiple interwoven stories that show how we are all connected across space and time. He's enjoying it, even though his reading time has been limited.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is reading book 10, Crossroads of Twilight, of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He has been plowing through this series, one huge book at a time. It's Big Book Summer all year-round for him; he rarely reads a book with under 400 pages. Most of the books in this series are between 900 and 1200 pages!
Blog posts from the past two weeks:
Movie Monday: Lady Bird - Moving, funny coming-of-age story

TV Shows We Are Watching  Summer 2018 - some old favorites and new shows we are currently enjoying

TV Tuesday - Alias Grace - Netflix show based on historical novel by Margaret Atwood

Fiction Review: Dragonfly in Amber - Wonderful sequel to Outlander - love this series!

Fiction Review: Great Expectations - I loved revisiting this old favorite - so good!

Saturday Snapshot: Camping in Northern New York State - highlights from last weekend - sunset, kayaking, and a glimpse of reunion fun

Fiction Review: The Possible World - stories of 3 characters intertwine in Rhode Island

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? 


The 2018 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge is on, and there is still plenty of time to join! It's easy-going, like summer - you only need to read one book with 400 or more pages sometime between now and the end of summer (early September) to participate (though of course, you can read more Big Books, if you want to). It's great motivation to tackle some of the bigger books on your shelves or TBR that usually get overlooked. Check out the details at the link and join the fun!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Fiction Review: The Possible World

My review of The Possible World, a novel by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz, was just published in Shelf Awareness. I've been waiting to share this one with you because I absolutely loved it!

You can read my full review here on Shelf Awareness.

This unique novel pulled me in right from the first chapter. It's about three different people in Providence, Rhode Island, whose separate lives slowly come together over the course of the book. Lucy is a doctor in the ER when a little boy named Ben is brought in after a horrific murder scene at his friend's birthday party. Alone and orphaned, the boy is scared and confused, and Lucy is drawn to him. Across town, Clare is almost 100 years old and finally decides to tell a friend her life story and share her secrets.

I love stories like this where different narrators' stories gradually intertwine, and this one had lots of surprises and twists to keep my interest, as well as intriguing and likable characters. I definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys fiction. And now I would like to read Schwarz's first novel, Near Canaan, too. The author is an ER doctor herself, which gave the hospital scenes plenty of authenticity.


Saturday Snapshot: Camping in Northern New York State


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

Last week, we traveled to New York State (my home state) for a double-reunion weekend (both college and family). As always, we brought our pop-up camper along and enjoyed a bit of quiet time in nature amid the noise and chaos of the reunions (which, of course, were a lot of fun!). These pics are from northern NY - Selkirk Shores State Park, on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario (beautiful at sunset!) and kayaking at Higley Flow State Park, just north of the Adirondacks, on a dammed portion of the Racquet River.

Sunset over Lake Ontario

Selkirk Shores SP at dusk - nice and quiet

Sunset selfie!

The shore of Lake Ontario
One last look at the sunset - time to head back to camp and relax!
Quiet morning kayaking on the Racquet River at Higley Flow SP

Reflections in the water
My husband and I kayaking

A very humorous "dead end" (click to enlarge)

We saw a couple of what we think were seagulls but with unusual markings
Me with good friends on the porch of our sorority house (classes of '87 - '90 here)
Hope you are enjoying a good weekend! Catch-up weekend here after our trip last week.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Fiction Review: Great Expectations

I last read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in my 9th grade English class...let's just say that was a very long time ago! I remember liking it - and all the Dickens' novels we read in school - but I only vaguely remembered the characters and very little of the plot. I remember in school thinking that all Dickens' novels started out slow, with a lot of dull description, but then they picked up about a quarter of the way through. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I recently listened to Great Expectations on audio (free from SYNC in the summer of 2015) and was immediately pulled into the gripping story and enjoyed every moment of it.

A young orphaned boy named Pip lives with his older sister, who is harsh and scolding, and her husband, Joe, a blacksmith who is kind and gentle and adores young Pip. The plan is for Pip to apprentice with Joe at his forge, and Pip is happy with that plan as he and Joe are very close. Everything changes, though, when Pip is invited to the home of the eccentric Miss Havisham, an elderly woman who is stuck in time as the jilted bride of her youth. Her young charge, Estella, is beautiful but haughty and dismissive, and Pip falls instantly in love with her, though she often makes him miserable. Suddenly, being an apprentice and following in Joe's footsteps is not enough, and Pip yearns to become a gentleman. As he gets older, an anonymous benefactor sends him to London and supports him and his education, and Pip feels as if his dreams are coming true.

I had forgotten that this story and its characters had so much depth and complexity. The book is narrated by Pip later in life, looking back on what happened in his youth. It's painful to see him reject kind Joe and chase after this dream of a different life. Every character is full and feels real, and the story has plenty of suspense as to what will happen to Pip and who his mysterious benefactor is. And this classic novel is very, very funny! I'd forgotten that Dickens had such a rich sense of humor, but some scenes (like when Joe meets Miss Havisham or the scenes with Pip's friend, whose almost-deaf father is just called The Aged) made me laugh out loud. The audio production I listened to, narrated by Anton Lesser (produced by Naxos Audiobooks), was outstanding, with each character fully realized and individual, and the older language made easily understandable yet sounding authentic. I absolutely loved listening to this book - far more than I expected to! Great Expectations highlights the renowned talents of Dickens for gorgeous language, engrossing plots, engaging characters, and substantial wit, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Now, I am eager to move onto some of the Dickens novels I haven't read yet, like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield.

384 pages, Dover Publications
the audio I listened to was produced by Naxos Audiobooks
(though obviously, there are many, many editions of both the book and the audio)


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

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

Listen to a sample of the audio production I enjoyed here (and you can order it from Audible at this link, too) - this sample is from the start of the book.

Purchase Great Expectations from an indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order Great Expectations from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Fiction Review: Dragonfly in Amber

The second book I read for my Big Book Summer Challenge (still time to join the fun!) was Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, sequel to Outlander, which was one of my very first Big Book Summer reads six years ago. I had this second chunkster on my Big Book list for the past several summers, so I was glad to finally get to it. I wish I hadn't waited so long! I think it really says something when you finish a 743 page novel and are sorry it ended and wish you could read more. In fact, if I didn't have other reading obligations lined up, I would have gone right onto book 3 in the series because I hated to leave Jamie and Claire. These epic stories that combine history, romance, and time travel are incredibly compelling and entertaining.

Don't worry - I will avoid spoilers in case you haven't yet read the first book. The basics of the set-up of the first book are that a woman named Claire in 1945 travels back in time to Scotland in 1743 and meets a man named Jamie.

At the start of book 2, Claire is back in her own time, returning to Inverness, Scotland, twenty years later in 1968 with her daughter, Brianna, who looks exactly like Jamie. Her husband, Frank, has died, and Claire has returned to Scotland to investigate what happened to her friends in the 1700's after she left...and maybe to finally share some of her unusual personal history with her daughter. She enlists the help of Roger, adopted son of Reverend Wakefield, who helped Frank with his historical research years ago. After a short introduction in 1968, the novel then shifts back to 1744, as Claire shares her story of what happened back then. She and Jamie were in France, since Jamie was no longer safe in Scotland. The setting is quite different from the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, as Claire and Jamie join the royal court of King Louis in Paris. Although ostensibly they are Jacobites (supporters of Scottish independence), in secret their mission is to prevent the Scottish attempt to regain independence from England, which Claire knows from her history lessons will result in a massacre of many thousands of Scots. In the last part of the novel, they return to Scotland, so this second novel fills in the story of what happened to Claire after the end of the first novel and before she returned to her own time. The story wraps up back in 1968.

Much of this novel has a different feel to it than Outlander because of the setting, among the elite of Paris, but it is just as fascinating a glimpse into history. The beginning of the novel perfectly sets up the rest of the story so that you think you know what will happen, though there are plenty of surprises along the way. As with the first book, the mix of history, romance, and intrigue is absolutely engaging, and here there is some royalty and high society added, as well as espionage. And if you yearn for the Scottish Highlands, you'll get plenty of that toward the end of the book as well. Jamie and Claire are just as endearing as ever and feel like old friends. While the historical detail is absorbing, and Claire and Jamie's relationship is as tender and moving as ever, I personally love the time travel aspects best. As with any time travel novel, ever-intriguing questions are explored, like can you change history? and what happens if someone goes back in time and affects your ancestor's life?  I was pulled into the story immediately, even though it's been at least five years since I read the first book (though it helped that I recently watched season 1 of the Outlander TV show), and it gripped me all the way through 700+ pages. I never wanted it to end and am ready to jump into the next book of the series now! Hmmm...my birthday is next week...

768 pages, Delta Trade Paperbacks

P.S. Each season of the Starz Outlander TV series corresponds to one of the books, so season 1 covers Outlander and to avoid spoilers, read Dragonfly in Amber before you watch season 2!


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.


Purchase Dragonfly in Amber from an indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order Dragonfly in Amber from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.