Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fiction Review: Only Human

I recently read - and loved - Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel, the third book in The Themis Files trilogy, a unique sci fi thriller series about alien interaction with humans on Earth. This is a tricky one to review because I can't even say much about book 1 without giving away spoilers, but I will do my best to tiptoe around those plot points because I hate spoilers myself. If you haven't read any of this series yet, I recommend you click over to my review of book 1 and get yourself a copy (and avoid reading the synopsis and cover of book 2 because it contains spoilers). Only Human was a wonderful and satisfying conclusion to an excellent trilogy that my husband and I have both enjoyed immensely.

The story begins in book 1, Sleeping Giants, when a young girl named Rose Franklin is riding her bike in South Dakota's Black Hills, falls in a huge hole, and discovers a giant robot hand buried there. Rose grows up to be a scientist on the team investigating the hand, and it is clear from the beginning that they are not dealing with anything that originated on Earth. In book 2, Waking Gods, things on Earth go from bad to worse in relation to Rose's discovery and the events following it, as more is learned about this technology from another world. This final book, Only Human, begins with a first contact situation on another planet with Rose and her colleagues. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the situation has rapidly deteriorated in a post-apocalyptic world, as fear rules over logic and certain nations attempt to control as many countries as possible. The book - and the trilogy - ends with the perfect way to stop humans from destroying each other (if only).

Sorry, that's all the detail you're getting! It's a completely original plot with lots of surprising twists and turns that keep you guessing and gasping from beginning to end. As with the first two books, Only Human is an epistolary novel, here told through journal entries, voice recordings, interviews, and an occasional news report, with entries from the years spent on another planet interspersed with entries from the present back on Earth so that the full story slowly comes together. In this way, the reader gets the perspectives of many different characters. Part of the fun of this third book is in learning about the alien planet, people, and culture. In that way, it reminded me a bit of the lighter sections of The Sparrow (without the horrific violence, though this planet has its own problems). Neuvel has an amazing imagination, on display through all three books, that make the series huge fun to read. At the same time, he frames this unique aliens-from-outer-space story around the real-life problems and issues on Earth today so that these are also very thought-provoking novels, making you think, "What if...?" I always enjoy books that make me think. All in all, my husband and I both enjoyed this third novel and the entire trilogy very much. These were Sylvain Neuvel's first novels, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

334 pages, Del Rey
 Random House Audio

NOTE: Movie rights to Sleeping Giants were sold even BEFORE the book was sold to a publisher, in 2014! This trilogy would make some great movies, but it doesn't sound like film development is very far along yet - hurry up, Hollywood!

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

Listen to a sample of the audio book of Only Human, from the start of the book, BUT ONLY IF YOU'VE ALREADY READ BOOKS 1 AND 2! Spoiler alert, since book 3 begins with Rose recapping previous events.

If you haven't read any of the series yet, try this audio sample from the beginning of book 1, Sleeping Giants.

You can purchase Only Human from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
 Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or start with Book 1, Sleeping Giants:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

2019 Big Book Summer Wrap-Up

I'm a bit late this year because we took a vacation in early September, but here is my Wrap-Up for the 2019 Big Book Summer Challenge! I host this challenge every summer and always enjoy participating in it myself. You can read all the details at the challenge page linked above, but the bottom line is to read books of 400 pages or longer during the summer - just one or a few or as many as you want! What I really love about this challenge is that it gives me the extra incentive I need to finally tackle some of the longer books I've put off reading - I always end up reading some really amazing books, and I make a (small) dent in my overflowing TBR bookcase, too. You can go back to my starting post for My 2019 Big Book Summer in May to see what books I hoped to get to this season.

First, my own challenge wrap-up:

I ended up reading a record number of 11 Big Books this summer!! Before you get too impressed, I included Big Book audios in my count this summer, so that includes 6 books read in print and 5 listened to on audio.  In print, I read:
I also listened to these five books on audio (some are pictured because I also had print copies):
My reviews are at the links. It looks like a lot, but most of these were in the 400-500 page range (except for Gone with the Wind - that was a total chunkster!). I enjoyed every one of these and really loved many of them. I did also get about halfway through Catch-22 by Joseph Heller but was struggling with it, so I set it aside. I might go back to it later this year.

So, that was my summer, but lots of other people enjoyed a wonderful Big Book Summer, too. A total of 22 people joined the challenge this year, with 10 bloggers linking up on the challenge page and another 12 through the Goodreads group for those who don't have blogs. I enjoyed hearing what everyone was reading this summer, reading all your reviews of Big Books, and we had some great discussions in the Goodreads group! You can check out links to other people's reviews and wrap-up posts on the challenge page.

And now, it's time for the 2019 Big Book Summer Giveaway! I'm giving away a $15 Amazon gift card to one lucky participant. I used a random number generator, and the winner of this year's giveaway is:

Chris of the Chris Wolak blog

Congratulations, Chris! 

I met Chris through Booktopia and her wonderful podcast (with Emily Fine), Book Cougars, so please check out her excellent blog and the podcast! This was Chris' second year participating in Big Book Summer.

Here's to another rewarding, fun Big Book Summer - Congratulations to everyone who participated! 
I hope that YOU will join the fun next year! 

Monday, September 16, 2019

It's Monday 9/16! What Are You Reading? complaints this week because we just got back from a lovely week-long camping vacation, a much-needed, peaceful, rejuvenating break for my husband and I! We spent a few days in New York's Hudson River Valley, an area we've never visited before, even though it is only 3-4 hours from our home in Delaware. We had no idea the Hudson River was so picturesque and undeveloped (north of NYC), and we thoroughly enjoyed hiking, kayaking, camping, and visiting the beautiful waterfront towns (with lots of indie bookstores). We spent our last few days in the Catskills at North-South Lake, which we visited 24 years ago when our oldest son was a baby - I remembered nothing from that first visit! It was stunningly beautiful there and so peaceful and tranquil - not even any cell service until you got about 15 miles down the mountain! All in all, it was a wonderful and relaxing vacation - our first full week off this year - and just what we needed. Look for photos in my Saturday Snapshot post next weekend.

Of course, part of the fun of camping is LOTS of extra reading time, especially around the campfire in the evening. Here's what we have all been reading this past two weeks since my last Monday post:

I read - and loved - Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel, the third book in The Themis Files trilogy, a unique sci fi thriller about alien interaction with humans on Earth. It begins with book 1, Sleeping Giants, when a young girl named Rose Franklin is riding her bike, falls in a huge hole, and discovers a giant robot hand buried there. Rose grows up to be a scientist on the team investigating the hand. To say any more would spoil this original story with lots of unexpected twists and turns! I also enjoyed book 2, Waking Gods, where things on Earth went from bad to worse in relation to Rose's discovery and the events following it. This final book provided a satisfying ending, with a first contact situation and the perfect way to stop humans from destroying each other (if only). My husband and I both loved this entire trilogy - highly recommended.

Next, I had to set aside my RIP XIV Challenge seasonal reading (which I am thoroughly enjoying) to read a book for one of my book groups this week: Crimes Against a Book Club by Kathy Cooperman. This is a very unusual choice for our book group, which usually discusses meaty novels or nonfiction on important topics, so to be honest, I didn't expect to like it. I am a good book group member, though, so I read it. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it! It's about two women who are best friends from college now in their 40's. Both need a lot of money (for fertility treatments and for autism treatments for a child), and they come up with a scheme to scam the women in their new book group, all of whom live in the La Jolla area of San Diego, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the country. They mix up their own skin cream (one of the friends is a chemist), include a secret ingredient, and sell it to the other women (with a big story to make it seem exclusive and unique) for $2000 a jar! I expected it to be light and fluffy and, while there were plenty of laughs, there was also a surprising amount of depth to the characters - the snobby wealthy women as well as the two friends. It was a fun read.

Then, I jumped back into my dark fall reading in a big way, with The Outsider by Stephen King. You would think I had enough of these hefty books with my Big Book Summer Challenge, but I have heard great things about this novel from everyone, including my husband. I haven't read a King novel in a while, but I am enjoying this one so far. The basic premise is that a beloved town coach and father of two is arrested for a horrific crime against a young boy, and the police have loads of forensic evidence proving this man did it. But did he? I am a little more than 100 pages in, and, like all King novels, I am hooked. This one includes a puzzling mystery, so it is even more gripping and keeping me reading far too late at night! This was a creepy one to read in a quiet, dark campground at night.

On audio, I have been listening to The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, a spooky middle-grade audio book that I downloaded from SYNC this summer. In a near-future drought-stricken world, a boy named Devin makes his way to a nearby city he's never visited. Devin's grandfather has just died, and Devin knows he can't take care of their farm by himself. In the city, he finds loads of other children on their own, scrambling to get by and half-starved. When he and his new friend, Kit, are offered a place at the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood, they are thrilled to find the remote rural compound filled with beautiful private rooms, plentiful food, and every toy a child could ever want. Something seems off about the place, though, and soon Devin discovers a horrifying secret. He must work with his new friends to find them all a way out of this nightmare. It's been good so far - original and compelling.

On our trip (which wasn't very far from home), my husband and I listened to a new short story on audio, Cleaning the Gold: A Jack Reacher and Will Trent Short Story by Lee Child and Karin Slaughter. Since Lee Child is my husband's favorite author, I thought he'd enjoy this one, and we both did. It's a fun set-up: both Jack Reacher (Child's famous character) and Will Trent (Slaughter's recurring character) are undercover at Fort Knox, taking on temporary jobs cleaning the gold bars, which must be done every ten years. Working together, they each soon figure out that the other one is also undercover, though not all the reasons why. When they discover the situation is more complicated and dangerous than either of them expected, they have to team up in order to each meet his own goals. It was a fun story...and fascinating to hear about the inner workings of Fort Knox!

My husband, Ken, finished reading Creole Belle by James Lee Burke, a prolific and well-loved novelist that neither of us has ever read before. I bought this one for him for Father's Day at Northshire Bookstore during Booktopia because I was looking for a new thriller series he might enjoy. The series features Detective Dave Robicheaux on the Gulf Coast and from what I read, it sort of combines elements of westerns and thrillers. There are more than 20 books in this series, but I chose this one because it was recommended by the booksellers and it is set in New Orleans, where we used to live. We always enjoy reading books set in our favorite city, and my husband also lived in the Houston area for almost ten years, so he liked the Gulf Coast setting. He enjoyed this novel and said he would read more from Burke.

Now, Ken is reading another gift from me, The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, a book I had heard great things about since its release in 2014. It's a super-creepy ghost story set in Vermont, with dual timelines. In 1908, a woman was found dead in the field behind her house, just months after her daughter's death. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in that same farmhouse with her mother and sister. When Ruthie's mother disappears, Ruthie finds an old journal of Sara's hidden in her mother's bedroom. Ruthie begins reading it and also gets sucked into the historical mystery. Can she find her mother in time to stop history from repeating itself? Ken says it is gripping and intriguing so far, and he's not sure whether this mystery is actually supernatural or not. Sounds good to me and perfect for fall!

Our 25-year-old son, Jamie, has also been reading a gift book, a fantasy novel I picked out for him at at Northshire Bookstore during Booktopia because it sounded like exactly the kind of story he loves: The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., book one of the Saga of Recluce series. He says he had some doubts since there is some technology in this world and guns have been invented (he prefers pre-tech fantasy), but it turned out OK because guns are almost obsolete in this story due to the growth of magic. All in all, I think I hit it right - he's really enjoying it so far!

Blog posts from the past two weeks:
Movie Monday: The Art of Racing in the Rain - a great adaptation of a wonderful novel

Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) XIV Challenge - Fall 2019 - I love reading for the season!
Fiction Review: The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente - road trip novel about sisters

My Summary of Books Read in August - low in quantity but high in quality

Fiction Review: The Likeness by Tana French - a fabulous start to my RIP Challenge!

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, September 06, 2019

Fiction Review: The Likeness

My transition book from Big Book Summer to my dark & creepy fall reading for RIP Challenge was The Likeness by Tana French. This is the second book in her popular Dublin Murder Squad series. I read the first one, In the Woods, way back in 2013, and I don't know why I waited so long to read book 2 because she is such a good writer. I was completely immersed in this compelling and unique murder mystery.

Cassie Maddox, a detective who was featured in French's first novel, In the Woods, has transferred to a quieter job in Domestic Violence ("quieter" is relative) when she gets a call in the middle of the night from her boyfriend, Sam, who is a Murder Squad detective. When Cassie arrives at the scene, she is in for a shock (as Sam was earlier) because the murdered victim, lying in an abandoned cottage in a remote village, is a young woman who looks exactly like Cassie. Even more puzzling, her ID card identifies her as Lexie Madison, an undercover alias that Cassie and her boss, Frank Mackey, invented for Cassie years ago. How is it possible that this look-alike is using Cassie's made-up identity? And, more importantly, who killed her and why? After a few days of quiet investigation, Frank convinces Sam that the only way to solve the case is from the inside, with Cassie going undercover again, as a different version of Lexie. They had carefully lied to Lexie's four housemates and said Lexie was in a coma, in order to keep this option open, so they tell them she woke up and is recovering, quickly prep Cassie using videos Lexie made, plus hasty investigations, and send Cassie as Lexie "home," even though it's possible that one of the four people she lives with could be the one who killed her. These five grad students are an odd bunch, sharing a huge old house that one of them inherited from an uncle in this small village, carpooling into school each day and living a very insulated - and oddly old-fashioned - existence together. Cassie is able to convince them she is Lexie and lives a strangely comfortable and pleasant life them for weeks, as the investigation continues.

Intriguing set-up, right? Just the concept of undercover work, pretending to be someone else - which is detailed here, both in the present and in flashbacks to Cassie's earlier experience - is fascinating, but when combined with this particular situation with a look-alike and a stolen fake identity, it is truly mind-blowing and completely compelling right from page one. This novel was the very definition of a page-turner, which was perfect during my sick days the past few weeks, though I did stay up too late each night! Although it is a murder mystery and begins and ends with violence, much of the middle is an intriguing puzzle, as Cassie/Lexie lives in a sort-of protected bubble with this odd group of misfits who care about each other very much and have made an unusual life together. That part of the novel is very immersive, making you feel as if you are in the midst of the group with Cassie. Little by little, though, she begins to see cracks in their perfect surface, as the tension increases. The mystery itself kept me guessing right up until the end, with plenty of possible suspects presented. I loved everything about this novel - the growing suspense, the mystery, the characters, and the whole captivating concept of undercover work. This is definitely my favorite of the series so far, and I won't let another six years go by before I read book 3, Faithful Place!

NOTE: There are plenty of references to what happened in In the Woods, though there is enough information provided to catch you up on what's important, so the books do not have to be read in order.

466 pages, Penguin Books

OMG!! I just found out that Starz has a new TV series, Dublin Murders, starting sometime this fall (no exact release date yet) based on In the Woods and The Likeness. I can't wait! But I have to wait since we don't get Starz...probably a whole year before it hits Netflix. It looks amazing!

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

Listen to a sample of the audio book. While I read this one in print, I love hearing the Irish accent in this audio and think that would add an extra element to the book.

You can purchase The Likeness from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

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

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Books Read in August

August means lush greenness
August was entirely a Big Book Summer reading month! Which means less quantity...but plenty of quality! Here are the books I finished last month:

I also read half of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, but it was dragging for me and I gave up on it for more fast-paced fare. So, just three books finished last month, but I enjoyed them all! It was a nice mix - one YA historical nonfiction, one adult science fiction/fantasy, and one introspective literary novel. Two of them were on audio. Although I loved The City of Mirrors (an excellent ending to the trilogy), I think Vincent and Theo was my surprise favorite of the month - I was really engrossed in the biography of Vincent Van Gigh and his brother, which was outstanding on audio (but I also got the print edition from the library so I could see all the drawings in it).

Progress in 2019 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - Two of my books were from my own shelves, low for a Big Book Summer month, but I only read three, and two were audio (though I also had the print version of one of those, so I got it off my shelves!)
Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - August was Mode of Transportation month so
The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente, with its road trip plot, fit perfectly!
Back to the Classics Challenge - No new classics this month - I tried to get through Catch-22 but set it aside about halfway through (I still hope to finish it later).
Monthly Keyword Challenge - I didn't read a single book with any of the monthly keywords in the title...again, for the 8th month in a row! Nope, not one all year so far. Clearly this challenge wasn't a good choice for me.
Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2019 - I added one nonfiction book - yay!
Diversity Reading Challenge - Just one of my books was obviously diverse, with a lesbian character (but, wait, do vampire-like viral creatures transformed from humans count as diverse??)
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I added the Netherlands.
2018 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added just 1 new state, Utah.
2019 Big Book Summer Challenge - I added three more Big Books for a total of 10 so far (I finished one more in the first days of September).
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 August - pretty good for just 3 books!

Spaces Filled In:
Vincent & Theo - dream job, historic, library book, free book, audio book
The City of Mirrors - island, favorite author, read a physical book, sci fi/fantasy, in a series, shelf love, empowered female
The Desert Sky Before Us - awkward date, secrets, not in a series, snarky/sarcastic, sky on the cover, deception, multi-word title, tourist
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in August? 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Fiction Review: The Desert Sky Before Us

Back in the spring, when I was still reviewing books for Shelf Awareness, one of the books they sent me was The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente. I was intrigued by the road trip plot of the novel but just couldn't fit in a 400+ page book then, so I chose something else for that month. I was happy to see the same novel show up among my audio books to review this summer, so I included it in my Big Book Summer Challenge and listened to it on audio. It's the very thoughtful story of two sisters on a cross-country road trip that their recently-deceased mother set up for them.

Rhiannon shows up in Decatur, IL, to pick up her sister, Billie, from the state correctional facility where she has spent the past six years for setting fire to a university library, a crime that has never been explained to Rhiannon or her parents. Their mother, a renowned paleontologist, passed away a few months earlier, and both sisters are still grieving. After a brief stop at home, they set off on a cross-country trip that will end at a quarry in Utah where their mother did much of her work so that Billie can attend an informal memorial service and both girls can remember their mother at a place that was special to her. Rhiannon is surprised when they start the trip to find out that their mother left a journal with Billie the last time she visited her. She admonished Billie not to open it until the trip and not to look ahead, but the sisters find that each page of the journal contains a GPS coordinate and a small sketch, creating a sort-of geocaching scavenger hunt their mother set up for them. As they follow the coordinates and visit places that were special to their mother, the women also reconnect during long hours on the road. There is plenty of friction - and secrets - between them, but also warmth and memories. Gradually, as the miles pass by, they each begin to open up and share their secrets and without even knowing they needed it, they each begin to heal, too.

This is an emotional trip as much as a physical one, with each of the women having their own issues to work out, plus their relationship with each other and with their parents. Valente has created interesting female characters that make you want to learn more. Rhiannon is a former race car driver - one of the few women  drivers in the world - who quit for a job she doesn't enjoy. Billie was a hawk enthusiast and trainer and loved books before she mysteriously burned down the library. And the sisters discover that their mother lived a whole separate, full life that they knew little about as a paleontologist. The trip itself is interesting, too. We used to love geocaching and took our own cross-country road trips each summer, including some of the states the sisters go to in this novel, though I wish I had known back then - with two dino-loving sons - about all the cool dinosaur dig sites! There is also a thread of suspense through the story, as the sisters only slowly reveal their secrets - why did Rhiannon stop racing and why did Billie set fire to the library? I enjoyed the book for all of these elements, as well as the emphasis on science and nature, though there were points where it dragged a bit because the sisters' bickering and lengthy discussions sometimes felt repetitive. I'm glad that I listened to it on audio; I might have been less patient with it in print. I also see that the print book doesn't use quotation marks, and that can be a bit confusing/annoying, depending on your preferences.  All in all, it was a very thought-provoking and intriguing novel, and I enjoyed going along on the sisters' journey, both figuratively and through the gorgeous terrain of the West. It made me want to take a road trip myself!

426 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks

Listen to a sample of the audio book, from the start of the novel as the sisters reunite.

You can purchase The Desert Sky Before Us from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order The Desert Sky Before Us from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) XIV Challenge - Fall 2019

Hurray! It's September! While I am sorry to say good-bye to another excellent Big Book Summer, I am already immersed in my fall reading for the RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril) XIV Challenge. I have participated in this great seasonal reading challenge for the past few years, and I really enjoy it. September has only just begun, so join the fun!

You can read all about RIP XIV here, but the rules are simple - read some dark, creepy stuff between now and the end of October (not too dark, if you prefer) and have fun! They define the bounds of the challenge very broadly, to include all of these genres:

Dark Fantasy.
So, you can read flat-out scary horror if you want or classic ghost stories or cozy mysteries...or maybe a little bit of each! You only need to read 1 book that fits the challenge in the next two months to participate, but I plan to go all-in and devote all of September and October to dark and creepy reading. My To-Be-Read bookcase (yes, an entire bookcase...with double rows now) is overflowing with great choices since my husband reads mostly from these genres, and I enjoy them, too but don't always fit them in.

So, I am signing up for Peril the First, which is 4 books, as well as Peril on the Screen (I will watch some dark TV shows and movies) and Peril of the Review, since I plan to review all of the books I read, plus TV shows and movies.

I have already jumped into the spirit of the season with these three books:

  • The Likeness by Tana French (just finished), a murder mystery
  • Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel (just started in print), a sci fi thriller
  • The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth (just started on audio), a middle-grade dystopian novel described as a "spine-chilling adventure"
See the variety already?

Like I said, I have a LOT to choose from right on my own shelves (so this will help with my TBR Challenge, too). Here are some of my top choices for adult novels - obviously, I won't get to all of these, but I like to have options:

Oh, and I forgot to include an Agatha Christie novel I bought in the spring to also count for my Classics Challenge.

And here are some of my options for graphic novels (the bottom three) and middle-grade and teen/YA novels:

PLUS...I will be listening to RIP books on audio, too.

Oh, boy, it's going to be a dark and creepy fall! Now, if it would only cool off so I can wear jeans and a sweatshirt...

Happy Fall!

Monday, September 02, 2019

Movie Monday: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Although I didn't remember all the details of the plot, I remembered reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein about ten years ago and loving the novel. In preparation for the movie adaptation, my husband read the novel last month, and we invited our good friends (who had not read the book) to come with us to see the movie version, The Art of Racing in the Rain, in the theater a couple of weeks ago. All four of us loved the movie, and - like the book - it made us both laugh and cry (yes, all of us!).

This unique story is narrated by a dog named Enzo. Now, stick with me here, because this isn't my usual kind of thing, but this is an extraordinary dog and an extraordinary story. As Enzo, voiced by Kevin Costner, explains early on, he believes that dogs that are ready and have learned enough will be reincarnated as humans (he saw this on a documentary about Mongolian beliefs), and so, his goal is to learn enough about being human to take this important next step. As a puppy, he was adopted by Denny, played by Milo Ventimiglio, and named Enzo (after the Italian racer and founder of Ferrari) because Denny is a racecar driver. The two immediately bond, and Enzo often comes to the track with him and watches racing on TV with Denny, both televised races and recordings of Denny's own races, as Denny imparts his wisdom about racing. Enzo's not too sure what to think when Eve, played by Amanda Seyfried, comes along, but soon they are a close-knit family of three - and eventually, four, when Zoe is born. Life is idyllic for all of them for a while, until tragedy strikes. Through it all, Enzo remains loyal and steadfast to Denny and the rest of his family. It's no spoiler to say that Enzo does die in the end because of course, dogs don't live as long as humans do and also the movie begins with Enzo's imminent demise, as Enzo looks back and tells the story of his life.

So, let's deal with that first. When I told our friends it was a movie about a dog, knowing they are dog lovers who own two dogs themselves, my friend asked, "Is it sad?" I explained that, yes, there are some sad parts in the movie but that it also has moments full of joy and plenty of laughs, too, so they agreed to come see it with us. As I said, all four of us loved the movie, and yes, all of us cried, but we all laughed a lot, too. It's a story about life, with all of its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, so it makes you feel, and what more can you ask from a story? My husband and I thought the movie adaptation was very well-done. He had read the book much more recently and pointed out a few minor changes from book to movie, but overall, the movie sticks pretty closely to not only the plot points of the book but also its emotional feel. The all-star cast did a great job, though, of course, Enzo is the real star of the show. This is a wonderful movie for most ages, though I would be cautious with younger kids who might not be comfortable being confronted with the realities of death. But for teens and adults, it's the perfect movie for different generations to enjoy together - or friends, as we did. Any movie that can make you soar with joy and sob with sorrow, all in less than two hours in a darkened theater, is a winner in my book.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is currently playing in theaters, though probably not for much longer. You can look up local theaters and times (go for recliner seats!) and/or buy tickets at Fandango:

It is tentatively scheduled for release on streaming through Amazon and on DVD in November 2019. It can be pre-ordered now.

It's Monday 9/2! What Are You Reading?

September 2 - yay!! I'm so excited that summer is unofficially over today. I know I've been a grump, but it's been so hot and humid most of the summer that I couldn't even manage outdoor time or walking, and we've had one family crisis after another since May. Fall is my favorite season, so I am looking forward to wearing jeans (and socks!), going camping and finally getting a vacation, and enjoying that lovely fall weather (though today is still supposed to be 85 and raining).

I am STILL sick, struggling to get rid of the last of this bronchitis, going on two weeks now. I expected to feel better this past week, but although my cough and congestion gradually improved, my energy stayed super low and I was unable to do much. I actually managed to get out of bed at 8 am this morning (more or less my normal time), so I am hoping things will improve! I'm still planning to take it easy today. I don't know how I am going to get all my writing work done this week - and it's only a 4-day workweek!

But the big news today's the last day of the #BigBookSummer Challenge! Time to finish up those last Big Books today! (though participants have more time to write reviews or updates or wrap-ups on blogs or in the Goodreads group - remember to add links to the challenge page) As you'll see below, I finished my last audio Big Book this weekend and will be finishing my last Big Book in print today. It's been my best Big Book Summer ever!! I will try to get my wrap-up posted this week. Check out the Challenge page to see what it's all about, so you can start planning for next summer!

Even though Big Book Summer ends today, the fun continues with the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge, which started yesterday. I haven't officially signed up yet, but my current book definitely counts, and I love this focus on darker reading every fall! Details are at the link. This challenge does NOT mean reading horror or only Stephen King books all season (though you can do that if you want to!) - it encompasses a broad range of genres, including suspense, thriller, mystery (even cozy mysteries count), sci fi and fantasy, and more, and you can participate in the challenge by just reading one book. It's lots of fun, so check it out. As soon as I get Big Book Summer all wrapped up, I will write my sign-up post. I have so many great books on my shelves to choose from!

So, here's the full list of what my family and I have been reading this past week:

Today, I will be finishing a book which is my transition book from Big Book Summer to my dark & creepy fall reading for RIP Challenge: The Likeness by Tana French. This is the second book in her popular Dublin Murder Squad series. I read the first one, In the Woods, way back in 2013 (review at the link) - I don't know why I waited so long to get to book 2 because her writing is just so good! She has a special talent for writing intricate mysteries/thrillers filled with surprising twists that are also beautifully written (see a sample in my review at the link). This one has a super intriguing premise: a young woman shows up dead in the first pages, and she looks exactly like Cassie, one of the main detectives in the series, AND she is using an ID that Cassie used years ago in an undercover assignment, an identity that was completely made-up by Cassie and her boss. Creepy set-up, right? But it gets even better as they decide that the only way to solve the case is for Cassie to go undercover the woman who was using her old fake identity! Totally twisty and completely engrossing - it's kept me reading late into the night.

I just finished listening to my last Big Book on audio, The Desert Sky Before Us by Anne Valente. I received an ARC of this book for possible review in the spring, and I was interested in it but didn't have the time to fit it in, so I was glad to also get the audio for review this summer. It's the story of two very different sisters who take a road trip, arranged by their mother before her death, to travel from Illinois to Utah, where they have permission to have a second funeral at a dig site. Their mother was a paleontologist, one sister is a former race car driver, and the other one just got out of prison for arson. The reader knows from the start that both sisters have secrets, though more secrets are revealed as the sisters reconnect and begin to heal. I was most enticed by the road trip aspect of this novel, and it was even better than I hoped, with the women following a kind of geocaching scavenger hunt their mother left for them. Interesting and with plenty of emotional depth, too.

My husband, Ken, is also reading one last Big Book of the summer, though he won't be finishing this one today (he spent this weekend traveling to a family funeral). He's reading Creole Belle by James Lee Burke, a prolific and well-loved novelist that neither of us has ever read before. I bought this one for him for Father's Day at Northshire Bookstore during Booktopia because I was looking for a new thriller series he might enjoy. The series features Detective Dave Robicheaux on the Gulf Coast and from what I read, it sort of combines elements of westerns and thrillers. There are more than 20 books in this series, but I chose this one because it was recommended by the booksellers and it is set in New Orleans, where we used to live. We always enjoy reading books set in our favorite city, and my husband also lived in the Houston area for almost ten years, so I think he'll really like the Gulf Coast setting. He's about halfway and seems to be enjoying it so far.

Our 25-year old son, Jamie, is enjoying Death's Merchant, book one in the Common Among Gods series by Justan Henner. He says it's a really original story about gods and humans, but not the familiar Greek or Roman gods. In this series, mortals can turn into gods. I see it's been described as an "epic fantasy" and "1200-page doorstopper full of captivating characters and humor." Yup, that sounds right up his alley! I can tell he's enjoying it because he's been reading a lot. He's been home and also not feeling well, so the upside of that is more reading time!

Blog posts from last week: 
TV Tuesday - In the Dark - suspenseful & darkly funny show that we are loving about a blind woman whose best friend goes missing, and she's the only witness

Saturday Snapshot: Carroll Creek Linear Park - Frederick, MD - some highlights from our mini getaway last weekend.

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?

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Saturday Snapshot: Carroll Creek Linear Park - Frederick, MD

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at A Web of Stories (same host as always but with a new blog - check it out!). And I am also participating now in the #WeekendWanderlust Travel Blog Party.

Last weekend, my husband and I finally managed our long-awaited (and much postponed) mini 24-hour getaway. We probably should have postponed again because my bronchitis was worse by Sunday morning, but we still enjoying getting away and exploring a beautiful town, Frederick, MD. Though we have driven through Frederick on our way to Shenandoah National Park many times, we'd never seen more than a favorite diner in the suburbs, just off the interstate. So, we were shocked to discover that Frederick has a gorgeous and thriving historic downtown area, with tree-lined streets filled with unique shops, fabulous restaurants (we ate some amazing food!), historic sites, and even live music out on the street. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief visit and definitely want to go back.

Frederick is also home to plenty of parkland, and before leaving Sunday, we took a nice walk along Carroll Creek Linear Park, a beautiful brick-pathed walkway along the water that runs right through town. You can read more about its history at the link - it actually started as a flood control project in the 1970's! - but here are some photo highlights of the unique beauty of this park, filled with outdoor art, waterfalls and fountains, and an amazing water lily garden throughout the creek. We definitely want to go back to explore the rest of this unique city!

(click photos to enlarge)

One of the waterfall features along the park

Selfie in front of the water lilies

This water lily looks kind of Seussian!

Purple water lilies

Classic pink water lilies - we see this type often when kayaking

Tall water lilies and another waterfall
A sculpture along the water

Water lily-filled creek, bordered by brick path, with clouds reflected in the water

More outdoor artwork on one of the lovely bridges

Water lily close-up

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!