Friday, September 25, 2020

Nonfiction Review: The Feather Thief

I was very excited in August when one of my book groups decided to resume our meetings via Zoom. Our first book chosen for virtual book group this month was The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. I remember hearing rave reviews when this true crime book was first released in 2018, but I probably wouldn't have read it on my own. I would have missed out on a truly fascinating, riveting story. That's one of the many things I love about book groups: they help me to read books I might have otherwise missed.

The very unique crime occurs right in the beginning of the book, in the prologue. The author describes, based on interviews, evidence, and reports, how Edwin Rist, a 20-year-old flautist with London's Royal Academy of Music, made off with a priceless collection of rare birds from the British Museum of Natural History (listen to audio sample below). The crime was so simple as to be almost laughable. He took the train, at night after a concert, to the town where the museum was, walked to the museum, climbed a wall and broke a window, and climbed into the museum, towing a large suitcase on wheels. Once inside, Rist filled his bag with hundreds and hundreds of preserved rare bird specimens, each of which would yield many feathers that fans of Victorian salmon fly-tying (like Rist) would pay a lot of money for. The author then explains how he himself heard about the theft, while fly fishing in New Mexico, from a river guide and became obsessed with the story, leading to a years-long investigation to try to find the missing birds, few of which had been recovered. He also goes back in time to the 1850's to describe how all these rare birds were originally collected. Most of those in the museum had been collected by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin's, on lengthy trips through secluded places in Malaysia and other remote locales, specifically seeking out certain rare species only found in localized regions. The history of women's hats is woven into the story, too, since it created an insatiable appetite for rare, colorful bird feathers. He also tells the reader all about the history of Victorian salmon fly-tying, a hobby that has become an obsession for many modern aficionados, most of whom, ironically, don't even fish! Weaving in history, science, and the crime itself, Johnson tells this intriguing story in a captivating way.

Colorful Wilson's Bird of Paradise (photo from Just Birding website)

This is truly one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" tales, filled with so many fascinating and outrageous facts that I kept interrupting my husband's reading to say, "Hey, listen to this ..." Our book group had plenty to talk about, from the early naturalists' ironic "preservation" of these very rare birds by killing and stuffing them to the outrageous details of the crime itself to the value of the feathers in this unique community. Rist is at the center of this crazy story, and the author includes his own unusual 8-hour interview with him. He also includes plenty of color photos, which we were all eager to pore over to see these colorful birds, expensive salmon flies, and outrageous women's hats. Despite Johnson's best efforts over years to help the museum recover more of the birds, some mysteries remain at the end of the book. It's a well-written and compelling almost-too-crazy-to-believe true crime story that kept us all engrossed. 

308 pages, Viking

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

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the prologue, describing the crime in detail--I guarantee you'll be hooked and will want to know more!


You can purchase The Feather Thief from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

 

You can also buy through indie bookstores using Bookshop.

 

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

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Teen/YA Review: A Girl Like That

My last audiobook of the Big Book Summer Challenge, barely squeezed in the last week, was a unique YA novel, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. Set in Saudi Arabia, this story takes a different approach to most, with the end at the beginning.

In the novel's Prologue, the two main characters, teen Zarin and her friend (maybe more), Ponus, have died in a car crash and are looking down at the reactions of their family at the scene of the accident. Then, the novel takes a step back and slowly builds the stories of their lives, with a focus on Zarin. Born in India, Zarin is an outsider in this country, not only because of her country of origin but also because her family is neither Hindu nor Muslim; they are Zoroastrian. This is one of the reasons that she and Ponus, whom she knew as a small child in India and re-encountered recently as a teen in Saudi Arabia, connected so easily and became friends so quickly: he and his family share her background and religion. Zarin's parents died when she was very young, so she has lived with her aunt (Masi) and uncle (Masa) since then, adopted by them and emigrating with them when Masa's job took them to Saudi Arabia. Though Masa is loving toward Zarin, her aunt has always been cruel and resentful toward her. She was bitter toward her sister, who was involved with a man outside their religion and in organized crime. This was Zarin's father. Fearful that Zarin would follow in her mother's footsteps, get involved with an unacceptable man, and have a baby out of wedlock, Masi is extra strict with Zarin. In response, Zarin has adopted a rebellious attitude, going for rides with boys in cars and doing anything to escape her aunt. For all of these reasons, Zarin is not popular at school. The other girls find her cold and stand-offish, and she gains a reputation from her frequent dates with boys. That's why, when Zarin reconnects with Ponus, she finally finds a real friend, someone who knows her from before and accepts her as she is. He helps her through some difficult times.

It's odd to read a novel knowing that the two main characters will die at the end (or already died at the beginning), but the author does a great job of creating complex characters that I came to care about. The novel deals with many of the issues that come up in any YA novel: peer pressure, mean girls, social media, sexual assault, and family abuse. What makes A Girl Like That unique is its setting in Saudi Arabia, where the religious police are a constant threat to young people, and Zarin's and Ponus' religion that most people have never heard of (Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions). Setting these typical teen problems in an unfamiliar cultural and religious world will be intriguing to young readers (as it was to me, too) and open their eyes to a broader world view, while also showing the similarities between young people all over the world. The audio was very well-done, with multiple narrators including not only Zarin and Ponus but other characters as well, providing many different perspectives that gradually build these characters and their stories. Obviously, this is something of a dark story since you know that these two teens' lives will end much too soon, but I enjoyed the deep dive into their lives and their world.

400 pages, Square Fish

Recorded Books

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

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the prologue, from Zarin's perspective.

 

You can purchase A Girl Like That from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

 

You can also buy through indie bookstores using Bookshop.


 

Or you can order A Girl Like That from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

It's Monday 9/21! What Are You Reading?


Well, fall has truly arrived here in the US Mid-Atlantic now; it seems like our temperatures dropped from 90's to high's of 60's in a week! We shifted from air-conditioning to heat, and brought out the sweatshirts and jackets.We enjoyed another evening of take-out food and a campfire with friends in our driveway Saturday--we actually needed the fire to stay warm this time!

My son and I had an hour's drive each way to medical appointments on Friday, through the Amish farmland of Lancaster County, PA. We often see more buggies than cars on the way up to see his medical team. This time, we stopped on the way home at an Amish farm market. Despite all the pumpkins, winter squash, and other fall bounty, we focused on the last of the summer produce, though we did grab a half-dozen hot, fresh, just-cooked apple cider donuts, too! We had an awesome end-of-summer feast that night; it was the best green beans, corn on the cob, and watermelon we'd had all summer. I cooked that meal (plus steaks with sauteed onions) just so we could bring leftovers to my father-in-law for lunch Saturday. He's 95 years old and is really getting sick of not leaving his apartment building! Bringing all his favorites to him for a special meal when we had our weekly outdoor visit helped, though--he thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

I don't want to focus on my health but suffice it to say that I am still in bad shape. This 6-month downturn of my chronic illness is still bad, and last week was rough again, with lots of necessary couch time. It's getting me down.

Thank goodness for books! Seriously, reading and enjoying different reading challenges has been a highlight for me these past six months, with both the pandemic and my own body limiting what I can do. Reading takes me all over the world! Here's what we've all been reading this week:

Well-immersed now in the fall RIP XV Challenge, I finished reading one of the many mysteries/thrillers filling up our TBR bookcase, The Dry by Jane Harper. I gave this to my husband for Father's Day, he just recently finished reading it, and I couldn't wait to dive into this debut novel that made such a splash a few years ago. It's set in Australia in a small farming community during a terrible drought. Aaron, now a Federal Agent, returns to the town for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke. Everyone in town believes the prevailing theory: that Luke, like many others, was at the end of his rope emotionally and financially, so he shot his wife and son and killed himself. Luke's parents ask Aaron if he will look into it, and he agrees. However, there is also a 20-year-old cold case: the death of a girl that Luke and Aaron were friends with. Back then, the two boys alibied each other, but now there are some questions about that as the present and the past collide. It was a suspenseful and twisty novel, and I loved being immersed in some fast-paced thriller action again!

When I was choosing my next book from my stack for RIP XV last night, I was feeling particularly exhausted, sick, and down, so I wanted a quick, fun book that I could escape into. I chose a middle-grade fantasy novel, The Door by Andy Marino. This is a review book that's been sitting on my shelf since 2014! It's about a twelve-year-old girl named Hannah who lives in a lighthouse with her mother on the North Atlantic coast. She's grown up in a very sheltered, unusual way with her mother home-schooling her and no one allowed to visit the lighthouse. In fact, her mom seems kind of paranoid. But they finally get visitors one day, an old friend of her dad's from out of town and his nephew, Kyle. Hannah is also excited to be starting public school finally, though she's worried about how her new classmates will respond to some of her weird habits and tics, like her made-up language, the voices in her head, and her difficulty walking up or down stairs. She's surprised to see Kyle on her first day of school and to find out that he is starting school there, too. Somehow, this all links up with a mysterious door to nowhere in the lighthouse that Hannah has always wondered about ... but that's all I know so far!

I finished a RIP Challenge audiobook, Feed by M.T. Anderson, a YA dystopian novel. It was a finalist for the National Book Award (plus won a bunch of other awards) and takes place in an imagined future. Teens (and other people) live with "the feed" constantly broadcasting directly into their brains. It reads your thoughts, listens to your words, and responds with a barrage of targeted information, entertainment, and ads. The main character, Titus, has been trained to rely on the feed to such an extent that he barely knows how to think for himself anymore. Then he meets a girl named Violet who's been homeschooled and didn't have a feed until she was seven. After a hack leaves Titus, Violet, and their friends without their feeds for a few days, Titus, with Violet's influence, starts to think more about what the feed means and how it affects his life. The audio was very well-done, with sections of it providing the feed that Titus is hearing, in between regular narration, making it especially immersive. It's a dark, foreboding story, making me want to perhaps spend less time online and more time reading!

Now, I've started my next audiobook for RIP XV, Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor. Funny enough, when I started it, I thought it was a different book: Sycamore Row by John Grisham (which I also want to read!), so I was a little surprised at first! But I have also wanted to read/listen to this one. There is a mystery at its heart: 17-year-old Jess disappears during a walk in a small Arizona town in 1991. Then, the action shifts to 2009, when town newcomer, Laura, is out on a hike when she discovers a skeleton embedded in a dry lake. Is it Jess? The format of this novel is unusual so far, with each chapter written from a different person's perspective. At first, it was a bit confusing on audio, with each chapter's abrupt shift to a new character, but I am starting to get into the flow of it. One reviewer compared it to Olive Kitteridge, which is a series of interrelated stories all set in the same small town. I'm enjoying it so far.

My husband, Ken, has also turned to the RIP Challenge--though most of what he reads all year-round are mysteries, thrillers, and other dark stuff! He finally started another gift from me, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. I've been anxious for him to give this one a try, since it got so much buzz when it was released a few years ago. It's a book-within-a-book, where a book editor is reading the manuscript of one of her perennial crime writers. The manuscript is a classic English mystery, in the style of Agatha Christie, as is typical for this writer, but at some point, the editor starts to think there is more than meets the eye to this new manuscript: some sort of real-life mystery. I've read that it's a very clever premise, with a twisty plot. Ken confirms that the early part of the novel was very classic British mystery, but it's getting twistier now.


Our son, 26, has started a new epic fantasy series, Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. He's almost finished with book 1, Wizard's First Rule, almost 600 pages read in one week for all you Big Book Summer fans! It sounds like it's filled with murdery, swords, treachery, and a unique magical world--yup, that ticks all his boxes! He has enjoyed this first book so much that he used a birthday gift card on Friday to visit his favorite local used bookstore and picked up book 2, Stone of Tears (over 1000 pages), and book 3, Blood of the Fold, so he is all set for quite a while!


Blog posts last week:

TV Tuesday: Russian Doll - we LOVED this show! Definitely binge-worthy.

Fiction Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - clever, witty classic

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.   

What are you and your family reading this week?
 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fiction Review: David Copperfield

My husband gave me a copy of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens for my birthday this summer, and I was thrilled. I loved reading Dickens in school and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading (listening to on audio) Great Expectations two summers ago. Plus, a bunch of my friends say that David Copperfield is their favorite Dickens ... or even their favorite novel! I read it as part of my 2020 Big Book Summer, and boy, did it fit the challenge! It took me a month to finish it, but I loved every minute.

The framework of the novel is that an old man, David Copperfield, is looking back and telling the story of his life. He begins with what he has been told of his birth, attended by his kind mother, his nurse, Peggotty, and the doctor of their small town. The only important person in his life that wasn't present was his father, who had died recently. His mother and Peggotty also told him that his father's aunt, a formidable woman named Miss Betsy Trotwood, was also present that night and eager to be godchild to her new grand-niece, though she left in disgust upon finding out that the baby was a boy. David didn't see her again for many years. David's first years were idyllic in his cozy home with his warm, compassionate mother and Peggotty to care for him. That came to an abrupt end when his mother remarried a cruel man named Mr. Murdstone. He and his equally cold sister, Miss Murdstone, moved in, and life changed drastically for poor Davy. Mr. Murdstone believed his mother was too soft with him and pressured and manipulated both Davy and his mother to such an extent that both were soon nervous shadows of their former selves. From then, things go from bad to worse for poor David Copperfield, and the novel follows him through boarding schools, being put to work at the tender age of ten, the life-changing summer that he met Peggotty's family, and much, much more. David's life takes many surprising twists and turns over the years--and his luck does turn around later--but to tell any more plot details here would be to ruin the unfolding of the wonderful story.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to remember just how clever and witty Dickens' writing is. Throughout the novel, even in the darkest times, certain lines just made me laugh out loud and others were so smart and perfectly said that I stopped to admire them. It's quite clear why his novels have become such classics over the years and why so many of my high school teachers chose his books for our assignments. Here is a brief description of Mr. Chillip, the town doctor, from the beginning of the book, just before he encounters the brash and self-possessed Aunt Betsy:

"He was the meekest of his sex, the mildest of little men. He sidled in and out of a room, to take up the less space. He walked as softly as the Ghost in Hamlet, and more slowly. He carried his head on one side, partly in modest depreciation of himself, partly in modest propitiation of everybody else. It is nothing to say that he hadn't a word to throw at a dog. He couldn't have thrown a word at a mad dog. He might have offered him one gently, or half a one, or a fragment of one; for he spoke as slowly as he walked; but he wouldn't have been rude to him, and he couldn't have been quick with him, for any earthly consideration."

As is typical, Dickens pulled me right into the story from its first pages. David is a classic Dickensian character: a good man who suffers horrible mishaps and mistreatment as a child but perseveres to live a good life. He's someone to root for (and sympathize with). The supporting characters are lively and unique, as well, especially Peggotty and her family, Aunt Betsy (who comes into the story again at a later point), and Mr. Dick, a kind but hapless man taken under Aunt Betsy's wing. The plot itself takes many unexpected turns and easily carries the reader along. Despite its length (my copy had large pages so was only about 625 pages long but many versions are twice that), I was engrossed in the story and couldn't wait to see what would happen to David next. Once again, I was reminded of why I love to read Dickens. Which of his classic novels should I read next? Christmas is coming up ...

1024 pages, Penguin Classics

Note: This blog contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible (the sample begins with an excerpt from Chapter 43 but does not contain any major spoilers).

 

You can purchase David Copperfield from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

 

You can also buy through indie bookstores using Bookshop. 


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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

TV Tuesday: Russian Doll

I had planned to review a different TV show today, but we just finished Netflix's Russian Doll on Sunday, and I couldn't wait to tell you all about this outstanding, twisty show with a unique premise.

It's Nadia's birthday, and her best friend, Maxine (played by Greta Lee), is hosting a blow-out birthday party for her in her funky New York apartment. Nadia, played by Natasha Lyonne who played Nicky on Orange Is the New Black, drinks a lot, chain smokes, and takes home a stranger. Later in the night, though, out on the streets again, Nadia gets hit by a car and dies. The next moment, she is alive again, in her friend's wildly-lit bathroom, looking in the mirror. Confused, she walks out to find that she is back where she was hours ago, at the beginning of the party, with Maxine greeting her for the first time again. She keeps reliving that same birthday night (slightly different each time, since she is now freaking out), and she keeps dying in different ways and restarting back in the bathroom again. She is going crazy trying to figure out what's going on, why, and how to stop this unending loop. Then, in one of her re-lifes (when she actually makes it to the next morning), she meets someone else who is going through the same thing, a handsome guy named Alan, played by Charlie Barnett. Nadia and Alan team up to try to get to the bottom of this crazy cycle they are both stuck in.

Ever since its release last year, I've been hearing people rave about Russian Doll, so it's been on our (very long) list of shows to try. Why didn't anyone tell me it was about someone trapped in a time loop?? I love this kind of brain-twisting plot! Seriously, this is my favorite kind of fiction: time travel, time jumping, time loops, you name it, I'm there for it. Besides that, though, even if you're not into time-twisting like me, the show is just as good as everyone's been saying. It's smart, clever, intriguing, dark, and very funny. Natasha is outstanding in her bizarre lead role, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun, too. Each episode has new developments, as Nadia and Alan investigate this weird phenomenon and come up with new theories. We absolutely loved this show and blew through its eight short episodes in a week (which is rare for us--we're not usually bingers). And, though the ending was just about perfect, Russian Doll has just announced that it will be back for a second season. We can't wait to see what's in store next!

NOTE: As you will see in the trailer, there is ample foul language and some sexual content, just in case that's not your thing.

Russian Doll is a Netflix original program, so it is available exclusively on Netflix. Season one is available now and is just eight 30-minute episodes, so it is perfect for a quick binge!

Check out this awesome trailer that both shows the basic plot of the show and its dark but hilarious tone:



Monday, September 14, 2020

It's Monday 9/14! What Are You Reading?

Ah, we are finally enjoying some lovely fall weather here! We saw the last (I hope) of summer heat and humidity last week, and it was even cool enough by Saturday that we could enjoy a driveway-gathering (our new kind of socializing) with friends we hadn't seen in six months, with take-out and a campfire. So good to reconnect with them and enjoy a cool evening and a fire!

Nice to enjoy a fire again!
I did not get around to visiting all the blogs I wanted to visit last week, so apologies. As you will see, I was super-busy, with blog posts almost every single day, trying to catch up and wrap-up Big Book Summer, so there wasn't much time left to visit and enjoy others' blogs.

But now it's a new week! I know we are supposed to hate Mondays, but I love Mondays! I love the fresh start, the chance to review last week and plan ahead for this week, and the new chance to do the things that are important to me. We had a nice weekend--we were empty-nesters for four days--so now I am ready for a new week and loving this new weather.

On the book front, we finished up our Big Books and started our darker fall reading last week. Here's what we've all been reading:

I officially made the switch last week from Big Book Summer to the annual fall R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge, which is focused on genres like mystery, thriller, supernatural, and other darker themes. My first book for R.I.P. is a nonfiction true-crime book, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. It is the first book chosen for my book group's new reboot via Zoom (we met online Thursday). This was a stunning story that we all enjoyed. Back in the 1800's, a bunch of naturalists (think Darwin and his contemporaries) collected rare, colorful birds (ironically, these guys killed and skinned these extremely rare birds!), leading to an almost priceless collection in the British Museum of Natural History. In 2009, along came Edwin Rist, a 20-year-old flautist and obsessive fly-tier who took an evening train to the museum, climbed a wall, broke a window, and stuffed his suitcase with hundreds of these extremely rare birds ... and got away! He sold these priceless birds (and sometimes tore them up into saleable parts and individual feathers) to his fellow fly-tiers around the world. The book was fascinating in every respect, and we had a great discussion.

Now, I have moved onto one of the many mysteries/thrillers filling up our TBR bookcase, The Dry by Jane Harper. I gave this to my husband for Father's Day, he just recently finished reading it, and I couldn't wait to dive into this debut novel that made such a splash a few years ago. It's set in Australia in a small farming community during a terrible drought. Aaron, now a Federal Agent, returns to the town for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke. Everyone in town believes the prevailing theory: that Luke, like many others, was at the end of his rope emotionally and financially, so he shot his wife and son and killed himself. Luke's parents ask Aaron if he will look into it, and he agrees. However, there is also a 20-year-old cold case: the murder of a girl that Luke and Aaron were friends with. Back then, the two boys alibied each other, but now there are some questions about that as the present and the past collide. I'm loving it so far and am happy to be immersed in some fast-paced thriller action again!

On audio, I finished one more Big Book by the end of the Big Book Summer Challenge, a YA novel of just 400 pages, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. It's set in Saudi Arabia, and the two main characters die in a car crash in the prologue, then the rest of the novel looks back at their lives and how they ended up there. Zarin, an Indian immigrant and an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle, has never felt like she belongs--not with her cruel aunt, not among the girls she goes to school with, and not in this place. The one person she truly connects with is Porus, another Indian immigrant in the same town, a boy she develops a close friendship with and the only one who knows her secret. The novel digs into issues of race, class, and religion, from an entirely different perspective than American teens are used to, but also into things like belonging, social media, and other topics all teens can relate to. The audio is excellent, with multiple narrators piecing together Zarin and Porus' stories. Clearly, it's a dark story, since you know they die at the end, but I found it worthwhile learning about these young people from different cultures and religions.

Now, I have also turned my audio attention to the RIP Challenge with Feed by M.T. Anderson, a YA dystopian novel. It was a finalist for the National Book Award (plus won a bunch of other awards) and takes place in an imagined future. Teens (and other people) live with "the feed" constantly broadcasting directly into their brains. It reads your thoughts, listens to your words, and responds with a barrage of targeted information and ads. The main character, Titus, has been trained to rely on the feed to such an extent that he barely knows how to think for himself anymore. Then he meets a girl named Violet who's been homeschooled and didn't have a feed until she was seven. After a hack leaves Titus, Violet, and their friends without their feeds for a few days, Titus, with Violet's influence, starts to think more about what the feed means and how it affects his life. I am enjoying it so far. The audio is very well-done, with sections of it providing the feed that Titus is hearing, in between regular narration, making it especially immersive. I can't wait to see what happens next!

My husband, Ken, finished his last Big Book of the summer, a historical thriller from my Dad's book collection that we inherited, Hornet Flight by Ken Follett. We both love Follett's novels, and this is one of his many spy war thrillers. It's set in 1941 during WWII and focuses on an eighteen-year-old young man who discovers a secret that could change the war for England. He needs to tell someone, but his only way to get to England from an isolated island is with an old Hornet Moth biplane, rusting in a barn. It sounds like an intriguing and unique premise, and knowing how Follett writes thrillers, I'm sure it is action-packed, twisty, and suspenseful. My husband didn't expect to finish another Big Book in time, but this one was a quick read--Follett is known for his page-turners! He enjoyed it.

Now, Ken has also turned to the RIP Challenge--though most of what he reads all year-round are mysteries, thrillers, and other dark stuff! He finally started another gift from me, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. I've been anxious for him to give this one a try, since it got so much buzz when it was released a few years ago. It's a book-within-a-book, where a book editor is reading the manuscript of one of her perennial crime writers. The manuscript is a classic English mystery, in the style of Agatha Christie, as is typical for this writer, but at some point, the editor starts to think there is more than meets the eye to this new manuscript: some sort of real-life mystery. I've read that it's a very clever premise, with a twisty plot. So far, Ken is reading the manuscript part of the book and confirms that it's very classic British mystery. I can't wait to hear what he thinks when the story takes a turn!

Our son, 26 years old, finished reading a birthday gift we gave him, Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell, which is the first book in the Spellslinger series. A fellow book blogger, Beth Fish Reads, recommended this one to me for my son because she knows he loves the same kinds of fantasy novels she does, so thank you! Kellen lives in a magical world and must prove his skills as a spellcaster in his first duel. The problem is that his magic is fading. He must risk everything--and use only his wits--to try to get his magic back. A mysterious traveler may be Kellen's only hope. Our son loved the novel and definitely wants to read the rest of the series. He was away this weekend, so I'm not sure what he's reading now, but he still has more birthday books to start!
 


Blog posts last week:
Fiction Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins - fast-paced thriller about a mother and son on the run - moving and powerful

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

2020 Big Book Summer Wrap-Up - check out my own wrap-up and the record number of participants this year, with congratulations to one lucky reader!

Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) XV Challenge - I love this time of year! Time for a reading challenge just for fall.

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 11, 2020

Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) XV Challenge

With Big Book Summer 2020 officially wrapped up, it's time to turn my attention to all things fall, including, of course ... books!

Fall is my favorite season, and every year, I look forward to cooler temperatures and lovely weather, campfires, jeans and sweatshirts, and the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Reading Challenge! I first participated in the challenge in 2015, so this will be my fifth year. The idea is simply to read books with darker themes in September and October.

This year, it's gotten even easier to join the fun - there is no sign-up or registration, no blog posts are required, just:

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:
Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

Basically, read scary.
“Are you reading for spooky season? We need more wicked good books (and screen) in our lives, so being the rule-breakers we are, #RIPXV BEGINS NOW. How do you play? Tag @PerilReaders and #ripxv in your Twitter and/or Instagram posts. It’s that easy. Wicked easy.”
So, I'm in again!

I did pull together a large stack of possible books to choose from, but our TBR bookcase is overflowing with options, so I'll keep it flexible. Here are some of the print books I want to read and will choose from:


I also have a HUGE audio backlog with loads of relevant books there, too.

I am kicking off my RIP XV challenge by reading a true crime nonfiction book, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson. It was my book group's choice for our first Zoom meeting, and it is excellent so far: a fascinating, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story. On audio, I just today started listening to Feed by M.T. Anderson, a YA dystopian novel that begins with a spring break trip to the moon!

How about you? Do you like to read darker stuff like mystery, suspense, thrillers, and other creepy stuff in the fall? No sign-ups needed--just use the hashtag and tag @PerilReaders to join the fun!

I love this time of year and can't wait to dig into the rest of this stack of books!

2020 Big Book Summer Wrap-Up

It's now September, which means the start of fall (yay!) and the end of another 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 basic idea 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 2020 Big Book Summer in May to see what books I hoped to get to this season. The challenge had record participation this summer; I think everyone was looking for a little something fun to brighten up this difficult year!

First, my own challenge wrap-up:

I read a total of 9 Big Books this summer: 6 in print and 3 on audio (yes, they count, too!).

Some of my Big Books read in summer 2020

Pictured are the Big Books I read in print (minus one I lent to a friend and one included that I listened to on audio). 

In print, I read:
 On audio, I listened to these Big Books:
 (my reviews at the links)

So, that was my summer, but lots of other people enjoyed a wonderful Big Book Summer, too!

A record total of 54 people joined the challenge this year!! That's more than double last year's participants.

26 bloggers joined by linking up on the challenge page and another 28 readers joined through the Goodreads group. 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 that out, as well as links to other people's reviews and wrap-up posts on the challenge page.

And now, it's time for the 2020 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:
 
Joan, who participated through the Goodreads group

Congratulations, Joan!

And congratulations to everyone who participated!
I hope that YOU will join the fun next year! 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Books Read in August

August: Butterfly on summer flowers
It looks like I didn't read much in August because I was mostly tied up with two VERY Big Books for my #BigBookSummer Challenge that I finished in September. But, here are the books I did finish in August:


Not a whole lot of variety in August! I read all fiction and all grown-up novels, no YA or middle-grade. But I did listen to two novels on audio, and one in print (plus another that took over a month to read!). I enjoyed all three of these novels and thought they were all good, but I think The Dutch House was my favorite, in large part due to Ton Hanks' immersive performance reading on the audio, and Patchett's usual deep dive into characters' lives (in this case, a brother and sister).

Progress in 2020 Reading Challenges:
You can see all of the reading challenges I am participating in and full lists of the books read for each at the challenges link. I have some fun ones going this year! With only three books finished in August, I didn't make much progress on my challenges:


Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2020 - I read just one book from my own shelves last month.

2020 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - August was Creature Feature, and with three novels of realistic fiction, there was not even a dog or cat in any of my books! 100% human.

Back to the Classics 2020 - No classics last month (but I just finished a whopper!)

PopSugar Reading Challenge - this is a unique one! Nothing new to add this month, but I only have a few categories left to fill, so that's understandable.

2020 Nonfiction Reader's Challenge - No nonfiction in July.

2020 Diversity Reading Challenge - Just one of my books was diverse last month: American Dirt.

Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I added Ireland (a duplicate) and Mexico.

2020 Literary Escapes Challenge - No new states in August.

2020 Big Book Summer Challenge - I added one more Big Book in August, for a total of eight so far.
And finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Stop by to print out this month's Bingo card and play along. In August, I filled 15 spaces on my bingo card--not bad for just three books:


Spaces Filled:
The Dutch House - book club read, siblings, favorite author, loyalty
Normal People - new adult, read a physical book, first love, self-discovery, shelf love
American Dirt - not in a series, free book, audio book, over 400 pages long, tragedy
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in August?

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Fiction Review: American Dirt

In August, I listened to American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins on audio. It's a novel about a mother and her son desperately crossing Mexico with their lives in danger. The story was gripping and suspenseful but also moving and powerful.

Lydia Pérez lives in Acapulco with her husband, Sebastian, and their eight-year-old son, Luca. Lydia runs a bookstore, which she loves, and Sebastian is a journalist. Luca is a quiet but precocious boy, with a special talent for geography. While working in the bookstore, Lydia meets Javier, a handsome, intelligent, and charismatic man who shares her love of reading. Her joy in their book discussions dissolves though when she finds out that he's the leader of the region's most violent drug cartel, the one that Sebastian has been writing about in an article. As the novel opens shortly after the article was published, Lydia and Luca are hiding, terrified, in the bathtub of Lydia's mother's house, as they listen to violent cartel members slaughter the rest of their family in the house and yard all around them in the midst of Lydia's niece's Quinceañera. In all, 16 members of their family are killed that day, and only Lydia and Luca escape. Certain that Javier won't stop until he has killed them, too, the mother and son go on the run, grabbing some cash and hopping on a bus, though somehow, Javier's men always seem to be on their trail. Lydia's only remaining family is an uncle in Colorado, and she knows they will never be safe within the borders of Mexico, where Javier's immense power spreads from sea to sea; even the police and immigration officials can't be trusted as some of them are being paid by the cartels. Since the cartel is looking for them, standard forms of transportation are not an option, so the two join the thousands of migrantes walking, riding on the tops of cargo trains, and hiding in shelters. They are doing things Lydia never could have imagined in her easy life in Acapulco, but she would do anything to keep her son safe.

Much of this novel reads like a thriller, an action-packed, compelling narrative of life on the run being chased by brutal killers. But it is also, of course, about the migrantes whose ranks Lydia and Luca join. They meet some of them briefly while staying in shelters or riding the trains and hear their stories, but several characters become a part of their own story, joining the mother and son and providing much-needed expertise, while Lydia in turn lends emotional support to the often very young migrants. It's a heart-rending, powerful set of stories, including a pair of teen sisters trying to escape gang rapists, and an orphaned boy with nowhere to go. I was completely immersed in this moving, engrossing story that gave me a new appreciation for what immigrants have to endure just to keep their families safe.
NOTE: This excellent novel has stirred up some controversy due to its author being seen as someone with white privilege. Cummins is Latina, though, with a Puerto Rican grandmother, and in her Author's Note, she talks about the five years of extensive research she did on both sides of the border in order to accurately represent the immigrants she was writing about. She explains that her goal was to help American readers feel more empathy toward immigrants from the south (some of the characters are from Central American countries, too), which to me seems like a very worthy goal, especially in this time of politic unrest, when a large portion of our population vilifies immigrants. Yes, of course, it would be even better if a Mexican-American author wrote this book, and I certainly agree that we need more diverse representation in the publishing world. In fact, I personally make an effort to read lots of diverse books, joining a Diverse Reading Challenge each year. But, this is the novel we have, and Cummins did a great job researching and writing it. I believe it's a good thing that she is using her privilege to bring attention to these important issues, and the popularity of the novel (it is an Oprah's Book Club choice) will help to carry its critical message to even more readers.

400 pages, Flatiron Books
Macmillan Audio


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

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

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


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