Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fiction Review: The Reason You're Alive

Brilliant novelist Matthew Quick has done it again with his latest novel, The Reason You're Alive: given readers a glimpse into the kind of character we rarely hear from and addressed a multitude of important issues along the way, with insight, emotion, and humor. In Silver Linings Playbook, it was a character with bipolar disorder; Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock took us into the mind of a troubled teen planning a horrific crime and then his own suicide; and The Good Luck of Right Now was told from the perspective of an adult probably on the autism spectrum learning to live on his own for the first time. In The Reason You're Alive, we meet David Granger, a Vietnam veteran still suffering from PTSD, who will make you question every assumption you've ever made about other people.

As the novel opens, David is just leaving the hospital after brain surgery, where doctors removed a large tumor discovered after a car accident. Filled with suspicion and paranoia, David is convinced the tumor came from his exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam and that even his recent surgery is part of a government conspiracy. While coming out of anesthesia, David keeps repeating the name of a Native American man he served with, a man he feels he wronged and whom he thinks is still seeking revenge decades later. David's beloved wife died years ago, and he struggles to maintain a relationship with his adult son, Hank, with whom he feels he has nothing in common, though he adores his seven year-old granddaughter, Ella. Throughout the story, as David moves in with his son while he's recovering, both David and Hank learn things about each other that keep surprising them both. David defies categorization, for instance carrying a concealed weapon while indulging in a tea party with Ella. Along the way, David seeks the help of an old friend to find the Native American and right old wrongs.

David is a narrator unlike any you have ever met in fiction. At first, he comes across as brash, outspoken, and offensive, but throughout the story, David bashes every stereotype you can think of - about conservatives, patriots, veterans, and more - bit by bit as the reader (and Hank) gets to know him better. Despite his politically incorrect tell-it-like-it-is attitude, David actually has a surprisingly diverse group of friends, and the more you get to know him, the more complex and nuanced he becomes. As always with Quick's novels, he deals with important issues in an emotionally powerful way, including everything from suicide to depression to racism, all the while making you laugh out loud - often.

I didn't think I'd be interested in the subject matter of this novel, but I listened to it because I have loved Quick's other novels so much, and it didn't disappoint. Hearing the story told in David's gruff, cigarette-roughened voice made the novel come alive even more for me, and by the end of the story, like Hank, I had learned to love David and appreciate his many layers. This is a novel that everyone in America (probably the world) should read right now because we could all learn David's lesson about not making assumptions about other people and taking the time to get to know those who are different from you. Plus, it's a highly entertaining, moving, hilarious story.

240 pages, Harper
HarperAudio


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

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

Click here to hear a sample of David's shocking, eye-opening narration from the start of the novel....but don't get scared off by David's offensive, profanity-laced approach to life - I guarantee you will learn to like, respect, and appreciate him!

Purchase The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order The Reason You're Alive from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

TV Tuesday: American Gothic

Our oldest son moved in back home after graduation and hasn't been feeling well (he has the same immune disorder I do plus some tick infections), so he, his Dad, and I have been binge-watching some TV shows together. Our obsession the past two weeks was American Gothic, a family-based murder mystery with a dark sense of humor and a great cast that we all instantly loved!

The Hawthorne family is one of Boston's most prestigious power families. Dad Mitch, played by Jamey Sheridan, made his fortune with a cement company, and mom Madeleine, played by Virginia Madsen, rules the family with an iron fist. Oldest daughter Alison, played by Juliet Rylance, is a city councilwoman and is running for mayor. Younger sister Tessa is married to a detective named Brady and trying to get pregnant. However, the youngest brother in the family, Cam (played by Justin Chatwin of Shameless fame), has his share of troubles, including drug addiction, an erratic ex-wife, and a very strange kid named Jack. When Mitch has a heart attack, the whole clan gathers at the family mansion, and even oldest brother Garrett, played by Antony Starr, returns home after a mysterious 14-year absence. Meanwhile, a bridge collapse reveals an old clue in the broken cement to an unsolved serial killer case: the Silver Bell Killer. This killer terrified the city years ago, leaving a silver bell at each murder scene. In the first episode, a couple of the Hawthorne kids, back home for their dad's crisis, find a shoebox full of silver bells out in the shed. And then the fun begins!

Clearly, from the evidence found in that box, someone in or near the Hawthorne family had something to do with the Silver Bell Killer...but who? As each tense episode unfolds, viewers will suspect first one and then another Hawthorne family member - no one seems to be immune from this roulette wheel of suspicions. At the same time, of course, the police, including Brady - unaware of the mysterious shoebox in the shed - are also trying to unravel the years-old case and are closing in on the truth. In addition to plenty of suspense and all kinds of unexpected plot twists, this gripping show has a thread of dark humor in it that often made us laugh out loud, despite its serious themes of murder and deception. This show keeps you guessing right up until the very last episode and is completely addictive, making it perfect for binging!

Originally a CBS show, American Gothic is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime or by subscribing to CBS All-Access.



Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday Snapshot: Happy Father's Day!


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

I haven't participated in Saturday Snapshot in a while because I haven't been out much (other than errands and doctor's appointments!) and haven't taken any photos lately, but all week memories of my dad have been popping up on Facebook, so I thought I'd share a few of them here. Father's Day is a tough one for me these days - we lost my father (at only 70) three years ago to melanoma, and I miss him like crazy every single day. He was a great father - he adopted me when I was four years old, when he and my mom got married, and he was always loving and kind and supportive. He was also an amazing Grandpa who loved to get down on the floor with my sons or engage in whatever their current obsession was. My sons especially loved his sense of humor, and they miss him, too. So, a few special memories of my Dad for Father's Day:

Dad and I with our sand castle - Canada, circa 1969

Dad and I at my parents wedding - June 1969

Parents weekend in college
Dancing to "Through the Years" at my wedding - everyone around us was crying!
Grandpa and his oldest grandson

Grandpa with his second grandson

My dad and his wife with our boys
Grandpa with his skateboarding grandsons at our house

SO many memories of playing cards with Grandpa & Grandma!

Me, Dad, and his wife watching his grandson play soccer

All of us, shortly after Dad's diagnosis.
Hope you are enjoying the weekend and that the dads in your life have a great Father's Day on Sunday!

P.S. Yes, you absolutely can die of melanoma - it's often not as simple as just removing a spot, as many people think. It is, in fact, the deadliest form of skin cancer. So, get to a dermatologist this summer and begin a lifelong habit of annual check-ups!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Fiction Review: The Lightkeeper's Daughter

I have a big backlog of audio books downloaded for review - I always have one going, but there still isn't enough time to read/listen to all the books I want to! So, often when I start the next audio on my list, I can't remember why I chose it or what it's about. It was like that with The Lightkeeper's Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol, but this engaging story of two intertwined lives set on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes quickly pulled me in.

Elizabeth is an elderly woman living out her days in a fancy retirement home. Her mind is still sharp, but her eyesight is mostly gone now. She grew up on a little isolated island in Lake Superior where her father was the lighthouse keeper, and her father's old journals have recently been found. Elizabeth would love to read them because she still has some questions about secrets kept from her as a child, but of course, she can no longer read herself. Morgan is a teen girl in foster care who was sentenced to community service at the retirement home for some graffiti she painted there. While she is repainting the fence, Elizabeth hears her (and some haunting music that sounds familiar coming from her iPod) and begins to talk to the reluctant girl. The two form a tentative relationship, as Elizabeth asks Morgan to read her father's journals aloud to her.

Bit by bit, the story of Elizabeth's childhood emerges from both the old journals and Elizabeth's own memories, while the reader also learns more of Morgan's background and story, too. The unlikely pair gradually become friends and discover a connection between them, though they don't yet fully understand it. The narrative moves back and forth between Morgan's current life and Elizabeth's past, in a way that reminded me somewhat of Orphan Train (which also connected the lives of a teen from foster care and an elderly woman). The author paints a vivid picture of the unique life of a lighthouse keeper and his family in the secluded world of their small island, as Elizabeth and her siblings explore the natural world around them. The story is immersive and compelling, but it is also suspenseful, as Elizabeth gets closer and closer to learning the secrets from her childhood and how she and Morgan are connected. Filled with emotional depth and compassion, this novel also has plenty of surprising twists and turns in store! I especially enjoyed listening to it on audio, brought to life with three alternating narrators.

320 pages, Harper
HarperAudio

NOTE: This is an adult novel but will also appeal to older teen and young adult readers.

Listen to a sample of the captivating audio book (the sample is from the beginning of the novel, one of Morgan's sections).

Order The Lightkeeper's Daughter from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order The Lightkeeper's Daughter from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Teen/YA Review: The 5th Wave

I am probably the last person on earth to finally read the super-popular YA post-apocalyptic novel The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. My husband and son read it years ago, and it's been collecting dust on my TBR bookcase ever since (yes, I have an entire bookcase of books waiting to be read!). But that's what my Big Book Summer Challenge is for! That served as my motivation a few weeks ago to finally read this exciting, fast-paced thriller that takes place after a unique alien invasion. It was just as good as everyone has said!

Teenager Cassie, her father, and her little brother, Sammy, have somehow beat the odds and survived the first four waves of an alien invasion whose goal is clearly to kill off as many humans as possible. Her mother died in the recent pandemic, and now Cassie and her remaining family live in a survivor's camp. Contrary to most people's expectations, these aliens look and seem human, so it is hard to tell them apart from humans. After their camp is attacked, Cassie goes on the run, thinking the only way she can survive is to remain on her own and trust no one. But after she is shot by a sniper, a kind boy her age named Evan Walker saves her and nurses her back to health. She would like for him to help her find Sammy, but can she trust him? Meanwhile, a boy named Ben that Cassie went to school with (and had a crush on) before the invasion is stuck in a military camp, where kids as young as five are being trained as soldiers to fight off the aliens. Ben has some of the same questions as Cassie, as he grapples with the loss of his family and especially his little sister: who can he trust?

Although Cassie, on the run, is the main narrator, part of the story is also told from Ben's perspective inside the training camp, so the reader gets to see two very different aspects of post-invasion life. Flashbacks from both tell the story of how the invasion began and what happened in the first four waves. This action-packed story features almost constant suspense, so the short chapters go by very quickly (and I kept turning the pages long after bedtime!). Cassie and Ben are both very likeable, and I was rooting for them each to succeed, as they discovered new and surprising details about their enemies. There are constant unexpected twists and turns in the plot, making the novel a thriller, but I also found plenty of depth to the characters. I had only planned to read this book, the first in a series, but now I want to read more - I feel like I must find out what happens next (though this book stands on its own and comes to a satisfying conclusion). Now that I've finally read the book, my husband, son, and I plan to watch the movie, too!

457 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons

P.S. If you've been thinking of joining the Big Book Summer Challenge but aren't sure you have the time, this is a great book to start with because it's a very fast read, in spite of its 400+ pages!


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.

I read this one on paper, but the audio version sounds great - check out a sample here.

Order The 5th Wave from your favorite indie bookstore:
 Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order The 5th Wave from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, June 11, 2018

It's Monday 6/11! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another super hectic week! I keep thinking things will settle down, but they haven't yet. Maybe this week (hope springs eternal!). No, really, this should be a quieter week here. After much preparation, rushing around, and a family dinner Friday, we sent our 20-year old son off to Europe this weekend. He is on a 3-week long study abroad program - two weeks in the walled city of Volterra, Italy (in the Tuscany region), plus a week-long Caribbean cruise to ports in Italy, France, and Spain. Oh, yeah, this is one tough assignment - and for this, he gets 3 credits! I'm a bit jealous but mostly thrilled that he gets this opportunity. Our older son is still going through a rough period physically, due to his Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. We're not entirely sure why he's been worse lately, though a trip to his Lyme specialist (one of those unplanned things that made last week so tiring) led to a new avenue to explore, so we are cautiously hopeful. He will be heading to Firefly, a HUGE outdoor concert held every year here in Delaware, on Thursday, so it should be very quiet toward the end of the week at home. I hope to finally get some writing done and some new pitches sent out.

With all that going on, we still find time to read - our books bring us comfort when things get difficult or hectic. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished my next review book (before continuing with my Big Book Summer): My Pretty Face by Robyn Harding. This is one of those domestic suspense novels that have become so popular, about two moms who become friends, though one is hiding a secret past as a murderer. I figured out most of it by about the halfway point and the mystery is revealed pretty early, but this novel is more about why than who, exploring questions about forgiveness, friendship, and redemption. I will share my review after it is published on Shelf Awareness next month.
  • Next, I started another review book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owen. I chose this one to both review and interview the author, and boy, did I choose well! I am absolutely loving this novel set in the coastal marshes of North Carolina, about a young girl left to fend for herself after her family abandons her. There is also a murder mystery and some romance woven in. It's a very immersive novel, with the author bringing the unique coastal marsh environment to life. I can't wait to talk to the author later this month.
  • On audio, I finished listening to The Lightkeeper's Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol, an intriguing novel that reminded me a bit of The Orphan Train, with its mix of past and present. A modern teen is sentenced to community service at a retirement home and gets to know one of the residents, who is wondering about secrets from her own childhood spent on a remote island where her father was the lighthouse keeper. It was excellent, with warmth and emotion but also plenty of surprises!
  • Now, I am listening to The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick. This is classic Quick, with a powerful story told by a unique narrator of the type that readers rarely hear from, combining emotional depth with laugh-out-loud moments. It's about a Vietnam vet who still struggles with PTSD and other effects of his time in war but loves his son (whom he has nothing in common with) and his young granddaughter. The narrator at first comes across as crass, outspoken, and offensive - and he is all of those things! - but the more you get to know him, the more you see the layers behind that initial impression. I am loving this one, as I have every Quick novel I have read.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Burn by Nevada Barr, a book I gave to him for Christmas. He and I love Barr's Anna Pigeon thrillers because they are all set in National Parks (which we love), starring a park ranger. I chose this one specifically because it is set in New Orleans, where we used to live (and still one of our favorite places in the world!). And Ken chose it now because it is a Big Book!
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, the new graduate, finished reading book 8 of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, The Path of Daggers, and is now onto book 9, Winter's Heart. He loves this series. It's Big Book Summer all year-round for him; he rarely reads a book with under 400 pages! This one is "only" 800 pages. He is thrilled to get back to reading after the past months of struggling to finish school.
Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: Safe - gripping, suspenseful & binge-worthy

Fiction Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - powerful coming-of-age story set in Alaska

Summary of Books Read in May - low quantity but good quality!

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 has begun, 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!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Books Read in May

Wow, I'm actually catching up - writing my monthly summary on the 10th! Pretty amazing, considering how busy things have been here lately. It helps that I had fewer reviews to write for last month. Here is what I finished reading in May:


  • Deadzone (Horizon #2) by Jennifer Nielsen - middle-grade fiction on audio
  • The Possible World by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz (RI) - adult fiction (Shelf Awareness review)
  • Celebrations by Maya Angelou - poetry *
  • (I also read half of Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff but that was a Did Not Finish - you can read my thoughts at the link)


* Note that I actually read Celebrations back in April but forgot to count it then, since it was a book of poetry that I read a bit at a time.

So, counting the poetry from April, that gives me a total of 6 books finished, with a nice variety - one memoir, one book of poetry (first time you've ever seen that on this blog!), the rest a mix of adult and middle-grade fiction. I listened to three of my books, so it was a great month for audio! My favorite book of the month was probably The Great Alone, but The Possible World was a close second - I will post the link to my review as soon as it is published on Shelf Awareness.

Progress in 2018 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges, though I didn't make much progress this month. I read only 1 book from my own shelves (again) for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, bringing my total-to-date to only 10. Since my annual goal this year is 36, I have a long way to go! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, May was Book to Screen, a book made into a movie or TV show - that was a big fail for me, as the books I read were all fairly new. Nothing new for the Back to the Classics Challenge or the 2018 Badass Books Challenge and no new countries for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2018 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added three new states - Alaska, Michigan, and Rhode Island. And the end of May marked the kick-off of my own Big Book Summer Challenge, so I will have some books to add to that one next month. There's still plenty of time to join the fun!
 
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 20 squares in May - a good month!



Spaces filled in:
Posted - free book, sports/bike ride, audio book, teacher
My Life with Bob - shelf love (TBR)
The Great Alone - new relationship, mother, military, recently released (2018), BBQ/cookout, favorite author
Deadzone - suspense, robot/AI, nerd/geek, in a series
The Possible World - reunion, gardening
Celebrations - library book, read a physical book

What was your favorite book read in May?    

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Fiction Review: The Great Alone

For much of the month of May, I listened to the audiobook The Great Alone, the latest novel by popular author Kristin Hannah. I previously read (and loved) her novels Firefly Lane (made me sob aloud multiple times) and Nightingale. This latest was similarly immersive and moving, set in the wilderness of Alaska and tackling the tough issues of domestic abuse, depression, and PTSD.

In 1974, thirteen-year old Leni has grown used to her father's volatile moods and their family's constant roaming, never staying in one place for very long. Her mother says her father, Ernt, was different before the war. He was a POW during the Vietnam war, and now his temper is short and he doesn't trust anyone, least of all the government, but he loves Leni and her mom, Cora. So, Leni's not all that surprised when her father announces one day that they are moving to Alaska. He inherited a cabin from an Army buddy in a remote little town, and Ernt is certain their lives will be perfect in Alaska. With no preparation, they trade in their car for an old VW van and head north. The cabin turns out to be no-frills - no indoor plumbing, filthy, disused - and the community it is on the edge of barely qualifies as a town. But the people are kind and helpful and strong, and they pitch in to help the very unprepared new family get ready for the coming Alaskan winter. At first, things are good, even great. They all like their new life, and Leni think her dad does seem much happier up here, as they work hard through the long, sunny days to get the homestead ready. Once the unending dark days of Alaska's winter set in, though, Ernt's moods once again turn black, only now Leni and Cora are on their own, isolated in their small cabin with him.

That's just the beginning of this epic novel that follows Leni from her early teen years through young adulthood and just the beginning of the family's struggles. Hannah depicts Alaska with depth and insight, filled with awe-inspiring beauties and dangers. Her own parents moved to Alaska in the 70's, and her experience with the state, homesteading, and its people comes through. It's the perfect setting for this story that delves deeply into difficult topics that aren't often explored so openly. There are passages of abuse that are difficult to read/listen to, but the overall story is so engaging and compelling that it wasn't a big problem for me (I had been avoiding this novel for that reason, but I am glad I finally listened to it). Although some might see Cora's devotion to Ernt as a weakness, she remembers the man he used to be, and, though the terms weren't used back then, he almost certainly suffers from PTSD and bipolar disorder. In addition to Cora and Leni, the novel is filled with other strong female characters who have made lives for themselves in the rugged surroundings. Besides the depth of the characters, this novel also features all kinds of plots twists that will keep surprising you. The Great Alone is a powerful, redemptive story of growing up in a difficult place with a difficult person and learning what really matters in life.

448 pages, Holtzbrinck


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 book, as Leni tells the beginning of her story.

Buy The Great Alone from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

TV Tuesday: Safe

Last week, my newly graduated son and I (who both have medical issues) were in rest & recovery mode after the long weekend with two graduation ceremonies, family visiting, and a big party on Monday. My husband was out of town on business, so the two of us needed to find a new show we could watch on our own (there are several the three of us watch together). We discovered Safe, a Netflix original thriller series and loved it so much that I called my husband in Michigan and told him he needed to watch it, too. After watching six episodes in two days, my son and I laughed and agreed this was the very definition of binge-watching!

Safe stars Michael C. Hall, of Dexter fame (another favorite show of ours), only with a British accent, which sounds really weird at first, but he pulls it off (I checked - he's originally from North Carolina). He plays Tom Delaney, the father of two daughters who recently lost his wife to cancer. The grieving family lives in a gated community in the UK, a place with extra security measures to make it "safe." When his 15-year old daughter, Jenny, played by Amy James-Kelly, doesn't come home one night, he's understandably worried, and as her disappearance continues over the next days, his concern turns to outright panic, as he tries to figure out where she went and what happened to her. The audience knows that Jenny went to a wild party the night before with her older (secret) boyfriend, Chris. When Chris shows up dead, Jenny's missing status takes on a whole new level of importance. Tom is aided in his search by Sophie (played by Amanda Abbington), a close friend - and maybe becoming something more - who is also a local police officer. In each episode, the mysteries pile up, with several more questions arising every time one is answered, and the audiences suspicions changing constantly.

As you can tell by the way my son and I gobbled up this fast-paced mystery/thriller (we finished all eight episodes in just three days!), it is gripping, suspenseful, and completely immersive. Its twists and turns kept us guessing right until the last episode (and my son almost always figures these kinds of things out early). We were completely addicted for those three days and couldn't wait to watch more each evening. My husband couldn't keep up with us, with his commitments on the business trip in the evenings, but he also finished the series after he got home. The TV series was created by Harlan Coben, the famous thriller author, though I don't see a book by the same name, so I think this may have been created directly for TV rather than adapted from a novel. In any case, its thriller-writer roots shine through.

Safe is a Netflix original, so it is available exclusively on Netflix, with a single 8-episode season - you can easily finish it in a week! And you will want to.


Monday, June 04, 2018

It's Monday 6/4! What Are You Reading?

I missed last Monday's update because we were just a little bit busy here, hosting a big graduation party for our oldest son, who graduated from the University of Delaware last weekend! Last week was all about recovering and catching up!

I did find time last weekend to kick off my annual Big Book Summer Reading Challenge! Click the link to read all about this simple, easy-going, and fun challenge for summer. Then join the fun here on the blog or through the Goodreads group!

Here's what we've been reading the past two weeks:
  • I finished my next review book, The Possible World by Liesl O'Halloran Schwarz, which I was totally immersed in and loved! It's the intertwined stories of three people: a six-year old boy named Ben who witnesses a horrific mass murder at his friend's birthday party and loses his memory, an ER doctor named Lucy who takes care of Ben when he is first brought in and wants to help him, and across town, Clare, who will be turning 100 soon and finally decides to share her life story - including long-held secrets - with a new friend. It was just what I needed - hard to put down and engrossing.
  • I started my first Big Book of the Summer for my challenge: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, a YA post-apocalyptic novel that has been on my shelf for years. My husband and son both enjoyed it, so I was glad to finally get to it - that's what I like about Big Book Summer - clearing out some of those bigger books on my shelf! I loved it - it was just as good as everyone said - fast-paced and action-packed but also filled with warmth and heart. I had only planned to read the first book in the series, but now I want to read the rest - and see the movie, too!
  • Now, I am back to another review book (before continuing with my Big Book Summer): My Pretty Face by Robyn Harding. This is one of those domestic suspense novels that have become so popular, about two moms who become friends, though one is hiding a secret past as a murderer. I think I figured out most of it by about the halfway point, but we'll see if it still holds some surprises for me by the end.
  • I finished listening to Deadzone, book 2 in the Horizons middle-grade series. This is one of those series with a different renowned author for each book, and this second book was written by Jennifer Nielsen. It was action-packed, suspenseful, and twisty, like its predecessor, about a group of kids who are the sole survivors of a plane crash that went down in the Arctic but find themselves in a strange alien-like landscape filled with unique (and dangerous) flora and fauna.
  • This past week, I have been listening to The Lightkeeper's Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol, an intriguing novel that reminds me a bit of The Orphan Train, with its mix of past and present. A modern teen is sentenced to community service at a retirement home and gets to know one of the residents, who is wondering about secrets from her own childhood spent on a remote island where her father was the lighthouse keeper. It's been good so far - and this one has surprised me!
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Troop by Nick Cutter, a thriller I gave to my dad as a gift that was among the many books we inherited from him when he died three years ago. Ken and I both love reading his old books because he shared our love of reading, and it makes him feel close. I have heard this one is a bit gruesome, but my dad loved it. Ken confirmed that when he said, "This is good, but I don't think you'll want to read it!"
  • Now, Ken is reading Burn by Nevada Barr, a book I gave to him for Christmas. He and I love Barr's Anna Pigeon thrillers because they are all set in National Parks (which we love), starring a park ranger. I chose this one specifically because it is set in New Orleans, where we used to live (and still one of our favorite places in the world!). And Ken chose it now because it is a Big Book!
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, the new graduate, finished reading book 7, A Crown of Swords, from the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He said he hadn't had much time for reading with finals, projects, papers, and graduation.
  • This week, moved back home and recovering from a hectic week, he decided to dive back into reading and is now on book 8 of the Wheel of Time series, The Path of Daggers. He loves this series. It's Big Book Summer all year-round for him; he rarely reads a book with under 400 pages!
Blog posts from the past two weeks:
Memoir Review: My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul - an avid reader's memoir of books

Middle-Grade Review: Posted by John David Anderson - warm, funny novel about middle school

2018 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge - Join the fun!

My 2018 Big Book Summer - some books I hope to read for my own challenge

TV Tuesday: The Crossing - intriguing sci fi thriller we are loving!

Did Not Finish: Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff - My thoughts on this unique novel and why I didn't finish it

Middle-Grade Review: Deadzone by Jennifer Nielsen - book 2 in the fast-paced, action-packed Horizon series

Booktopia 2018 - my summary of this annual event I love!

Saturday Snapshot: The Lushness of May - green and vibrant here in May

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.


What are you and your family reading this week?  
 
You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.  

The happy graduate and his family last weekend.
 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Saturday Snapshot: The Lushness of May


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

Hi! Yes, I'm still here, even though I haven't been around for a Saturday Snapshot in over a month. May was a crazy month for me, starting with Booktopia 2018, then a trip to CT for Mother's Day and my mom's birthday, and then my oldest son's college graduation last weekend! Whew, now I am trying to catch up and get back to normal life.

Most of the photos here were taken in early May at Ashland Nature Center, when everything around us here in Delaware suddenly switched from the blossoms and light green of spring to the lushness and dark green of summer.

Bridge over creek surrounded by green

All green along the path

Reflections in the creek

Blue sky & green leaves

Deep greens in the woods

Covered bridge

Dogwoods in bloom in our own backyard!

Our family with the happy graduate!
Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend! Hot and humid here.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Booktopia 2018

Welcome, Booktopians! My mom and I at Booktopia 2018
If you were reading my blog around April and May, you probably got sick of hearing me mention Booktopia! My mom and I attended our third Booktopia this year. Here's a recap:

First, the basics. Booktopia is a unique annual event held the first weekend in May in Manchester, VT. It was started by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, the hosts of an amazing book podcast called Books on the Nightstand (it is now off the air, but you can still download old episodes). My mom and I went to Booktopia in 2015, the last year that Ann and Michael hosted it. Happily, the wonderful independent bookstore in Manchester, Northshire Bookstore, decided to keep up the Booktopia tradition on their own. My mom and I attended this unique event again in 2017 and then this year.

I say that Booktopia is unique because it isn't like any other book event - every single author who attends mentions that! This is not simply a reading by an author or a book trade show, like BEA, but an intimate gathering of book lovers and authors, together for the whole weekend. There are sessions where the authors each speak about their books and perhaps read a short passage, but those sessions are interactive, with lots of Q&A from the readers in attendance. So, it's more like a weekend filled with book club meetings with the authors in attendance!

This year, the featured books and authors were:
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And when Chloe Benjamin got sick at the last minute and couldn't come, author Bianca Marais stepped in, with her new novel Hum If You Don't Know the Words (of which I've heard nothing but rave reviews so far!).

(links are to my reviews)

This year's Booktopia was even more fun for me because I had the opportunity to interview two of the authors ahead of time for Shelf Awareness, so I had already talked to them and gotten to know them a bit (and both were delightful!). You can read my interviews with Stephen McCauley and Heather Abel.

My mom and I with Stephen McCauley, one of our favorite authors
Friday night was a big dinner event, with all the authors and readers (the authors just sit among the other attendees) - we ate a great dinner, talked books, laughed a lot, played some killer book trivia, then ended the evening with a Yankee Book Swap.
Our group is ready for the Yankee Book Swap!
During the day Friday and Saturday, we attended interactive sessions with individual authors. Booktopia officially ended Saturday evening with a 10-minute talk from each author, on any topic they wanted. In between, we ate at the wonderful restaurants in Manchester, VT, chatted with our book friends, old and new (many of the same people return to Booktopia every year), and shopped at the fabulous Northshire Bookstore (the Booktopia fee includes a $50 gift card).
Heather Abel giving her wrap-up talk
All in all, it was another exhausting but satisfying Booktopia - it really is the ultimate event for book lovers! Start now to plan to go next May to join the fun! I'll post a link here on the blog at the start of the year when tickets go on sale. Hope to see you there in 2019!

Be sure to check out this article in Shelf Awareness on Booktopia, written from the perspective of the booksellers who do all the hard work to put it on.