Monday, May 30, 2016

It's Monday 5/30! What Are You Reading?

Aauggh! How is it possibly Memorial Day, with June 2 days away, already? Last week, it was raining and cold - I wore a sweater out to dinner with friends. This weekend, it was 90 and humid, and I wore shorts out to dinner (with the same friends!). The weather craziness made the onset of summer seem even more abrupt. We spent much of the weekend preparing for next weekend's big event: my son's high school graduation. We planned a small party that is now up to about 40 people! Eeek!

More importantly, this weekend was the official kick-off for my annual Big Book Summer Challenge! Click on the link to read the rules (super easy for summer!) - you only need to read at least 1 book of 400 pages or more to participate. Join the fun!

Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I am still reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I had to temporarily set aside to get my review book read on time. I am loving it so far - an intricate, interwoven story about a Japanese teenager and a woman writer in British Columbia (I love stories about connections). I have become very attached to the two main characters! It's a long book, but I am almost finished and still enjoying it.
  • I rarely read two books at once, but I make an exception for graphic novels. My requested Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi came in at the library. I was inspired to read this wonderful memoir sequel by two things: my son's World Lit class just read Persepolis (which I read and loved last year), and I joined Emma Watson's feminist book group on Goodreads, Our Shared Shelf (oh, yeah, Emma and I are best buds now), and her choice for June is Persepolis, so I wanted to read the second volume. Just as good - and fascinating - as the first so far.
  • I have been listening to The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos on audio, a teen/YA novel with a unique plot. The 17-year old main character is looking for her mother, who left her and her father when she was very young, and her father, who just recently disappeared. Her dad writes medical mystery novels, so she is using what she's learned from his novels to track down these two very personal mysteries of her own.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, which I gave him for Christmas. We have enjoyed the first few episodes of the TV adaptation on Amazon Prime, so I thought he'd like the novel. He says it's completely different from the TV show. It's good that he's reading his Christmas gifts because it's almost Father's Day, and I've already chosen his new books!
  • Jamie, 21, finished re-reading the first two books in the A Pattern of Shadow and Light trilogy by Melissa McPhail: Cephrael's Hand and The Dagger of Adendigaeth. Now, he's started book 3, Paths of Air. With finals the past two weeks, he hasn't had much reading time. He finishes exams tomorrow, and then he can relax and read nonstop!
Last week's blog posts - there won't be much time for blogging this week or next!
TV Tuesday: The Night Manager, a British import, a spy thriller starring Hugh Laurie

Middle-Grade Review: Upside-Down Magic, a fun magic novel that tackles some important real-life issues

Middle-Grade Review: The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick, a compelling sci fi novel

2016 Big Book Summer Challenge - join the fun!

My Big Book Summer - Check out the Big Books I plan to read this summer

What are you and your family reading this week?    

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.

Join the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge! Just click the link to read the rules - super-easy for summer! You only need to read one "big book" (400 pages or more) to participate. Join the fun & sign up today! 


Saturday, May 28, 2016

My 2016 Big Book Summer

I have just announced the 5th year of my challenge, Big Book Summer Challenge, so I guess I should be the first to sign up!

I really enjoyed tackling some big books the last few summers, and I'm looking forward to doing it again and finally reading some of these bricks that have been collecting dust on my shelf (NOTE: for this challenge, a Big Book is defined as a book with 400 pages or more).

I don't know if I will get to all of these, but I like to have some options to choose from.  These are all currently on my shelves, waiting patiently to be read (along with many others!). I actually chose 6 this year because none of them are 700-1000 pages long, as in some years - these are mostly  in the 400-500 page range:

  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick, 665 pages (middle-grade)
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 507 pages
  • The Many Lives of John Stone by Linda Buckley-Archer, 444 pages (YA)
  • The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, 438 pages (YA)
  • The Likeness by Tana French, 466 pages
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, 493 pages
I like to alternate between grown-up books and kids/teen/YA books, so I have three of each on this list.  Most of these have been collecting dust on my shelf for many years, so all of these qualify for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge! This looks like a long list, but most of the books are under 500 pages (and the longest one is half pictures), and the kids/YA ones usually go pretty quickly.

I'm so excited for summer now!

How about you?  Are you up for tackling a Big Book (or two or three) this summer?  Join me and sign up for the 2015 Big Book Summer Challenge!

2016 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

A few years ago, I came up with the idea to use the relaxed freedom of summer to tackle some of the biggest books on my TBR shelf that I'd been wanting to read but never seemed to have the time for.  Both of my book groups take time off during the summer, so with no interfering commitments, I declared it The Summer of the Big Book and really enjoyed delving into some hefty tomes, like The Passage and Pillars of the Earth.

It was so much fun that four years ago, I created this challenge so that YOU can join me! And here it is Memorial Day weekend again and the official start of summer 2016. So join in the fun!

The Details:
Hey, it's summer, so we'll keep this low-key and easy!
  • Anything over 400 pages qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 27 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 5 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal.  Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with over 400 pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Choose from what's on your shelves already or a big book you've been meaning to read for ages or anything that catches your eye in the library - whatever peaks your interest!
  • Sign up on the links list below or on the 2016 Big Book Summer Challenge page.
  • Write a post to kick things off - you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to this blog.
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you've read...but you don't have to!  There is a separate links list below for big book review posts.
That's it!  Go check out your shelves and your TBR list and sign up below!

(Don't have a blog?  No problem!  You can still participate in the challenge - just leave a comment in the Comment section, stating your goals for the Big Book Summer Challenge.)

Check out my own list of books to read for the challenge.

New this year: I started a group on Goodreads for the 2016 Big Book Summer Challenge, where we can talk about Big Books and our progress on the challenge. If you don't have a blog, you can also use the Goodreads group to sign up for the challenge, post updates, and show which Big Books you are reading!

At the end of the summer, there will be a Big Book Giveaway! After Labor Day, I'll select one name from among the participants (bloggers who leave a link below as well as those without a blog who leave a comment to announce their participation or participate through the Goodreads group) and will offer the winner a choice from a selection of Big Books from my own shelves - probably most of the titles I read this summer and perhaps a few others to choose from.

And help spread the word on Twitter with #BigBookSummer (you can follow me at @suebookbybook).

Be sure to include a link to your kick off blog post (not your homepage):



Come back to this page during the summer to add a link whenever you review a Big Book or post a progress report:



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Middle-Grade Review: The Big Dark

During Dewey’s Readathon last month, I listened to The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick on audio anytime I wasn’t able to be reading a book. This what-if science fiction novel for middle-graders is so compelling that I finished the entire book in one day!

Charlie is enjoying a rare view of the Northern Lights on New Year’s Eve with his mother and sister when there is a sudden bright flash, and all the power goes out. On the baseball field where most of his little town in northern New Hampshire is watching the lights, cars stop running, headlights wink out, and even flashlights quit working. Over the next days – and weeks – the power stays out, and Charlie’s town slowly realizes the power is out everywhere – no electricity, gas-powered vehicles don’t work, no radio, and even batteries don’t work. Charlie’s science teacher thinks it was caused by solar flares.

Isolated and frightened, Charlie and his community first band together to help each other, sharing firewood and food and lending a hand where needed. Not everyone is interested in working together, though. There is an anti-government, survivalist compound on the outskirts of town, and they are well prepared for this kind of disaster and have no intention of sharing anything. They also question the authority of the town’s part-time deputy, who has taken on the role of leader during the emergency. Things really get dangerous when someone burns down the only store in town because its owners are Jewish.

Without the store – and its pharmacy – Charlie gets worried about his mother. She is a diabetic and will run out of insulin soon, and there is nowhere else nearby to get any. Determined to save her, Charlie sets off on skis for a larger town 50 miles to the south, where there is a hospital and he hopes he might find medicine. He is setting off for the unknown, though, and could just as likely find anarchy and violence in the bigger town.

I was completely engrossed in this suspenseful story right from the beginning. It has a post-apocalyptic feeling to it, even though you don’t know whether this situation will turn out to be temporary or permanent. The characters feel real, and I was rooting Charlie on to succeed in his mission. There is plenty of action and tension in the story, but it is also an in-depth study of human nature, examining issues of family, community, and tolerance. I was glued to my iPod from beginning to end of this gripping story and want to read more of Philbrick’s novels.


NOTE: When I checked for other novels Philbrick has written, I realized I have read one of them – Zaneand the Hurricane – which was also excellent.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Middle-Grade Review: Upside-Down Magic

I recently enjoyed listening to the audiobook of Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins, a book for younger middle-grade readers. At first, I thought it might be just a fun little story about a magic school, but it turned out to have more depth than I expected and tackled some important topics for kids….in a very fun way.

Nory is nervous about her Big Test, the entrance exam for Sage Academy. For starters, it is the most prestigious magic school around, and she desperately wants to start 5th grade there in the fall, following in the footsteps of her older brother and sister. Plus, her father is the headmaster. In Nory’s world, kids go to regular school through 4th grade, but since magic skills usually start around age 10, everyone starts at magic schools in 5th grade.

There are five different types of magic, according to your natural abilities. Some kids, like Nory’s older brother, are Flares and can create fire. Others, like her sister, are Fuzzies, and have talents for attracting and working with animals. There are also Flickers and Flyers and Fluxers, like Nory. Fluxers can turn into different kinds of animals. The problem is that Nory doesn’t turn into regular animals; she turns into her own creative combinations, like the beaver kitten that chewed her father’s office up while she was practicing for her test.

The test for Sage Academy requires that Nory turn into a kitten – just a plain, cute, black kitten, not a beaver kitten or a bat kitten or any of the other wild combinations that happened when Nory practiced. The kids all say that Nory’s magic is wonky, and when she is put into a special Upside-Down Magic class at a regular magic school, she figures it means that she is in a remedial class. Her new teacher, though, has other ideas. She wants to teach the kids in her class to embrace their differences and learn how to perfect their own unique brands of magic.

Although Upside-Down Magic is about a magic school for kids, this sweet, funny novel has more in common with Fish in a Tree (a novel about learning disabilities) than with Harry Potter. It works on two levels: as a story about kids learning to use magic with often funny results and on a deeper level, about learning that it’s OK  - and even great! – to be different. 

As the kids in Nory’s class get to know each other and start to feel comfortable with their own wonky magic, they learn that being different can have its own rewards…and can even be valuable. The lessons that Nory learns along the way are very clearly applicable to non-magic kids, too, whether they struggle with learning disabilities, physical or mental illness, autism or are just the “weird” kids in school who march to the beat of their own drummers. This fun novel set in a magic world lets all kids know that it’s OK to be different.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TV Tuesday: The Night Manager

This winter, many of my friends in the UK were raving about a new TV series there called The Night Manager and starring Hugh Laurie (of House fame). Alas, repeated checks of Amazon, Netflix, and our cable On Demand showed that it wasn't available here in the US...but now it is! Being broadcast on AMC as a "miniseries event" (I guess that is how they are dealing with the shorter seasons typical in the UK), the first season, with 6 episodes, can now be seen by US viewers, too. We have seen 3 episodes so far and are enjoying this tense spy thriller.

The show is based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré. Jonathan Pine, played by Tom Hiddleston who has been rumored as a possibility for the next James Bond, works at a luxury hotel in Egypt as the night manager. He's happy with this quiet job after years in the military. A gorgeous hotel guest named Sophie attracts his attention. She is the mistress of Freddie Hamid, a notorious criminal who owns much of Cairo. Sophie gives Jonathan an envelope of confidential documents to copy, and when he does so, he sees that they include lists of illegal weapons and chemical warfare agents being sold to Hamid by a company called Ironlast, whose CEO Richard Roper, played by Hugh Laurie, is also a visitor to the hotel. Jonathan turns the documents over to authorities in England (where he is from), but his actions have devastating effects.

Jonathan flees Egypt and becomes night manager at a remote hotel in the Swiss Alps, where - 5 years later - Roper shows up again as a hotel guest with his entourage. A British intelligence agent named Angela Burr, played by Olivia Colman, contacts Jonathan to ask him to go undercover and become a part of Roper's organization. Still feeling guilt over what happened in Cairo and knowing from his military experience what harm this kind of weapons dealing can do, he agrees. From then, there is a complex process to help him get into Roper's inner circle.

It might sound a little bit complicated, but all spy thrillers start out that way, don't they? Once Angela recruits Jonathan, the plot is fairly straightforward. We are on episode three so far (the episodes are longer than usual for US shows, as is typical for the UK). The acting so far has been superb. We'd heard that from others with respect to Hugh Laurie (who here is a charming bad guy, whereas on House he was a good guy with no charm), but Tom Hiddleston is equally as good as the newbie undercover spy. The settings are incredible - gorgeous places all over the world. We are hooked so far and enjoying the suspense and tension.

We have been watching The Night Manager On Demand through our cable provider, as the episodes air on AMC (Tuesdays at 10 pm Eastern Time). They are also available for $1.99 on Amazon.

Have you seen The Night Manager yet? What do you think of it? What other thrillers do you enjoy on TV?

Monday, May 23, 2016

It's Monday 5/23! What Are You Reading?

How can it possibly be the end of May already?? We had another cold, rainy week, and it is supposed to be high 80's and humid by the end of this week - just what I feared. We skipped right over the nice spring weather with sunshine in the 60's and 70's! We are incredibly busy with family stuff, end of school year, etc. Our younger son has two final exams this week and then is done with high school, with graduation in 2 weeks. Our older son also has two final exams this week in college and then is finished for the semester.

End of May also means...Big Book Summer Challenge starts this week! You can click the link to read about last year's challenge - the rules will be the same for this year (super easy and low-key for summer!) and I will have a kick-off post up by Friday or Saturday. So, start going through your bookshelves to dig out those Big Books you've been putting off (you only need to read one to participate) - summer is a great time to finally read them!

Meanwhile, in between collapsing into bed exhausted each night, here's what we've all been reading:
  • I finished Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran: A Novel Based on the True Stories of Temporary Marriage by Nadia Shahram, a review book for Publishers Weekly. It was an absolutely engrossing novel about a young girl in Iran in the 1980's who is married off to an abusive older man when she is only 12 years old and how those early experiences affected every decision she made later in life. Some early parts of the book are hard to read but ultimately, it is a warm and powerful coming-of-age story about a woman who wants to be in control of her own life.
  • So, now I have gone back to A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I had to temporarily set aside to get my review book read on time. I am loving it so far - an intricate, interwoven story about a Japanese teenager and a woman writer in British Columbia (I love stories about connections). I have become very attached to the two main characters!
  • I finished listening to a teen/YA novel, My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walter, about a free black boy during the Civil War who is sold into slavery and taken to the South. It was a fascinating, engrossing story with some unexpected twists and turns.
  • I plan to start a new audiobook today, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, another teen/YA novel.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Cell by Stephen King, one of many King books we inherited from my dad. Ken says he'd read this one before but didn't remember how it ended, so he enjoyed it again! We always traded books back and forth with my dad, so it's quite possible my dad lent it to him years ago when he first read it.
  • Now, Ken is reading  The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, which I gave him for Christmas. We have enjoyed the first few episodes of the TV adaptation on Amazon Prime, so I thought he'd like the novel. It's good that he's reading his Christmas gifts because it's almost Father's Day!
  • Jamie, 21, has been re-reading the first two books in the A Pattern of Shadow and Light trilogy by Melissa McPhail: he finished Cephrael's Hand and is almost finished with The Dagger of Adendigaeth, in preparation for reading book 3. With finals this week, he hasn't had much reading time!
  • Craig, 18, finished Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a wonderful graphic memoir about growing up in Iran during the Revolution there, for his World Lit class (I read it last year - see my review at the link). I was disappointed that his teacher ran out of time to discuss it more thoroughly. They also ran out of time to read The Kite Runner, as planned - seems like this happens at the end of every school year!
 I managed quite a few blog posts last week:
Movie Monday: Stuck in Love, a fun family-oriented romcom with a bookish focus!

TV Tuesday: The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce, a sexy, funny, clever female-centric show

Fiction Review: Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz, an odd but entertaining mix of humor & suspense

Nonfiction Review: Blog Inc by Joy Deangdeelert Cho, a comprehensive guide to blogging

Saturday Snapshot: Sunshine Between the Rain, a few pics from a rare sunny day!

What are you and your family reading this week?    

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.

Check Back This Weekend for the 2016 Kick-Off!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday Snapshot: Sunshine Between the Rain

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

I don't know if you've heard, but the mid-Atlantic US has been experiencing a record-breaking spring, with the most number of consecutive rainy days in a row EVER! I am so sick of dark, overcast skies. We did see a glimpse of the sun on Monday and Friday this week (now it is 50's and raining hard again), so here are some sunny day pictures to inspire me (plus one to show you what the sky usually looks like!)

Green leaves against a (rare) blue sky!

50 shades of green

Just a couple of tiny fluffy clouds!

Love this bright pink against the yellow bush

A tree in our yard - no idea what it is!

More typical day - thought blue sky was peeking thru but it didn't last

Hope you are enjoying a nice weekend and staying dry!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Blog Inc.

After ten years of writing two (and sometimes, three) blogs, it’s been a long-time goal of mine to learn more about the technical side of blogging and how to earn some money from my blogging passions. As a freelance writer with limited time and energy, it’s tough to justify the hours I spend writing posts for my blogs…for free! I recently finished reading Blog, Inc: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Deangdeelert Cho, and while I already knew the basics, this comprehensive guide to blogging gave me some new ideas on how to improve my blogs and perhaps earn a little money from them to help support their continued existence.

Blog, Inc. covers just about everything you need to know to write a blog. The first chapters cover start-up, with topics including types of blogs, domain names, hosting, and much more. Cho also covers some less obvious topics, like blogging etiquette, writing a bio, and setting up a workspace. Once she’s described the basics and how to get started, she goes on to discuss the business aspects of blogging, like protecting your work, keeping track of financial records and taxes, and all of the ins and outs of placing ads on your blog. She even explains how to take things one step further, with advice on blogging full-time, working with a partner, getting published, and more.

The layout and design of Cho’s book makes it very easy to read, browse through, and digest. She is, after all, a graphic designer herself, and it is clear she has applied some of her own lessons on writing a blog to her book, with short, digestible sections and eye-catching fonts and graphics. The information in her book is interspersed with examples of successful bloggers. Each blogger profile includes an overview and a Q&A about how the blogger got started, where they get their ideas, and other aspects of their blogging success.

The first third of the book was mostly stuff I already knew or had figured out, since I have been blogging for ten years, but I think these sections on the basics would be very helpful to beginners. I tabbed plenty of pages in the rest of the book, on social networking, financial stuff, copyright protection, and analytics. The part I was most interested in – monetizing a blog – was informative for me, though I had hoped to find some blogging professional secrets and was a bit disappointed to learn that the main way to earn money from your blog is simply ads. I have avoided these so far, not wanting to “bother” my readers or overload my blog. Also, one of my blogs is for people with serious chronic illness (many of whom are financially destitute), and I don’t want any advertisers preying on them or selling them things they don’t need.

The anti-ad attitude is my own problem, and I am considering ways to work around my misgivings (please let me know in the Comments how you manage this!), but Cho’s book at least gave me more information on the how-to and the possibilities. Overall, although I got a lot of information from her book that I hope to refer to again, I did feel that I wasn’t really her target audience. I write a book blog and a chronic illness blog, and her example bloggers were all in more visually prominent fields: design, fashion, “lifestyle” blogs, and food writing. Since Cho is a graphic designer herself and her own blog has that focus on the visual, some of her advice seemed irrelevant for someone writing about books and illness. Though she did mention something called Multiple Blogging Disorder, which I just might have!

If you are considering starting up a new blog or are new to blogging and plan to focus on a very visual topic, then Cho’s book is a perfect, indispensible guide. If, like me, your blog is less visual and/or you are an old hat at blogging, then this book is less focused exactly on your needs…but there is still a lot to be learned from certain sections. Cho is a very successful blogger herself, who has turned blogging into a full-time job, picked up clients because of her blog, launched her own product lines related to her blog, and (obviously) published books (there are more) from her blog content and blogging experience. She is definitely a blogging expert, and you can learn a lot from this easy-to-read, pleasingly designed book.

179 pages, Chronicle Books

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fiction Review: Life Expectancy

I recently joined an online book group for people with my chronic illness (ME/CFS). Not that I need another book group in my life, but I couldn’t resist – I just love talking about the books I read with other readers! Their first choice after I joined was Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz. This was excellent timing, since we just inherited my dad’s extensive Stephen King and Dean Koontz collection (we both loved sharing books with him), and this one was among the group. Before you write this book off, saying, “I don’t read Koontz,” you should know that this novel is not horror. Like Stephen King, Koontz actually writes a variety of different kinds of novels, and this one is an odd but entertaining combination of humor and suspense.

The story opens in 1974, in a small town hospital in Colorado on a stormy night, as Jimmy Tock is being born. His father, Rudy, splits his time between the maternity ward and the ICU, where his father is dying after a devastating stroke. During one of his visits to the ICU, Rudy is astounded when his father, who hasn’t spoken in days, suddenly sits up in his bed and very clearly shouts out five dates, telling his son to write them down because they will be five terrible days in his newborn son’s life (Rudy wasn’t even aware he was having a son yet).

Back in the maternity waiting room, a strange and horrible companion waits with Rudy, a clown from the visiting circus named Konrad Beezo. While Beezo’s wife is also giving birth, he waits in the expectant fathers’ room, ranting and raving about the evil aerialists who are his in-laws. Frightened by the paranoid, angry clown (in full make-up), Rudy tries to appease him and not upset him any more, which Beezo takes as agreement and support.

The night ends in a terrible tragedy, which results in Beezo carrying a vendetta against the hospital, and his warped perception that Rudy Tock has supported and saved him. The story then follows the Tock family through those five important dates in Jimmy’s life. They take his grandfather’s predictions very seriously because he correctly predicted Jimmy’s exact time of birth, weight, and even the name that Rudy and his wife had kept secret. Rudy works as a baker, so the entire family keeps odd hours, but they are a kind and loving family, and Jimmy grows up also learning to be a baker.

The novel has a new section for each of the dates when something “terrible” has been predicted in Jimmy’s life, and the Tock family ends up crossing paths with the Beezo family again and again. The novel is narrated by Jimmy, and he says at the very beginning that the first four dates have passed, so we know that he survives those days, but not whether he will survive the fifth and final date. In addition, neither the Tock family nor the reader knows exactly what will happen on each date, so it is hard to prepare.

This book works on two levels. It is a fast-paced thriller with plenty of suspense, but it is also very, very funny, with a keen sense of irony and an appreciation for the absurd. The bad guys here are – literally – killer clowns (if you have a clown phobia, it’s probably best to stay away from this novel!), so there is humor and absurdity built right into the story from its first pages. The Tock family, despite the shadow hanging over their lives, is a happy, convivial group with a great sense of humor, so their banter alone is constantly amusing.

Many people will be surprised to discover that Koontz’s novels aren’t always horror, but I also thoroughly enjoyed his mystical, wonder-filled novel Breathless, which I highly recommend as a first toe dip into Koontz’s non-horror work. As for Life Expectancy, it is a page-turner with plenty of nail-biting suspense (and, yes, some violence) but will also make you laugh out loud. It is a clever, hilarious, fast-paced thriller that defies easy categorization. I enjoyed it very much and can’t wait to read more of my dad’s collection of Koontz novels.

401 pages, Bantam Books

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

TV Tuesday: The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce

I just started watching Bravo's The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce on Sunday (two days ago) when my husband was out of town, and I have already watched 5 episodes!  I am hooked on this smart, funny, sexy drama about three moms experiencing divorce.

Abby McCarthy, played by the talented Lisa Edelstein, is the author of a highly successful series of books called "The Girlfriend's Guide to..." and covering all aspects of being a wife and mother. She and her husband have two kids, adorable little Charlie and snarky teen Lilly. Abby is just about to go on a book tour to promote her latest book (which is all about loving your husband). There's just one problem: she and her husband, Jake, played by Paul Adelstein (Dr. Cooper from Private Practice), are secretly separated, and now it looks like they are headed for divorce.

As Abby's life falls apart, she relies more and more on two divorced moms from her kids' school: the gorgeous, promiscuous, New Age-y Phoebe, played by Beau Garrett, and intense workaholic Lyla, played by Janeane Garofalo (one of my favorite actresses). The three of them try to support each other through all of the challenges of their changing lives. In addition, there's Abby's gay brother, Max, who is caught in the middle because he was friends with Jake before he and Abby married.

It's a very smart, funny, sexy show with a female-centric cast and storyline, all of which is a breath of fresh air. It strikes a perfect balance between drama (the effects of divorce on kids, the legal and financial problems, the mixed feelings) and comedy (trying to date again, dealing with your spouse's much younger lover, the great guy who's a terrible kisser). The cast is all top-notch, with guest stars adding to the star-power. In episode 5, Bernadette Peters guest stars as Lyla's mother - and is wonderful in the role, as you would guess.

If you have some quiet girl time all to yourself, give it a try! I can't wait to see more.

There have been two seasons of The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce on Bravo so far. Both of them are available for streaming on Netflix. Episodes are $1.99 each or $19.99 for a season, both on Amazon, and cable On Demand (season 1 only).

Have you seen this show yet? What other female-centric shows do you like?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Movie Monday: Stuck in Love

With a very rare evening all alone at home last night, I decided to watch a movie. My selection criteria was a bit odd: free on Netflix or Amazon, about 90 minutes (ish), and something my husband probably wouldn't be thrilled to watch. I quickly paged through dozens of movies under one of the "You might like..." categories on Netflix, checking the time stamps and ratings, and chose Stuck in Love because it was only 96 minutes and had 4 stars. My random selection method worked pretty well, and I enjoyed this warm, funny, thoughtful movie about family and love that follows the romantic experiences of an entire family for a year.

William Borgen, played wonderfully by Greg Kinnear, is a famed novelist and father of two teenagers. William won a prestigious award for his last novel, but hasn't been able to write anything at all since his wife, Tricia (played by Jennifer Connelly), left him for another man two years ago. Instead, he spends his free time tip-toeing around in the bushes outside her house, spying on her and her new husband and looking for signs of trouble in their marriage. When he sets a place for her at their Thanksgiving table at the start of the movie, even his kids tell him he needs to let go and move on.

His son, Rusty, played by Nat Wolff, is also hopelessly in love. He pines after a girl in his high school English class, Kate, who barely knows he is alive and has a jock boyfriend. Rusty also has writing aspirations and loves Stephen King novels. His older sister, Samantha, played by Lily Collins, is home from college for the holiday with big news: at just 19, her first novel is being published, following in her dad's famous footsteps. When it comes to love, though, Samantha takes the opposite approach, having a series of meaningless one-night stands and avoiding love at any cost because she doesn't want to get hurt or end up like her parents. In fact, Samantha hasn't spoken to her mother in over a year and blames her for the break-up and her father's rut.

The movie follows the love lives of the family - and especially William and his two children - for a year. William has quick trysts with a married neighbor, played by Kristen Bell, and tries her advice to start dating again. Rusty takes his dad's advice to get more "life experiences" and takes a chance on telling Kate how he feels. Samantha meets Lou, a really nice guy who wants to be her friend (and more), but she keeps brushing him off and keeping him at arm's length. Meanwhile, William never gives up on his dream that Tricia might still come back to him.

I really enjoyed this romantic comedy that doesn't follow the typical romcom plot line, with its three different but intersecting romantic stories, alongside the love between the family members. It was warm and thoughtful, with plenty of humorous moments. The entire cast was great, especially Greg Kinnear who is one of my favorite actors. The movie also has a wonderful Indie soundtrack - I listened to it on Spotify again this morning! As a bonus, with a whole family of avid readers and writers, there is a thread of books throughout the story - the books they read, the books they share with others, and the books they write. A romantic comedy about a family with a bookish focus? Perfect for me!

Stuck in Love is currently available free on Netflix and for $2.99 on Amazon.

It's Monday 5/16! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh....a nice quiet Monday morning for a change! I had to do one of my big Monday tasks yesterday (refilling medicine boxes for my son and I), so that leaves this morning deliciously open! I've already made my to-do list for the week and am feeling pretty good.

We had a very full weekend, with two celebrations for my father-in-law's 91st birthday, my son's prom (#2 this spring), his soccer game, and a big family dinner Saturday night. Yesterday, I got my college son ready to go back to school for the week, my husband and his dad left for an overnight trip to Atlantic City, my younger son went to work...and I was all alone in the quiet house! Finally caught up on my e-mail backlog, went through some of the paper clutter that collected this week, and enjoyed a movie (watch for a review later today for Movie Monday!).

Amidst all that activity, we enjoyed our books this week:
  • I was reading - and thoroughly enjoying! - A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki but I had to temporarily set it aside. I had been wanting to read it ever since its release, so I was glad to finally get to it. I am loving it so far - an intricate, interwoven story about a Japanese teenager and a woman writer in British Columbia (I love stories about connections). However, I had to set it aside to start a review book that is due soon. I really hate to stop in the middle of a good book! I don't know how some people read multiple books at a time - I just can't manage that.
  • So, now I have turned my attention to Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran: A Novel Based on the True Stories of Temporary Marriage by Nadia Shahram, my review book for Publishers Weekly. So far, it is an engrossing but disturbing novel about a young girl in Iran in the 1980's who is married off to an abusive older man when she is only 12 years old (and she's one of the older child brides mentioned here!). Parts of the book are hard to read, but so far, it is a powerful and compelling story.
  • I am still listening to a teen/YA novel, My Name is Not Friday by Jon Walter, about a free black boy during the Civil War who is sold into slavery and taken to the South. It's an engrossing story so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Cell by Stephen King, one of many King books we inherited from my dad. Ken is partway through and pretty sure he's read this one before! We always traded books back and forth with my dad, so it's quite possible my dad lent it to him years ago when he first read it.
  • Jamie, 21, has been re-reading the first two books in the A Pattern of Shadow and Light trilogy by Melissa McPhail: he finished Cephrael's Hand and is now reading The Dagger of Adendigaeth, in preparation for reading book 3. With finals starting this week and projects due today and tomorrow, he hasn't had much reading time!
  •  Craig, 18, is reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a wonderful graphic memoir about growing up in Iran during the Revolution there, for his World Lit class (I read it last year - see my review at the link). Should make for some great discussions in his class!
Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: Catastrophe - a unique & hilarious comedy on Amazon Prime.

Graphic Memoir Review: Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley - her latest book about her wedding.

Free YA and Classic Audiobooks All Summer! - I love downloading these free audiobooks - it's already started, so join the fun!

Saturday Snapshot: May in My Neighborhood - some late spring blooms.

Fiction Review: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens - a fast-paced but thoughtful thriller that my book group enjoyed.

What are you and your family reading this week?    

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.

Me, my sons & husband with my father-in-law on his birthday

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fiction Review: The Life We Bury

When my neighborhood book group recently chose The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, I had never heard of the novel. I was quite surprised when I tried to get a copy and found a long waiting list at my library and the cheapest used paperback copies online going for $9! After reading it, I understand the popularity of this suspenseful but thoughtful mystery about family and memory.

Joe Talbert is a student at the University of Minnesota, assigned to interview a stranger and write a biography of him or her for his English class. Joe heads to a local nursing home, near his rundown apartment, where he meets Carl Iverson, a Vietnam veteran who has been given a medical parole from prison because he is dying of cancer. Carl was convicted – and spent 30 years in prison – for the rape and murder of a teenage girl. Repelled by his crime, Joe nevertheless starts to interview him, since he’s waited until the last minute, most of the other residents of the home are unable to speak or remember clearly, and Carl is willing to talk to him.

As Joe interviews Carl and begins to write about his life, he becomes more and more intrigued. The man before him, sharing his life story, just doesn’t seem like he could do the brutal things he was accused of. As Carl tells Joe about his past, and especially about his horrifying experiences in Vietnam, Joe begins to wonder whether Carl was convicted unjustly. With the help of his neighbor, Lila, he begins to dig into the events that occurred 30 years ago.

Joe’s schoolwork and project are, however, interrupted and sidetracked (as they often are) by his own problems with his alcoholic mother and autistic brother. Parallels emerge between Joe and Carl’s lives: horrible events that they have each felt guilty for and tried to forget. Their lives intertwine as Carl’s condition worsens, and Joe becomes more and more determined to investigate his crime and conviction. The interview and biography that began as a simple school project become an obsession for Joe.

This is an unusual novel, with enough mystery, suspense, and action to satisfy any thriller lover, but the kind of emotional depth that also appeals to those who enjoy literary fiction. You can read it primarily as a fast-paced mystery/thriller or dig into its many thought-provoking ideas, as we did in our book group discussion. This story touches on themes of family, memory, and how the past affects the present, even when we try to forget it. It also delves into the morality of what happens during war and how guilt can eat away at a person.

My book group enjoyed this novel, with ratings ranging from 6 to 10, and a lively discussion that went on for hours, easily moving from one topic to another. After I finished it, my husband – who mainly reads mysteries and thrillers – also read it and enjoyed it. The plot has lots of twists and turns that keep you guessing right until the end, and the characters feel real and three-dimensional. Some in our group felt it was unrealistic the way things wrapped up and worked out in the end, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending! The Life We Bury is a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a mystery with a thoughtful underbelly, all wrapped up in a compelling and original story.

300 pages, Seventh Street Books

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday Snapshot 5/14: May in My Neighborhood

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Whew, another exhausting, hectic week. I didn't have much time for walking (or for stopping to smell the flowers), plus it was raining every single day AGAIN. We are all growing moss and will be developing gills soon. Here are a few pics from around my yard & neighborhood of early May (and another prom!):

My son gave me geraniums 2 years ago & they are still blooning! Record for me.

Tiny lilac tree - last year's Mother's Day gift - in bloom already!

Trio of pink trees in my neighborhood

Azaleas in full bloom!

My son & his girlfriend ready for prom #2 last night

Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend - the sun is actually out here this morning - woohoo!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Free YA & Classic Audiobooks All Summer!

It's that time of year again!

Every summer SYNC provides FREE downloadable audiobooks for teens (and adults!). Every week features a new themed pairing of two audiobooks: one is usually a current YA title paired with a similarly themed classic, nonfiction, or older book.

This is Week 2 (sorry I didn't have time to post this last week!) and this week's selections, available from May 12 - 19, are:
  • The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
  • Divine Collision: An African Boy, an American Lawyer, and Their Remarkable Battle for Freedom by Jim Gash

You can use that link above each week to see the new pairing, listen to a sample of each, and download one or both of them.

I downloaded quite a few last summer and really enjoyed them. And did I mention it's FREE? It takes a few minutes to download their software/app, but it is easy and well-explained. You can also sign up for reminders so that you are alerted of the weekly titles - a good idea so you don't miss anything!

So, head on over to SYNC and get ready for a great summer filled with fantastic audio books, both modern and classic!