Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fiction Review: Cloud Atlas

I’ve wanted to read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell ever since its release in 2004. I didn’t know much about its plot, only that it was about connections and had received many accolades. I asked for it (and received it) for Christmas and finally made time to read it for my 2016 Big Book Summer Challenge. It was well worth the wait! I never wanted it to end and feel like starting over from the beginning now that I have finished it. This wholly original novel is a set of stories, from different times and places, that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Reading Cloud Atlas is a thoroughly enjoyable journey of discovery, with surprises around every corner.

This is such a unique book that it is going to be challenging to describe. I really just want to shout, “YOU MUST READ THIS AMAZING BOOK!” but I will try to do it justice.

As I mentioned, the novel is actually a series of separate but ingeniously linked stories whose connections are not immediately obvious. Each story has its own style, its own characters, and its own method of storytelling. They each take place in a different time – starting in the 1800’s all the way through sometime into the far future – and in a different place. It is only as you read and progress through the book that the subtle connections between the stories gradually unfold into a cohesive whole.

The novel begins with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, a first-person diary written by a man in the mid-1800’s who is on board a ship, sailing from remote islands off the coast of New Zealand, where he had business, through Hawaii, and back to his home in San Francisco. The next section, Letters from Zedelghem, is a series of letters from one friend, living in Belgium in 1931, to another. Next is The First Luisa Rey Mystery, a narrative about a journalist investigating a possible nuclear industry scandal and cover-up in the 1970’s in a fictional California city (which I just looked up and learned of yet another hidden connection in the book!). In the very first sentence of this story, we encounter a familiar name from a previous story.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is next, which its author explains in the first pages is his hand-written memoir of events that took place in 1990’s England. The book then jumps ahead to an undetermined time in the future in Korea in An Orison of Sonmi-451, in which the world is both similar to and very different from our own today, and an interview with a criminal gradually reveals the details of that dystopian world. Finally, we get to the story Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After, a verbal telling of a story by an old man about his childhood, on Hawaii very far into the future, after some sort of apocalypse has taken mankind back to its agrarian roots.

Each story links with the others in subtle and creative ways and is revisited twice in the book, in reverse order the second time (except the last one I mentioned which is a single story in the middle). I was a bit confused by the books’ shifting perspectives at first but soon settled into its unique rhythms and went along for the ride. And what a ride it is! As you start each new story, you don’t know how it will connect with the previous ones, but discovering those tiny connections between people of different times is one of this novel’s unique joys.

The writing in Cloud Atlas is nothing short of mind-blowing. Each story comes across as written (or spoken) by a different character, in a different style, and with a different way of narrating. David Mitchell is like the conductor of an orchestra, bringing these separate tunes together into a cohesive symphony. It’s a unique experience in fiction…and I’ve read a LOT of novels! In addition, Mitchell’s writing is so beautiful that I often tabbed quotes that I wanted to write down, like this one, that one friend writes to another in Letters from Zedelghem:

“Autumn is leaving its mellowness behind for its spiky, rotted stage. Don’t remember summer even saying good-bye.”

I love books that make me think, and Cloud Atlas also includes many thought-provoking lines that struck me. This one is from the interview in that dystopian future, but its insights apply remarkably well to our world today (and to all of the worlds depicted in the novel):

“…ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only “rights,” the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.”

Cloud Atlas is one of the most clever, interesting, engaging books that I have ever read. Did I mention how clever it is? The more I read, the more I liked it, until I got to that point that arrives in all excellent novels, where I never wanted it to end. Two weeks later, I am still thinking about it and marveling at such an intricate, smart, unique approach to telling a story. This is a book that will stick with me for a long time and is definitely in my top 10 books of all time. I can’t wait to read some of Mitchell’s other novels.


509 pages, Random House
Random House Audio

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TV Tuesday: The Missing

In this sort of in-between seasons TV season, my husband and I were looking around for a new show to try on one of the streaming services. We settled on The Missing, a Starz show currently available on Amazon Prime (note that there is a different show also called The Missing available on Netflix or to rent on Amazon - the one we are watching aired in 2014 and is a joint Starz-BBC production).

In short, The Missing is a show that centers on a single mystery and is a suspense-thriller, though it is focused on the victims. British citizens Tony and Emily Hughes are enjoying a vacation in France with their five-year old son, Oliver, when the unthinkable happens. One evening, in a crowd of people, Oliver goes missing. One moment he's holding onto Tony's hand, and the next, he's gone. It's every parent's worst nightmare (and brought back my own nightmares of the time my 2-year old son slipped away from me at a shopping mall!).

As the show opens, it has been 8 years since Oliver's disappearance, and Tony is back in the small French town where it happened, following up on a new lead he thinks he found on social media. Tony has never stopped looking for his son and has become obsessed with the case, to the point that he and Emily are now divorced. Tony calls on the detective originally assigned to the case, Julien, who has since retired but also still thinks about Oliver. Together, the two men follow Tony's latest lead, slim though it may be.

The narrative moves back and forth between the past, when Oliver first disappeared, and the present day, with scenes in both England and France. Most of the action takes place in the small French town where Oliver went missing. As with any mystery or detective show, the details of the investigation unfold gradually, as the police follow one lead after another, chasing down a variety of suspects and clues. What is different here, though, is the focus on this one single case, as well as the perspective of Oliver's parents. Most of the story is told from Tony's point of view.

We have watched the first 5 episodes of 8 in season one (the fact that there is a season 2 doesn't bode well for the Hughes family!). It is engaging and intriguing, a good mystery that keeps surprising us. The subject matter gets a little difficult at times, as when the police suspect a pedophile. After watching episode 5 recently, I asked my husband if he wanted to watch another and he said, "How about something a little lighter?" (episode 5 is a tough one!). But we do want to watch more. It is suspenseful, the action moves along at a good pace, and we want to see what happens next.

The Missing is currently available free on Amazon Prime and on DVD.

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's Monday 8/29! What Are You Reading?

Whew, this past week has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows! First, an exciting (but exhausting!) week of shopping, laundry (endless loads of laundry), and packing to get our sons ready for college. Oh, yeah, and my husband had a nasty flu for the past 10 days. So, we got our son moved into his freshman dorm room on Saturday, then the other three of us collapsed at home!

Unfortunately, we are not yet experiencing the empty nest. Our older son came home from his college apartment this weekend with a fever. We're not sure yet, but he might have caught his dad's flu...which is very dangerous for him with his immune disorder (same as I have) - last time he got the flu, he was incapacitated for over two months. So, the house is not yet quiet, the TV is still on nonstop, and I'm taking my son to the doctor this afternoon. That sounded selfish...actually, my husband and I are both worried to death for our son since classes start tomorrow.

(And it's taking me forever to finish this post because my son has Bob's Burgers on the TV, which we are both totally addicted to!)

So, not a lot of time for reading last week, but here's what we've been working on:
  • I struggled most of the week with a new review book for Publishers Weekly, Moor by Gunther Geltinger, a novel translated from German. The narrative style was difficult, with a stream-of consciousness approach, no quotation marks, second-person ("you") point of view, and...a narrator that I'm pretty sure is the pond in the backyard. Yeah. But I was struggling through it, until the mother in the story started having weird sexual fantasies involving her 13-year old son. At that point, exhausted from my week, I gave up. I don't know yet, but I am hoping my editor will pass the review off to another reviewer - I just don't think the mother of two sons is the right reviewer for this one.
  • At that point, with great relief and a need for fun escape, I started reading my 4th Big Book of the Summer, The Marvels by Brian Selznick. The highly esteemed author of Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret has done it again! This time, the first half of the book is told entirely in pictures and begins in 1766, and the second half of the book is a modern story starting in 1990 told through text. I'm well into the second half, and the two stories are gradually coming together. As expected, it is excellent!
  • I am still listening to Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, a teen/YA novel, on audio. It is set in the UK and focuses on three generations of women in one family who all carry secrets. Teen Katie's life changes dramatically when Mary, her previously unknown grandmother, comes into their lives unexpectedly. Mary has dementia and requires a lot of care, and Katie's mother, Caroline, doesn't talk much about the past. It's excellent so far - totally engrossing (and another nice escape).
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, the third and final book in the trilogy that started with The Passage (followed by The Twelve). This was a Father's Day gift that we are both eager to read! He is once again impressed with Cronin's writing talent.
  • Jamie, 22, is re-reading an old favorite series by Brandon Sanderson, the Mistborn trilogy. He finished Mistborn and The Well of Ascension, and is reading book 3, The Hero of Ages. These few weeks between summer session and the start of fall semester are his reading time!
No time for writing or blogging last week, so just a couple of posts:
 TV Tuesday: Stranger Things, the hot show of the summer!

Saturday Snapshot: South Dakota Wildlife - more pics from our recent trip to Black Hills

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.

It's the last week of summer, so if you are participating in the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge, be sure to post your Big Book reviews on the challenge page! Enjoy the last of your Big Books!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Snapshot 8/27: South Dakota Wildlife

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

More photos from our short trip to South Dakota two weeks ago! The gorgeous, amazing Custer State Park in the Black Hills region is known for its wildlife (and its natural beauty, too). Here are some of our favorite photos of the park's many and varied residents:

Closest we got to the bison herd this time.

Two pronghorn antelope taking it easy

Prairie dog - they are so much fun to watch!

Moon over bison!

This fellow took a drink from a muddy puddle right near the road

Hope you are enjoying a great weekend! We are recovering from our son's dorm move-in day!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TV Tuesday: Stranger Things

Over the past two weeks, since my last TV Tuesday post (and even with a vacation in the middle), my family tried, became obsessed with, and finished a new TV show that I have been dying to tell you about! You've probably already heard about it because everyone seems to be raving about it, so I will add my enthusiasm to the noise. My husband, son, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of season 1 of Stranger Things, a new Netflix show, and can't wait for the next season!

Before I get into the details of plot and character, you should know that one of the most enticing things about Stranger Things is that it takes the best, most beloved 80's movies, puts them in a blender, and spits out an original, compelling TV show. One of my favorite podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, described it like "taking a Stephen King book starring kids and having Steven Spielberg produce the movie," and that is a pretty apt description (the link will take you directly to their Stranger Things episode, which I highly recommend). The three of us spotted references, similarities, and homages to ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Stand by Me, and The Goonies, just for starters.

The set-up goes like this: it's 1983 in suburban Indiana, and four nerdy pre-pubescent best friends ride their bikes, sleep over at each other's houses, and obsessively play Dungeons & Dragons in one boy's basement for hours. Mike is the boy with the afore-mentioned basement rec room (complete with shag carpeting), Lucas is his best friend who lives next door as part of the only black family in town, Dustin is an adorable chubby-cheeked boy with a medical condition that means he is still missing baby teeth (for which he gets teased relentlessly by the bullies at school), and Will completes the foursome. In the first episode, Will goes missing while riding his bike home one night.

Will's mother, played by Winona Rider (another wink to the 80's), is frantic. She is raising Will and his teen brother, Jonathan, on her own. Police Chief Jim Hopper, played by David Harbour, is an old friend and immediately begins a search for Will, but the boys set off on their own investigation. Meanwhile, a mysterious girl of about the same age, with a shaved head and wearing a hospital gown, shows up suddenly in a local diner after dark, having escaped from a super-creepy secret government facility in town (under the guise of the Department of Energy). The girl, known as El, doesn't talk much, but the boys find her in the woods and keep her safe.

That is all in the first episode, and I won't say more because this is a show that relies on unfolding secrets and mysteries. Some very strange things are going on in this town, and they are going to get worse before they get better. There are three main plotlines: the adults looking for Will, the kids doing their own investigation and search, and eventually, Jonathan and Mike's teen sister also getting involved (plus flashbacks to what is going on at the secret facility). Over the course of 8 episodes, some questions are answered and some mysteries solved, but others remain unclear, paving the way for a suspenseful second season.

Have I mentioned that we all LOVE this show? It is just so addictingly good in so many ways. The tone and feel will remind you of your favorite 80's movies, even though the plot is unique. The kids are all great actors, especially the mysterious El, played by Millie Bobby Brown. Winona Rider and David Harbour are excellent in the main adult roles. The music, pop culture references, and settings all lovingly recreate the 80's. Too young to remember the 80's movies I mentioned? You'll still love this show. Fortunately, we gave our son a solid education in the "modern classics" of the 80's! And if you've enjoyed any of Stephen King's novels that feature kids (his best writing, in my opinion), like IT or The Body (the novella on which the movie Stand By Me was based - not horror), then you will also feel right at home.

Stranger Things takes the best of the movies and stories of the 80's and recreates them for a modern audience, with a nice sense of nostalgia. It's a very suspenseful, action-packed mystery/sci fi combination that will have you saying at the end of each episode (like we did), "We have to watch the next one!"

Stranger Things is a Netflix Original program, so it is available only on the streaming service.

Monday, August 22, 2016

It's Monday 8/22! What Are You Reading?

I missed my Monday post last week while we were in South Dakota on vacation (you can check out the first of my photos), so I have a lot to update! Vacation last week was brief but fun, and now we are busy, busy, busy getting our sons ready to move to college at the end of the week (first time for our youngest).

Here's what we've been reading:
  • I just yesterday finished my third Big Book of the Summer, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a novel I have been wanting to read ever since its release and that's been sitting on my bookcase since Christmas. WOW. What an amazing, completely original book! I've never read another novel like it. It's a series of separate stories that link together in unexpected ways, like a jigsaw puzzle you put together without knowing what the final picture will be. I will attempt to write a cohesive review this week, though I really just want to shout, "You must read this amazing book!" to everyone.
  • I just started a new review book for Publishers Weekly last night, Moor by Gunther Geltinger, a novel translated from German. I'm a bit cautious because the word "experimental" was used on the back cover blurb! It sounds intriguing, though, about a teen boy with a severe stutter who lives with his mother, with a heavy focus on nature. I'll let you know!
  • On the audio front, I finished listening to Dreamology by Lucy Keating, a teen/YA audio book that was far more intriguing and engrossing than I expected. It explores the line between dreaming and reality when a teen girl starts at a new school and meets face-to-face with the boy she's been dreaming about for years. 
  • Now, I am listening to Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, another teen/YA novel. This one is set in the UK and focuses on three generations of women in one family who all carry secrets. Teen Katie's life changes dramatically when Mary, her previously unknown grandmother, comes into their lives unexpectedly. Mary has dementia and requires a lot of care, and Katie's mother, Caroline, doesn't talk much about the past. It's excellent so far.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Shift by Hugh Howey, book 2 in the Wool series. He and I both LOVED Wool (review at the link), which several friends had said, "you must read!" They were right! I gave Ken the second book for Father's Day, and I can't wait to read it, too!
  • Now, Ken is reading The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, the third and final book in the trilogy that started with The Passage (followed by The Twelve). This was another Father's Day gift that we are both eager to read! 
  • Jamie, 22, got a new Kindle Paperwhite for his birthday last week and re-read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings, book 1 in the Stormlight Archive and then read book 2, Words of Radiance. The first one was 1200 pages long, and the second one was 1300 pages, so he is definitely in the Big Book Summer groove! Good fodder for very long days of air travel.
  • Now, Jamie is re-reading an old favorite series, another one by Brandon Sanderson, the Mistborn trilogy. Has has finished Mistborn and The Well of Ascension, and is reading book 3, The Hero of Ages. These few weeks between summer session and the start of fall semester are his reading time!
  • Craig, 18, has been reading his All-Freshman summer reading book, When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. Ironically, he read this same book for his summer reading assignment when he was entering his freshman year of high school. He doesn't enjoy reading much but is so excited to start college that he doesn't seem to mind re-reading this one! I think he's finished it...?
A few posts from the past two weeks, in between trips:
Movie Monday: Star Trek Beyond, a great addition to the canon!

TV Tuesday: What We're Watching This Summer, a summary of our favorite shows this season

Summary of Books Read in July - a good reading month for me!

Fiction Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a classic journey into the unknown

Teen/YA Review: Dreamology by Lucy Keating, a romance that explores the line between dreaming and reality

6 Amazing Hikes in Shenandoah National Park, my first article on My Itchy Travel Feet website

Saturday Snapshot: Black Hills of South Dakota, Part 1 - highlights from our recent trip

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.

Just two week of summer left, so if you are participating in the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge, be sure to post your Big Book reviews on the challenge page!
My family and I at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, SD

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Snapshot 8/20: Black Hills of South Dakota

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

We just returned from a short vacation to one of our favorite places on earth: the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Besides the fact that we have family there, it is an amazingly beautiful place with so much to see and do. It's a bit out of the way but well-worth the trouble to get there! I'll share some of my photos over the next few Saturdays. First, a few from traveling there and back, the famed Mount Rushmore (though that is far from the only attraction in the area!), and other highlights:

Sunset from plane over OK/NE

Mount Rushmore, as seen through a tunnel
The beautiful Sylvan Lake - one of our favorite spots!

Mt. Rushmore framed by Black Hills pines

The view from our breakfast table - Legion Lake
More wildlife pics to come - this big guy was right near our cabin!

Hazy view of Chicago from the plane

Hope you are enjoying this late summer weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2016

New Article: 6 Amazing Hikes in Shenandoah National Park

As a freelance writer, I frequently write about travel and the outdoors. In the past, most of my travel writing has focused on family travel, but now that our sons are grown, I am branching out a bit.

My first (hopefully of many!) article on the website My Itchy Travel Feet was published today:
6 Amazing Hikes in Shenandoah National Park.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know how much we love the outdoors, camping...and Shenandoah!

I am excited to begin a new relationship with My Itchy Travel Feet and see both my article and my photos on their website. I hope to share more of our travel and outdoor adventures with their readers.

It's the 100th anniversary of our National Parks - which one is your favorite?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Teen/YA Review: Dreamology

When I chose the teen/YA novel Dreamology by Lucy Keating as my next audio book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In some ways, its synopsis sounded like just another teen romance, but I was pleasantly surprised by its originality, depth, and hint of the paranormal.

Alice has been dreaming of Max for as long as she can remember, ever since she was a little girl. Max used to be her friend and playmate in her dreams, as they enjoyed fantastical adventures together, in castles, on hot air balloons, and building with giant Legos made of chocolate. In recent years, though, since Alice became a teen, she and Max have become even closer and their relationship even more special, though it exists only in her dreams.

Now, Alice and her dad have moved from NYC back to Boston, where they lived when Alice was little. It’s a big adjustment for Alice, but she gets an even bigger shock when she walks into her first class on her first day in the new, exclusive private school. Max – her Max – is sitting there in her class, in real life. She has spent many hours with him in her dreams so she’d know him anywhere. But how can her dream be sitting right here in front of her?

Alice calls her best friend back in NYC, Sophie, to discuss her news. It is definitely the same Max from her dreams. At least, he looks the same, though he doesn’t quite act the same. In real life, Max is sometimes sullen and complicated…and he has a girlfriend. To complicate matters further, there is another boy, Oliver, at school who greets Alice warmly her first day and who feels like her only friend in this new place. But Alice loves Max.

Alice tries to make sense of her dreams coming to life, but nothing makes sense in this scenario. Eventually, as she searches for answers, she also finds that elements from her dreams start to bleed into her real life – crazy, dreamlike fantasy things that can’t possibly be real. As she gets to know the real Max, the mystery deepens, and she is desperate for answers.

I enjoyed this debut novel with a very unique plot and realistic, fully-formed characters. Their real-life interactions were engaging, and the concept of Alice’s dreams becoming reality was fascinating. Suspense built, as I wondered, like Alice, what could possibly be going on. I enjoyed the slight paranormal angle to the story, though there is a quasi-scientific explanation. The resolution of Alice’s problem was a bit too pat, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment. I was completely absorbed in this original story with elements of romance, friendship, loss, and suspense.

HarperChildren’s Audio

You can listen to a sample of the audio at the Amazon link below: 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fiction Review: Heart of Darkness

I signed up for the 2016 Classics Challenge – with its goal to read one classic book each month of the year – and was failing miserably! As of June, I had not read a single classic. So, I read the shortest one I could find at home, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (less than 60 pages!). By the end of July, I was desperate to once again at least squeeze in a short classic, so I chose to re-read the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which I last read in 10th grade. I remembered liking it back then, and I enjoyed reading it again as an adult.

There’s always a bit of conundrum with a review of a classic: does everyone already know the plot synopsis? This one is particularly well known, as it is very frequently taught in high school and college English classes. It was also the basis for the Academy-Award winning movie Apocalypse Now (I just learned that & have never seen the movie), and – little-known fact – also the basis for the movie Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, which I did see (though my friends didn’t believe me when I said it was based on Heart of Darkness!). Just in case you missed those movies and your schools didn’t teach the book, I will avoid spoilers, though its conclusion is probably known to most.

Heart of Darkness is framed as a story told by one of the main characters, Charles Marlow. As the novel opens, he is onboard a ship in London, sitting on the River Thames, waiting for the tide to turn with his shipmates. He regales them with a story of another journey that he took some years ago. The rest of the novella is that story. Marlow was hired by a Belgian ivory-trading company to pilot a ship up a wide river through the densest jungles of the Belgian Congo (what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo). He encounters many challenges and adventures along the way, including severe damage to his ship and angry natives shooting at them with arrows and spears.

The goal of Marlow’s journey in the Congo is not only to bring ivory back from the interior of the region but also to rescue a man named Mr. Kurtz who is in charge of an outpost. Kurtz is commonly regarded as the best manager they have, but disturbing rumors say that he is now very ill and needs to be brought out immediately. The further Marlow goes, the more he hears about Kurtz, until he – like many others working for the company – is in awe of this great man he’s never met.

Like most classics, Conrad’s novella is not just an interesting story; he was trying to make a point (or several of them), hence its extensive analysis for the past 100+ years. Heart of Darkness is all about the thin line between civilization and savagery or wildness. Conrad uses the story to show that everyone has a savage center, that this wildness is a part of human nature. He shows that the trappings of “civilization” are all that separate us from our wild nature, and, in the absence of civilization, humans will quickly devolve into a baser form.

There has been a lot of controversy over the years about Heart of Darkness being racist and showing a very defamatory, warped view of the African continent and the African people (whom he describes throughout the novella as savages). Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, is an especially vehement opponent of Conrad who first spoke out in 1975 against the novella because of its racial stereotypes. In fact, his novel, Things Fall Apart, is said to be in direct response to Heart of Darkness, presenting a far more accurate view of central Africa and its people.

For my part, I took the novella for what it is: a story written in 1899 about human nature, set on a continent that was unknown and quite mysterious to white Europeans like Conrad. That’s the way that people back then saw Africans, and yes, it’s deplorable by today’s standards, but it is accurate in terms of the perceptions of the time, much like reading historical fiction about white Europeans coming to America; they also saw Native Americans as savages. Of course, we know better today and are rightfully appalled by the way the native population was treated. To me, Heart of Darkness is that same kind of outdated historical perspective (same with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, too): we can read it today, recognizing that it was of its time, and still find value in the story and the writing itself and the points that Conrad was trying to make about humanity.

Controversies aside, Heart of Darkness is a classic for a reason: it’s an original, interesting story with plenty of complexities to think about (or discuss if you are in English class!). In fact, the copy I read was the same copy I had from 10th grade, and I enjoyed reading all of my notes in the margins and underlining about symbolism, metaphors, and parallels (though I couldn’t figure out what “p.d.” meant – any guesses?). It is a suspenseful adventure tale of a journey into the unknown…and of man’s inner journeys.

132 pages, Bantam Classic


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Books Read in July

View from Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park
Woohoo! I'm writing my monthly summary, and it's only the 10th of the month! I finally caught up on reviews. Good thing because with travel and moving our sons to college at the end of August, this month is about to get really busy.

I had a good reading month, with a total of 6 books finished:

Six books in all, and a nice variety of middle-grade, YA, and adult...and even a nonfiction book (a rarity for me)! Half of my books were audio. My favorite is an easy choice this month: Behind the Beautiful Forevers. It was easily one of my favorites read so far this year and maybe ever. I actually rated it a 10 in my book group, which I very rarely do. It's nonfiction but written like a novel, and I highly recommend it.

Progress on 2016 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 2 more TBR books in July for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge - that's a total of 10 so far this year, which is not very good! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, July was LOL month - and I didn't read anything even remotely funny! All serious topics - fail. I added 1 more nonfiction book to my 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge for a total of 8 so far this year, but no more classics for the 2016 Classics Challenge. For my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, I read a book set in India.  I am also tracking the states my books are set in, even though there is no Where Are You Reading challenge this year, and I added 2 new states - NM and CT -  this month.

Finally, I filled 12 spaces on my monthly Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break (you can join the fun any month without officially joining a challenge). Here's my Bingo card for July:

My books filled these spaces:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Award-winning, Shelf-Love (TBR) book
The Secret Language of Sisters - Siblings, Geek, First kiss
Snow Falling on Cedars - Opposites attract
Masterminds: Criminal Destiny - In a series, Daredevil
Isra Isle - Paperback book, LGBT
The Memory of Light - Cowboy/western
Free space

Believe it or not, this is one of THREE book bingo games I am playing this summer - it's getting confusing!

What was your favorite book read in July? 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

TV Tuesday: What We're Watching This Summer

A lot of our summer TV shows have been wrapping up, so I thought it might be fun to talk about what we've enjoyed watching this summer. Plus, we are in need to some new shows to check out, so recommendations are welcome!

Here's some of what we've been watching this summer, with links to my past reviews (all reviews include trailer video clips and where to watch):

Watching With My Husband and 22-year old Son:

Wayward Pines
This super-creepy sci fi show is filled with twists and turns and is a favorite among all three of us. We just watched the season 2 finale - which was once again an ending that made us think, "what the heck is going to happen next season?" I guess that's the point. 

Technically, not a summer show - I think it aired last winter - but we have been catching up on it On Demand this summer.  It's a post-apocalyptic story set in L.A. after aliens have taken over, starring one of our favorite actors, Josh Holloway (who played Sawyer on Lost). We just finished the season finale and can't wait for season 2 next winter!

Mr. Robot
The three of us watched season 1 together last summer and have been eagerly awaiting season 2. It's a bit confusing so far (we're on episode 4), but when isn't this show a little confusing? There's always a lot going on in this totally unique show about a group of hackers intent on bringing down big corporations. It's got a completely unique tone, feel, and approach.

Watching with My Husband:

The Last Ship
One of our favorite shows! We both love this post-apocalyptic naval drama starring Eric Dane (aka McSteamy from Grey's Anatomy). Now in its third season, it just gets better and better. I think (I hope) there are still a couple of episodes left before the finale, but we must be getting close to the end of the season.

We are currently watching season 2 of this intriguing show starring David Duchovny as a homicide detective in 1960's L.A. who crosses paths with Charles Manson. So good! It seems to be on hiatus because of the Olympics but should be coming back afterward.

Orange is the New Black
We are both SO HOOKED on this amazing show! It's an incredible ensemble cast set in a women's prison in upstate New York, based on a true-life memoir of a pampered, white, wealthy young woman who spent a year in prison. It's filled with emotional drama but is also often really, really funny. We just finished season 4, which was even better, and are in mourning until a new season comes out. This season started with a lot of laughs and ended with sobbing tears (mine) and a huge cliffhanger.

The Wire
With many of our summer shows wrapping up, we went back to an old favorite, The Wire, which we have been watching on Amazon Prime. This show about the drug trade, projects, and police of Baltimore is just SO good! Every season is different, and they just get better and better. We are currently watching season 4 (only one episode left!), and this one focuses on the children in West Baltimore and a new mayor who wants to change things. It is an incredibly good show with an amazing ensemble cast and a new angle every season.

With some of our favorites wrapping up, we were looking for something new and stumbled onto a new favorite from the creators of The Good Wife. This is the strangest show you will ever see...but also one of the best! Believe it or not, it combines political satire with a sci fi alien plot. It is totally addictive, and we can't wait for each new episode!

I also watch some shows on my own at lunchtime, like my current obsession, Feed the Beast on AMC starring David Schwimmer...but alone-time is rare this summer!

What have YOU been watching this summer? What should we watch next with all of our summer shows wrapping up?

Monday, August 08, 2016

Movie Monday: Star Trek Beyond

We actually went to the theater two weeks ago. That used to be an extremely rare occasion - maybe once a year - but we have been trying to get out a bit more. Cinemark theaters nationwide have Discount Tuesdays, where all movies (except 3D) all day are just $5.25 (which seems a whole lot more reasonable to me), so we try to take advantage of that. Two weeks ago, my husband and I went to see Star Trek Beyond and absolutely loved it!

Star Trek Beyond picks up where Star Trek Into Darkness left off, as the third in the prequel Star Trek movies featuring young versions of crew on the original Star Trek TV series. The Enterprise is in the third year of its 5-year exploration mission when it stops at a huge space station called Starbase Yorktown for resupply and shore leave. What the rest of the crew doesn't know is that Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, is thinking of giving up command of the Enterprise and has applied for the job of Vice Admiral of Yorktown. He has recommended Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, for the captain's job, and is trying to figure out how to tell him. Meanwhile, Kirk doesn't realize that Spock is also thinking of leaving the Enterprise, after getting the upsetting news that Ambassador Spock (who, I believe, is him in the future, right?) has died. He is also trying to figure out how to tell Kirk of his decision.

While on leave, though, an emergency comes up, and the Enterprise is called upon to cut its leave short to respond. A female named Kalara has come to the Starbase on an escape pod and says that her ship and shipmates are stranded on a nearby planet called Altamid. After a harrowing journey through an asteroid field, the Enterprise arrives on the planet to investigate, with Kalara along. As you might expect, things don't go quite as planned, and there are plenty of surprises awaiting the Enterprise crew on this strange planet.

My husband and I both really enjoyed this movie. Of course, it is filled with sci fi action, adventure, and thrills, but it also has plenty of humor and emotional drama in it, too. That's kind of Star Trek's modus operandi, right? We both thought that these younger actors did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of the characters from the original show, even more so than in the first two prequels. In fact, that's where some of the humor comes from, if you watched the original, in hearing those quintessential Star Trek lines, like Bones saying, "Damn it, Kirk, that will never work!" or Scotty calling, "I'm givin' it all she's got, Captain!" They all really hit those familiar characters perfectly.

In fact, the way my husband described the movie as we were walking out was, "It was like one of the best episodes of the original TV show, only movie-length." I see that Richard Roper said almost the exact same thing in his review! Both my husband and Roper meant it as the highest compliment. I wasn't quite as big a fan of the original series as my husband, though I watched it often enough with my family on Friday nights (in repeats by then). The two of us together watched - and loved - Star Trek Next Generation in the 80's and 90's. So, this was right up our alley.

For those who are not as "into" Star Trek, there is still a lot to like in this movie - it's an action-packed sci fi adventure with a great sense of humor (I really don't like action movies without humor!). But for those fans like us who have watched it for decades, it is an especially fun ride, filled with little nods and winks to the original while also adding a whole new intriguing story to the canon. Note that this was the last Star Trek movie for Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov, since he recently died in a car crash; the film was dedicated to his memory.

Star Trek Beyond is currently in theaters, with its DVD scheduled for release in November 2016 (probably to coincide with its availability on streaming services). This is a great one to see on the big screen, if you can manage it.