Friday, June 30, 2017

Teen/YA Review: The Baby

Last month, I listened to the audio book The Baby, a teen/YA novel by Lisa Drakeford. It’s about what happens when a teen girl has a baby, told from the perspective of her and four of her friends.

You know when you hear a story in the news about a teenager who suddenly gives birth (usually in a public restroom somewhere) and had no idea she was pregnant? That’s how this novel begins. Best friends Olivia and Nicola are getting ready for Olivia’s birthday party as the novel opens. Nic is feeling like she’s gained some weight recently, but she’s never been skinny, and Olivia assures her she looks great. The party starts and at some point, Nic disappears. When Olivia seeks her out and finds her in the bathroom, she is shocked to see that her BFF is in labor on her bathroom floor!

Nic has her baby, and an ambulance is called (and that’s the end of the birthday party). Nic’s early months at home with her mom and her newborn are difficult, and she feels isolated and overwhelmed. Olivia is nowhere to be found, but luckily, their mutual friend, Ben, comes by often. Ben is gay and has his own difficulties, but he is very supportive of Nic. Olivia (and her little sister, Alice) is worried about her abusive boyfriend, Jonty. And though Olivia doesn’t visit Nic and the new baby, Alice, who is thought of by her peers as strange, is enthralled by baby Eliza and comes by often to help Nic.

This novel is narrated by the five main characters, in turn: Olivia, Nic, Jonty, Ben, and Alice. Each tells a section of the story, from his or her own perspective but melding together to tell the complete story. Each character is struggling with his or her own problems and secrets, which are revealed bit by bit. There are several surprising plot twists.

At first, I expected this novel to be a bit of light fluff – just some amusing teen fiction – but it turned out to have far more emotional depth than I first assumed. The novel deals with serious topics like teenage sex and pregnancy, domestic abuse, and bullying. Hearing from each character in turn adds layers of complexity to what at first seems like a simple story. It’s interesting to see that what is happening from one character’s perspective may be entirely different from what is behind the scenes with another character. The audio production was very good. I enjoyed this intricate novel even more than I expected to and look forward to reading more from this new-to-me author.

256 pages, Chicken House

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.

The Baby
by Lisa DrakefordHardcover

 Or purchase from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:

Or purchase The Baby from Book Depository.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: NewsPrints

I enjoy reading graphic novels, especially as a palate cleanser between longer or more difficult books. I recently enjoyed NewsPrints by Ru Xu, a middle-grade graphic novel set in a steampunk world, with an intriguing plot and endearing characters.

Blue is an orphaned girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can be a newsboy, selling the Nautilene Bugle all over the city. Being a newsboy also means that she was taken in – along with many other boys orphaned by the ongoing 10-year war with Grimmaea – by the city Mayor and his wife, who also run the newspaper. Blue and her fellow orphans are happy with the kind couple and their makeshift family, but Blue does wish she could be herself and still have this life.

One day, Blue runs into a large building that she thought was abandoned and discovers Jack, an inventor whose incredible machines are scattered all over his workshop. Jack is the classic absent-minded scientist and asks Blue if she will be his assistant. Gradually, Blue comes to realize that Jack’s work might actually be important and not just whimsical. One day, Blue accompanies Jack to the Nautilene Naval Base and meets a mysterious boy named Crow. He seems to be a kindred spirit, and Blue wants to help him.

The plot continues and is quite intricate, but I don’t want to spoil the story for you with any more details. Blue is a kind and likeable character who is always stumbling onto trouble, and the other characters around her are equally full of life and personality. The illustrations have a vibrant, manga-like feel to them, colored in mostly shades of browns and blues that give the story an old-fashioned feel, while the steampunk details add intrigue.

Blue and Jack looking for parts at a pawn shop.
It’s a rollicking, fast-paced adventure with plenty of suspense and surprises in store for young readers. The graphic novel also delves into issues of friendship, the effects of war, gender equality, and especially, being true to yourself. Young readers will enjoy going on this journey with Blue and her friends and discovering the mysteries at the heart of it. Although the main story is mostly wrapped up, the war continues, and the ending makes it clear that Blue will have more adventures in a sequel – something to look forward to!

202 pages, Graphix by Scholastic

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.

by Xu, R. R.Trade Paperback
Purchase NewsPrints from Book Depository.

Or purchase from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TV Tuesday: Food Network Star

So, you may have noticed that after several years and many dozens of TV Tuesdays, I have not reviewed a single reality show. That's unusual, given how much of what is on TV now is reality TV. There's a simple reason for that: I really don't watch reality TV. I prefer scripted dramas or comedies and watch a very wide range of those, but there are only two reality shows I watch.

One is The Amazing Race, which is still - well, amazing after all these years. We used to watch it with our sons and loved cheering the teams on together, but I'm the only one left in my family who still watches it. The other reality show I watch is Food Network Star - I love to cook, I love to eat good food, and I enjoy this reality show that focuses on improving skills in the kitchen and on camera. The bonus: my son who rarely watches TV will sit and watch it with me if I turn it on during lunch!

The concept of Food Network Star is quite simple (and obvious from the title!) - it is a competition to find a chef who will be given their own show on Food Network. Pretty cool. The really cool part is that not all of the contestants are professional chefs (though many are) - some are caterers or chefs-in-training or even just people who cook for their families. There are usually 12 contestants in all, and each week presents them with different cooking challenges. Sometimes they work in teams and sometimes they are solo. Challenges almost always include some sort of presentation at the end, with the contestants learning how to handle appearing on camera. Usually one person (sometimes two) is eliminated each week, based on the appearance and taste of their food and the quality of their presentation. At the end, three finalists record pilots for their own shows, and one person is chosen as the winner and goes on to have his or her own Food Network show.

I enjoy watching the challenges, the cooking, and the presentations, but it is also fun to watch the relationships that develop over the course of the show. One reason I like this show and not other reality TV is that I really don't enjoy watching people be mean to each other! The contestants here are generally supportive of each other, and the judges - lately, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis - are also kind and supportive, often giving someone who messes up but seems to have potential another chance.

The show is now in its 13th season (episode 4 just aired). I think this is the 3rd or 4th season I have watched. It's fun to see one of the contestants on Food Network later, or even - occasionally - making it big. I just discovered in researching this post that Guy Fieri - renowned now for Guy's Big Bites and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (one of our faves) - was the winner of season 2!

Season 13 is now available On Demand through cable providers. My own On Demand doesn't list the episodes in order (for some strange reason), so I refer to this episode list to figure out which one comes next - the show really doesn't make sense if you watch it out of order! You can also watch full episodes of the current season for free on the Food Network website. The current season - and most past seasons - are also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or a full season starting at $9.99 (some are longer than others) - see links below. And if you are interested in the history of the show and past winners, I found the Food Network Star Wikipedia page very interesting.

Do you watch any reality shows? Have you seen Food Network Star yet?


Monday, June 26, 2017

Movie Monday: Wonder Woman

During our recent vacation camping in Vermont, my husband and I had one cold, rainy day to contend with, so we left the campground to go into town. We met old friends for lunch, did some shopping, and then decided to just make a full day of it, with dinner and a movie in Morrisville, VT. The tiny movie theater there was showing the brand-new Wonder Woman movie, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. We enjoyed this action-packed adventure very much.

I grew up in the 70's with the Superfriends cartoons and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman on prime time, so I am well-acquainted with the famed female superhero. This new look at Wonder Woman, in the wake of dozens of comic book superhero movies in the past decade, finally gives her her due.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot stars in this new Wonder Woman film as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, later known as just Diana Prince. The movie opens on the secret island of the Amazon women, where they live and train together in a peaceful society. Connie Nielson plays Diana's mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Robin Wright stars as Antiope, Diana's aunt and the fiercest warrior among this race of warrior women. Lilly Aspell is wonderful (and adorable) as the young Diana, eager to learn to fight, against her mother's wishes.

The Amazons' peaceful life is shattered when a WWI pilot crashes into the sea near their island, somehow getting through their protective barrier, followed closely by a German ship that is chasing him. After the Amazons defeat the German invaders, Steve Trevor, the downed pilot and spy who is played by Chris Pine, explains to Diana about the war that is tearing apart the human world. Diana, now a courageous young woman, feels a strong and compassionate need to help stop the war and leaves the island with Steve, despite her mother's pleas to stay.

Once in London, Steve and Diana try to deliver Steve's urgent intelligence about a new German chemical weapon to the British leaders, but they are unsuccessful in convincing them to act on this knowledge. Steve gathers a few friends, and their ragtag group heads off for the front to try to disrupt the German plan on their own. Along the way, though the men are mostly accustomed to the ravages of war, Diana is appalled by the suffering she sees and refuses to leave needy people unassisted. She gradually discovers powers that she didn't know she possessed.

As you would expect from any superhero movie, Wonder Woman is packed with action and suspense. Its battle scenes often incorporate slow-motion action so you can see Diana's moves up close. Given the subject matter, there is also the underlying spy movie plot, pitting good against evil, complete with mad scientists. What makes or breaks a superhero movie for me is the presence of humor, and there is plenty here, mostly through the motley crew Steve has assembled and some fish-out-of-water stuff when Diana visits London. There is also a hint of romance, as Diana and Steve are clearly attracted to each other.

The cast of the movie - both the Amazons in the beginning and the main characters in the war sequences - are excellent, and Gal Gadot seems like the perfect Wonder Woman (no offense, Lynda Carter). We both thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful and entertaining movie. I'm not a huge fan of superhero movies, but I liked the humor and compassion in Wonder Woman, and I looking forward to its sequels.

Wonder Woman is currently in theaters. The DVD release is estimated for sometime in August, and you can pre-order both the DVD and the streaming version on Amazon now (links below).


It's Monday 6/26! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday! Did you miss me?? I missed two What Are You Reading Mondays, so it's been awhile. My husband and I took a week-long trip to Vermont with our camper, while our sons went to the Firefly music festival here in Delaware. We had a wonderful vacation - peaceful and fun. You can check out photos from our trip and the natural beauty in Vermont, my picks for great food in Manchester, VT (more posts coming with other restaurants elsewhere in VT), and a recap of 3 independent bookstores we visited in Vermont - the state has a lot of them!
One section of the fabulous Northshire Bookstore in Vermont
Back home, last week was a crazy whirlwind of activity, with everyone home. I helped get our sons ready for another trip, restocked food, took my father-in-law to the doctor, ran errands, had everyone over for dinner, and with my son, ran dozens of loads of laundry! Now, though, the flurry of activity has passed and I am here in the quiet house all ALONE. Our sons are away for two weeks on their grandparents' sailboat, and my husband is traveling for work this week. Ahhh...the quiet solitude is lovely after the exhausting activity last week. Now, I hope to finally get caught up from vacation, with e-mails (still over 200 unread ones left!), writing, blog posts...and of course, what we've been reading! Here's the recap from the past three weeks:
  • I finished The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams, a review book for Shelf Awareness (you can check out my first Shelf Awareness review here). It was an amazing novel that I recommended to my editor for their Top 10 Books of 2017 list. It takes place in war-torn Uganda in 2008 (during the height of Joseph Kony's reign), where a young American aid worker who left on a 3-week vacation in the area goes missing. Her aunt, who also worked for an aid organization in Uganda, comes from Germany to look for her. It's full of action, suspense, moral questions, and intrigue, and the setting was fascinating to me, since I knew nothing at all about Uganda or its culture or history.
  • I finished my first Big Book of the Summer, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen/YA novel. Although I didn't love this novel as much as Stiefvater's others, her amazing writing, unforgettable characters, and suspense pulled me in as always, and I did end up enjoying it.
  • I also finished my my second Big Book of the Summer, Shift by Hugh Howey, book 2 in the Wool series. The first book, Wool, just blew my husband and I away, and book 2 was just as good. I gobbled up its 570 pages on our vacation. Now I am dying to read book 3, Dust, while the events of the first two books are still fresh in my mind, so I may sub that in for one of my other Big Books this summer. You must read this series!
  • Next, I read a quick novel for my neighborhood book group this week: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. This was an entirely different kind of story - quiet, gentle, and warm - but just as compelling. It's about a 70-year old widow who asks her widowed neighbor if he will spend the nights with her (platonically) because she is so lonely. The two of them gradually get to know each other and become closer, with both of their lives deeply enriched. I absolutely loved this book!
  • Now, I have gone back to a book of short stories that I started for Booktopia last month, The World to Come by Jim Shepherd. His stories take a unique approach. They are historical fiction, often focusing on some horrible disaster that occurred in real life, but he adds fictional characters and delves into their feelings, thoughts, and states of mind. They are very good so far, though - as you might imagine from the subject matter - some of them are devastating.
  • On audio, I finished listening to Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. It's a middle-grade novel about a boy sent to a creepy reform school set on a rocky island by itself and what happens when all the adults on the island are gone. I really enjoyed Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage and especially The Honest Truth. Scar Island grew on me, and I ended up enjoying it, too.
  • On our trip, my husband and I started listening to Exo by Fonda Lee, a teen/YA sci fi novel. It takes place about 100 years after an alien race has colonized Earth, Some people were selected to work alongside the aliens and help them, while others have resisted the alien invasion and continue to fight against them. It's very good so far, and we are both enjoying it. I guess we will have to finish it on our next road trip, in a few weeks!
  • Back at home, this weekend, I started listening to The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a middle-grade novel about a 12-year old boy, Matthew, with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder who is housebound (and often won't even leave his own bedroom). He spends hours at his window, watching the neighbors on his street. When a toddler goes missing from next door, Matthew may be the only one who can piece together what happened to him. It's an issue-driven novel, delving into Matthew's OCD, crossed with a mystery. I've been hooked right from the start!
  • My husband. Ken, finished his first Big Book of the Summer, Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. This is a kind of spin-off novel from the classic Dune series, written by the original author's son and a co-writer. Dune is one my husband's favorite novels, so he enjoyed this novel and has now passed it on to our son.
  • Next, Ken read a novel we bought at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, The Fold by Peter Clines. We were supposed to be picking out books for our son's birthday, but we saw this one and couldn't resist it for ourselves! It's a sci fi thriller about the development of a device that allows "folding" of dimensions, making teleportation a reality. Ken said it was just as good as it sounded - I can't wait to read this one, too!
  • Now, Ken is reading In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, another novel purchased at Northshire Bookstore! I bought this one when I was there for Booktopia and gave it to Ken on Father's Day during our trip. This is a psychological thriller by the author of The Woman in Cabin 10.
  • Jamie, 22, finished re-reading the Tunnels middle-grade series by Roderick Gordon, and also finished reading the last book (#6) of the series, Terminal.  He really enjoyed revisiting this old favorite series and finally finishing it!
  • Now, Jamie is reading Dune by Frank Herbert, the classic sci fi novel, inspired by his dad! Jamie read Dune once before, but he was very young (about middle-school age) so he is enjoying re-reading it. Next, he will read Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which his dad just lent him.
Whew, quite an update! Here are my blog posts from before and after my vacation:
TV Tuesday: Anne with an E - wonderful adaptation of Anne of Green Gables

Nonfiction Review: The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III

Fiction Review: How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza - reviewed for Shelf Awareness

Fiction Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery - I finally read this classic!

TV Tuesday: The Fall - dark & creepy Irish thriller series

3 Bookstores in Vermont - we visited 3 of VT's 20 independent bookstores!

Saturday Snapshot: Vermont State Parks - some highlights of VT's natural beauty

Weekend Cooking: Great Restaurants in Manchester, Vermont - so much good food!

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 also follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page

Remember to sign up for my Big Book Summer Challenge! You have plenty of time (until September) to read just 1 book (more if you want) with 400+ pages. Everyone has a chunkster like this (or dozens of them, like me!) on their shelves or TBR list. I hope you'll join the fun! (you don't need a blog to sign up - see the challenge page for details)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Weekend Cooking: Great Restaurants in Manchester, Vermont

If you've been reading my blog this week, you know I am just back from a lovely week spent in Vermont with my husband. You can check out my recap of three VT bookstores we visited and my photos of the natural beauty in Vermont. So, here, on Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, I am starting a series on all the great restaurants we visited in Vermont! Vermont is known for its focus on local, independent, and hand-crafted. There are very few chain stores or restaurants in the state outside of larger cities and almost no fast food. Instead, everywhere you go, you find craft beers, super-fresh local ingredients, and even craft coffee! Even restaurants that serve fairly traditional food often list on their menu the local farms where they get their ingredients. The result? Amazing, fresh, creative food everywhere you go! Here are some favorites from Manchester, VT, which I have visited twice for Booktopia, in addition to this recent trip with my husband.

Up for Breakfast
Up for Breakfast
Any visit to Manchester, VT, must start at this unique and creative breakfast place on Main Street. Its name is literal, as you have to climb a flight of stairs to get to the tiny second-floor restaurant. Once there, you are surrounded by bright, cheerful decor in a cozy but not overcrowded place filled with both locals and visitors (you may have a short wait for a table on a busy weekend). Each day, they offer a different flavored coffee, in addition to regular coffee and decaf. My husband thoroughly enjoyed his chocolate hazelnut coffee!

The real star here is the creative menu which is filled with unique and tasty breakfasts. They have delicious (and huge) pancake varieties plus French toast, often made from non-standard breads. And those who think that eggs are boring will be amazed by the variety of unique kinds of omelets, frittatas, hashes, and Eggs Benedict. In addition to the varied selections on the regular menu, each day brings a new batch of daily specials that will blow your mind.  On our recent visit, my husband and I both chose one of the specials, a Cuban version of Eggs Benedict, with flavorful roast pork, sauteed leeks and purple cabbage, eggs and adobo hollandaise sauce, all served on top of cheesy polenta discs. It was full of flavor and sooo good! When I was there for Booktopia in May, I ate at Up for Breakfast three times and enjoyed three very different breakfasts, all full of flavor, including their own version of corned beef hash, with a stone ground mustard hollandaise. Wild turkey hash is one of their specialties, as well.
Cuban Eggs Benedict - creative & delicious!

Spiral Press Cafe
You can walk off that big meal from Up for Breakfast at the Northshire Bookstore, a large and fabulous independent bookstore where Booktopia is held each year in May. Or, if a small breakfast is more your style, pick up a coffee and delicious baked good or breakfast sandwich at Spiral Press Cafe, which is attached to the bookstore. Enjoy your light breakfast at a table in the large WiFi-equipped area before going up or down a few stairs to browse in the bookstore. I like to eat lunch at Spiral Press Cafe in between Booktopia events. Their lunch menu features soups, salads, sandwiches, and paninis, all made with fresh ingredients. My favorite is their Curried Chicken Salad, served on top of the House Salad. Indulge in a delicious homemade dessert before continuing your bookstore explorations!

Poncé Bistro
Poncé Bistro
Another option in Manchester that offers both breakfast and lunch is the little Poncé Bistro on Route 7A (they also serve dinner Thursday through Saturday). We stopped there for lunch after some outlet shopping (had to work off that Up for Breakfast meal!). You can sit inside the cozy shop in an old house, at tables with fireplaces nearby, or on nice days, out on the patio. Breakfast is coffee or tea and the usual assortment of fresh-baked pastries, muffins, scones, etc. or a breakfast sandwich. They also offer quiche, omelets, French toast, and many varieties of crepes. We opted for the patio at lunchtime on a gorgeous summer day, and out mouths watered perusing the choice of soups, sandwiches, and salads (many of them Spanish-influenced). It was a tough choice, but my husband had the delicious North Country Turkey sandwich, with dill havarti cheese, apple slices, and a homemade dressing. I opted for the Asian Chicken Salad, which was tasty but could have used a bit more Asian flavor. The dinner menu features a variety of both creative and traditional dishes - we'll have to go back!
Lunch on the patio at Poncé Bistro

The Depot Cafe, inside Depot62 furniture store!
Depot Cafe
We read about this one in our Roadfood book, which is our constant companion on road trips. It described the Depot Cafe as a restaurant inside a furniture store (Depot62), specializing in Turkish food on Depot Street. Yup, that's exactly what it is! You can see some of the furniture in the background of my photo below, behind my husband. The store offers some really cool, eclectic stuff, and the cafe menu includes a variety of flatbread pizzas made with pita bread in their brick oven, as well as some traditional Turkish dishes, like kebabs (also roasted in the oven). I ordered roasted salmon with mixed salad greens, which was good, though a bit bland. My husband ordered a flatbread pizza with ground lamb that was delicious, along with one of those wonderful local Vermont craft beers. We were disappointed to find they had no baklava on the Monday evening when we visited, but it is normally on the menu (and they offered us tiramisu).

Thai Basil
While at Booktopia this year, my mom and I ate dinner Saturday night at Thai Basil, right on Main Street, across the street from Up for Breakfast. It's open for lunch and dinner and offers a variety of both traditional and creative Thai dishes. We ordered several different dishes to share, and everything was delicious and super-fresh. We tried their Signature Basil Rolls, Larb Salad, and Thai Basil Red Snapper. It was all very flavorful. We were in a rush that night, to get back to Northshire Bookstore for the final Booktopia event, but service was fast and friendly.
Seasons Restaurant
When we went to Booktopia in 2015, my mom and I ate dinner Saturday evening at Seasons Restaurant, on Route 7A. We sat outdoors on their pleasant patio. My mom isn't a fan of eating dinner early (again, we needed to get back to Northshire for the final Booktopia event), so she just ordered the Asian Noodle Salad, but it turned out to be a good-sized meal and full of flavor - she loved it! I ordered the Seven Seed Crusted Salmon which was delicious, with fresh vegetables on the side. We both enjoyed our meal very much. I wanted to go back on this recent visit with my husband, but there just wasn't enough time to fit in all the good food in town!

As you can see, Manchester, VT, is filled with amazing food options. Its many restaurants feature a wide variety of creative dishes from different cultures, made with fresh ingredients. I haven't had a bad meal there in three visits! So, go for the food...and of course, the amazing bookstore!

Come back for more great Vermont restaurants on upcoming Weekend Cooking posts. And if you love food and/or cooking, stop by the Weekend Cooking page for more blog posts to enjoy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Vermont State Parks

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

Last week, my husband and I enjoyed a lovely week camping in Vermont at three different state parks and visiting three quaint little towns (all towns in Vermont are quaint little towns!). You can check out my post on 3 Vermont Bookstores for a bookish recap, and watch for upcoming Weekend Cooking posts on the wonderful food we ate in Vermont.

But here are some highlights of the natural beauty we saw in Vermont state parks last week - the whole state is filled with gorgeous lakes, surrounded by forests and mountains, plus rivers and waterfalls. We went to Emerald Lake State Park, near Manchester, VT; Elmore State Park, near Stowe, VT (where I met up with an old college friend); and Coolidge State Park near Woodstock, VT. It's really a beautiful place!

Trees reflected in the water at Emerald Lake State Park, VT

Hiking around Emerald Lake

View of lovely lake at Emerald Lake State Park, VT

Sun through the green leaves at Emerald Lake State Park, VT
Me kayaking on Emerald Lake

From the beach at Elmore State Park (near Stowe, VT)

Geese parents & 3 goslings on Elmore Lake

Kayaking on Elmore Lake on a perfect summer day in VT
Tinker Brook Gorge, near Coolidge State Park, VT

Close-up of the falls at Tinker Brook Gorge

Our very quiet site at Coolidge State Park, VT - campground was empty!

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend wherever you are!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

3 Bookstores in Vermont

Ready to kayak on Elmore Lake in Vermont
Last week, my husband and I enjoyed a lovely week in Vermont, escaping the extreme heat here in Delaware for the comfortable kind of summer weather I remember growing up in western New York. We camped, hiked, kayaked, and spent some time exploring three wonderful little Vermont towns: Manchester, Stowe, and Woodstock. Each of the towns had an independent bookstore, which is not unusual. Tiny Vermont has 20 independent bookstores in all! (you can check out a list and locations at the link). This is a great state for book lovers!

One of many well-lit, pleasant aisles filled with books at Northshire
The largest and most impressive of the bookstores we visited was Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, which hosts the annual Booktopia event (that you are probably sick of hearing me talk about!). You can read about my attendance at Booktopia 2017 here. Northshire is a wonderful bookstore with a huge selection, covering several floors, including used books and an amazing children's area. It also has an excellent cafe and coffee shop attached, along with a big room full of tables and WiFi. It would be easy to spend a whole day just wandering the aisles of Northshire! I was just there in May for Booktopia (and bought a big stack of books for Father's Day gifts), but I wanted to show my husband, so we spent a couple of hours there on our trip. One of the great things at Northshire is the many shelf talkers to point you to the staff favorites. We picked out some books for our son's birthday, plus other gifts, and some books and journals for ourselves. If you live anywhere near southern Vermont, a trip to Northshire is a must! We camped at nearby beautiful Emerald Lake State Park.

Bear Pond Books in the Old Depot in Stowe, VT
We were camped near Stowe, VT, at Elmore State Park on the only rainy day of our trip. It worked out fine because we had plans to meet an old college friend of mine and her husband for lunch in Stowe, so we headed into town early to escape the cold and rain. We enjoyed browsing through the Stowe Mercantile, with a wide array of unusual handmade items, gifts, and more. Then, we took our time meandering through Bear Pond Books next door (on Main Street inside the Old Depot). This was a much smaller bookstore than Northshire but with a well-curated collection and pleasant open shelving that is perfect for browsing. They have a nice selection of Vermont-based books, a great children's section, and cards and gifts as well. Even though we didn't NEED any more books, we bought another book for our son and a few more items.

Where did everyone go? Woodstock with The Yankee Bookshop on the right.
Finally, our last stop was the town of Woodstock, where we stayed at nearby Coolidge State Park. We went hiking early in the day and planned to stroll around Woodstock, go in the shops, and have dinner in the evening. The only problem? The entire town of Woodstock shut down at 5 pm! Every single shop in town was closed when we got into town at 5:15. We did enjoy a nice dinner in Woodstock that night, but our shopping was relegated to literal window shopping. The Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock claims to be Vermont's oldest independent bookstore. Though we didn't get to browse its aisles, we did spend some time peeking in its windows! It looks like a small-ish shop, though it may have gone back further than we could see from the front windows. The shelves we could see looked like a nicely curated selection, including some Vermont-specific books. We'll have to check it out more closely next time.

Vermont is definitely a great destination for book lovers! Its quaint small towns are filled with independent bookstores...and good food, too! Vermont is also known for its focus on local, fresh food, so we had some wonderful meals there - look for upcoming Weekend Cooking features here on some of our favorite Vermont restaurants.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TV Tuesday: The Fall

I am just back from a week in Vermont with my husband - camping, enjoying Vermont's quaint towns, visiting bookstores, great food, and of course, lots of down time for reading! Since our sons left for college, and my husband and I are now often traveling on our own, we have established a new habit when camping. In the evening, we watch a TV episode on DVD on my laptop in our pop-up camper (before we go to bed for reading time). We've been working our way through Dexter, since we have all the seasons of that show on DVD (we gave them to my son years ago). You can read my review of the show at the link. We are now up to season 3.

Back here at home, in between the spring and summer network TV seasons, we've been enjoying some streaming shows, most recently The Fall, a very dark and creepy Irish detective show.

Gillian Anderson (of X-Files fame) stars as Stella Gibson, a cold-seeming Detective Superintendent who's been sent to Belfast to review a case involving the murder of a young woman whose father is a prominent businessman in the community. While she's there, another murder occurs, and Stella realizes there is a serial killer on the loose. Stella works the cases along with the local detectives, and in the first episode, we see a very different side of Stella as she boldly invites another detective back to her hotel room for a passionate night.

Meanwhile, viewers also see things from the perspective of the serial killer, Paul Spector, a seemingly normal family man who lives with his wife, a nurse who works in the NICU, and two small children. He's an affectionate father at home but goes out at night and murders women in cold-blood, often posing their dead bodies in intimate ways. As Stella and the police force collect clues and get closer to Paul, his very controlled life starts to get more and more unbalanced, as his two lives threaten to collide.

This is a dark and compelling show, with a seriously high creep factor! To see Paul murder a woman and then, hours later, hug his little girl and tuck her into bed is absolutely chilling. Stella becomes more and more obsessed with the case, and Paul begins to pay attention to her as well. This show is unusual for a detective show, in that it involves a single case spread over time, rather than a new case in each episode (reminding me a bit of The Missing). The tension builds as Stella gets closer to identifying Paul, and Paul becomes more desperate to fulfill his sick needs and stay away from the police. The cast is all excellent, especially Gillian Anderson, with her cool exterior hiding a passionate center and Jamie Dornan as the super-creepy Paul. We also enjoyed seeing Archie Panjabi (aka Kalinda from The Good Wife) as the medical examiner.

As is typical with shows from the UK and Ireland, the seasons are short (just 5 episodes in the first season). We are into the second season now and are totally hooked...though we often watch The Fall first and then something a bit lighter before bed! All three seasons are available on Netflix or you can get the first two seasons on Amazon streaming for $1.99 an episode or $8.99 a season or on DVD (links below).

Have you seen The Fall yet?  Which detective shows do you enjoy?