Monday, July 31, 2017

Movie Monday: Extortion

We actually saw two movies this weekend! Friday evening, my husband brought home a DVD from Redbox (woohoo - Friday!) - a thriller called Extortion. Neither of us had heard of it before, but it turned out to be a taut, tension-filled thriller about a family vacation gone wrong.

Kevin Riley, played by Eion Bailey, is a doctor and seems like a nice guy. He is taking a break from work (though still making last-minute calls about his patients) and taking his beautiful wife, Julie, played by Bethany Joy Lenz, and their adorable son, Andy, on a vacation to a gorgeous resort on a Caribbean island. They arrive, and the place looks idyllic - aqua-colored water, golden sands, palm trees waving in the breeze. Andy is very excited to try Jet Skis, but they are all booked when Kevin checks, so he decides to rent a boat instead. Those are all booked at the resort, too, but the rental clerk tells Kevin he can also rent a boat from a local down the beach. So, Kevin hands over $200 to a random local man in exchange for a very no-frills looking motor boat, and the family of three set off on their own into the ocean with no means of navigation. What could go wrong?

The answer, of course, is everything. Not only is the family stranded on a deserted island miles off-shore, but they are rescued by a fisherman, played by Barkhad Abdi, who was so good in Captain Phillips as a Somalian pirate. He sees a golden opportunity in this desperate wealthy American family, and as the name of the film suggests, extorts from Kevin a very large sum of money in return for not letting his family die of thirst and exposure. Things go from bad to worse, as they generally do in these movies. Eventually, Constable Haagen, the town's police chief played by Danny Glover, gets involved in the case, but even that doesn't go well for poor Kevin.

This is a classic vacation disaster film: your basic Gilligan's Island 3-hour tour gone wrong times 100. There were lots of holes in the plot (like WHY did this family go out for 3 hours on a boat and bring nothing with them?), but we tried to ignore those and just go along for the ride. And it is an exciting ride - a rollercoaster of ups and downs (mostly downs) and unexpected twists and turns. If you're looking for action and adventure, there is plenty of suspense and tension here to keep you holding your breath until the very last frames. If you can just suspend disbelief a bit, it's a very fast-paced and entertaining movie.

Extortion is now out on DVD and is available on streaming through Amazon (as low as $3.99). It is not available on Netflix.

It's Monday 7/31! What Are You Reading?

Wow, August starts tomorrow...and the summer continues to fly by! This is medical appointment week, with several crammed in. Last week was a rocky one. My car was stalling every few minutes, which made running errands VERY challenging! That same day, trying to get out to the farm to pick up our weekly veggies as quickly as possible (because of the car), I discovered that all of the roads leading to the farm were closed for construction after severe flooding. It took us 4 tries over 2 days to finally get out there and get our produce!

Now, my car is in the shop - it wasn't anything too serious, but with a 25-year old car, there is always a wait for parts to come in. We did have some time this weekend (finally at home with no travel!) to get caught up a bit around the house...though we had to set our long to-do lists aside yesterday when we discovered water in our basement, for the first time in our 22 years in this house. That would be from the same storms that closed all the rural roads around here.

Fresh start this morning, with the basement drying out, my car hopefully back to me soon, and a slightly less harried week ahead (I hope!). As always, books are our comfort! Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I am still re-reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.This is a two-for-one book for me - it works for my own Big Book Summer Challenge (see below) and also for my 2017 Classics Challenge, which I am really failing so far! I last read (and loved) this classic novel in my early 20's, so I don't remember much of it and am enjoying it so far. It is still just as good!
  • I forgot to mention last week that I'd read a middle-grade graphic novel, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke, sequel to Mighty Jack. It was just as good as the first book, an inventive modern fairy-tale with plenty of action and suspense.
  • I finished listening to A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, a middle-grade novel on audio about a boy with autism. It was just as good as I'd heard - smart, warm, and funny.
  • I just uploaded a new audio book onto my iPod, The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler, an adult novel about two boys who become friends at a Boy Scout Camp in the 1960's and the paths their lives and friendship take over the ensuing decades. I heard good things about this novel when it first came out, so I am looking forward to listening to it.
  • My husband, Ken, finished one of my review books, Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford, part of the Spike Sanguinetti series. He enjoyed it - more than most, he said - and is interested in reading more of the series.
  • Now, Ken is reading a book I gave him for Father's Day from Northshire Bookstore in Vermont...but I can't tell you the title of it! He took it with him this morning (he also had a medical appt with his father). I'll fill you in next week.
  • Jamie, 22, loved Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, book 1 of the series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, so much that as soon as he finished it, he immediately went to a local used bookstore and bought book 2, Deadhouse Gates, and started it!
Blog posts last week:
TV Tuesday: Master of None - a smart, funny, insightful show on Netflix

Middle-Grade Review: Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart - suspenseful & poignant

Fiction Review: Shift by Hugh Howey - book 2 in an amazing series!

Saturday Snapshot: Lake Ontario Sunset - pics from a recent visit to Lake Ontario

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 still have more than a month (until September 4) 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)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saturday Snapshot 7/29: Lake Ontario Sunset

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

I haven't posted on Saturday for a while because we have been very busy, with grown sons home for the summer, family stuff, and travel. We made two trips to New York State on two consecutive weekends. I love my home state (I grew up in Rochester) because it is filled with so much natural beauty! On our first trip, we traveled north - far north! - for my 30th college reunion. I went to Clarkson University, which is in Potsdam, NY, a small town north of the Adirondacks and close to the Canadian border.

On our way to Potsdam, we stopped at Selkirk Shores State Park for the night (we always travel with our pop-up camper) and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario:

A Seagull Convention at Dusk

Selkirk Shores State Park, NY

I love all the multi-colored rocks

A peaceful evening at Selkirk Shores SP

Beautiful sunset over Lake Ontario

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fiction Review: Shift

Two years ago, I read and reviewed Wool by Hugh Howey, a post-apocalyptic novel that several of my friends had insisted I must read. They were right. Both my husband and I loved the unique novel, so even though I rarely read series, last month I read book 2, Shift, as my second Big Book Summer Challenge book. I was once again pulled into this intriguing world and compelling story. In fact, it was so compulsively readable that I’m going to read the third and final book, Dust, in August.

The full story behind this series only very slowly, gradually comes to light over the course of the three books, so I will tiptoe carefully around the plot, as I did in my review of Wool. Throughout that first novel, you never really know when it is taking place, only that it seems to be far in the future, many generations after some sort of apocalypse forced humans down into a huge underground silo. Shift does not pick up where Wool ended, but it does tell you exactly when the action is taking place. The narrative shifts back and forth between 2049 in Washington, DC, in a world that is pretty close to the one we live in today, and 2110, down inside a silo (but in a world that seems a bit different than the one depicted in Wool).

The novel begins by setting up its premise with two unusual – but absolutely true – events and discoveries that took place in 2007:
In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate.

That same year, CBS re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event.

At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind had discovered the means to bring about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened.

Though those are the opening paragraphs of the novel, I looked them up, and they are real – both of those discoveries were indeed reported in 2007. You can read about CAN and its discovery of using nanobiotech for medical uses and about the use of propranolol to prevent PTSD (that one freaked me out since I take propranolol every night for my chronic illness to help keep my blood pressure and heart rate stable!). So, these real-life facts form the basis for this novel, though it’s not immediately apparent how they are relevant.

In the 2110 chapters, we are introduced to a character named Troy who has been in a cryogenically frozen state and has just been awakened for his “shift.” Waking like that is a difficult, even traumatic, process. Troy is immediately given bitter pills to take, with the implication that they will help him forget painful memories.

Back in 2049, Congressman Donald Keene is newly elected from Georgia, just starting his first term in Washington. He is called to the office of Senator Paul Thurman, along with other freshman congressional representatives. Most of the others are nervous to meet this oldest and most powerful Senator, but he is an old family friend of Donald’s. The meeting, however, is a strange one that ends with a very unusual assignment for Donald…and lots of questions.

All of that happens in just the first few pages of the novel – to tell any more of the plot would spoil all the wonderful twists and turns. I am also trying to avoid spoiling Wool, for those who have not yet read the first book. Throughout much of Shift, it is hard to see exactly how its action and characters and that of Wool connect, though the eagerness to see how the two plots come together provides some of suspense in this second novel. I ended up digging out our copy of Wool and re-reading some key parts at the end.

Like Wool, Shift is an intriguing – perhaps even mind-blowing – premise that only gradually becomes clear. Meanwhile, while you’re waiting for the underlying plot to be revealed (basically, how the silo in book 1 came to be), the characters and the action in both timelines pull you into the story. You become invested in these characters, wanting things to turn out OK for them, all the while knowing that is not likely. Shift contains all the same elements that made Wool so compelling: a unique post-apocalyptic story and setting, in-depth characters, human drama, interesting science, and plenty of suspense. It is an immersive, captivating novel, and those 500+ pages go by fast…and leave you wanting more. I can’t wait to get started on book 3, Dust, which my husband just finished reading.

570 pages, Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

by  Wayne W. DyerTrade Paperback

 Or order from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT.

Or purchase Shift from Book Depository.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: Scar Island

Last year, I read and enjoyed both Some Kind of Courage and The Honest Truth (my favorite) by Dan Gemeinhart, so I was excited to hear that he had a new novel released this year. I listened to Scar Island on audio last month and enjoyed this suspenseful but poignant story.

Jonathan Grisby has done something terrible (exactly what is not clear) and has been sent to the unique Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. Slabhenge is located by itself on an island, and when the small boat drops Jonathan off there, he feels that he deserves this stark, gloomy-looking place that resembles a crumbling medieval fortress. The Admiral, who runs Slabhenge, outlines for Jonathan what is ahead: months of hard work, little food, and poor living conditions among his fellow inmates. Jonathan is ready to accept his punishment.

Soon, though, disaster befalls Slabhenge, and all of the adults running the place are killed, leaving the boys on their own. Jonathan, who does not want to return home even if it is possible, convinces the other boys not to tell anyone off-island by emphasizing that they will be on their own and can do anything they want. A cruel bully named Sebastian quickly takes over leadership of the group, though, and soon their freedom has again been curtailed. It’s not nearly as much fun as most of them envisioned.

A meek boy named Colin, who talks with a lisp, befriends Jonathan, and we begin to get glimpses into Jonathan’s past and the horrible thing that happened. Jonathan also begins to explore the distant corners of Slabhenge and makes some surprising discoveries. Suspense builds as the reader wonders whether the “good” kids will ever be able to regain control from Sebastian and his gang. When a huge storm hits the island, tension is cranked up even further.

Despite its dark themes, Scar Island is often a fun novel, with its fast pace, moderate suspense, and a nice dose of humor (which I always appreciate). In fact, at first, listening to the audio (sample below), I thought that perhaps it was just going to be all silliness, with the outrageous character of the Admiral in charge. Soon, though, its emotional depth becomes apparent, as hints of Jonathan’s past and what put him in Slabhenge are gradually revealed. Later in the story, literature – specifically classic adventure novels like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe – plays a significant role in the book, which made me like it even more.

I suspected this would be a modern take on The Lord of the Flies (another novel mentioned here) – and it is, to some extent – but fortunately, it has far more heart than that very dark classic. Young readers will love the adventure, suspense, and action, but it also has plenty of warmth and even humor to round it out and give it depth. I enjoyed listening to this exciting story and was rooting for Jonathan and the other boys to come out victorious in the end. The Honest Truth is still my favorite Gemeinhart novel, but Scar Island was very entertaining.

256 pages, Scholastic

(You can hear a free sample of the audio and order it from Audible at the Amazon link below)

Scar Island
by John BoydHardcover

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

TV Tuesday: Master of None

A year or two ago, I watched a couple of episodes of Master of None, a Netflix comedy, enjoyed it, and then got caught up in other shows and kind of forgot about it. I recently came back to it and ended up watching all of the first season episodes in quick succession and moving onto season two. It's a smart, funny comedy that is different from most.

Aziz Ansari, an actor and comedian who was on Parks & Recreation, plays a 30-year old Indian American actor (basically himself) living in New York. When he's not meeting with his agent, going on auditions, and taking bit parts in ads and movies, he hangs out with his friends: Arnold, a very tall guy played by Eric Wareheim; Brian, an Asian-American played by Kelvin Yu; and Denise, a black lesbian played by Lena Waithe. Think of of Master of None as a more diverse version of Seinfeld. Like that famed sitcom, there is plenty of amusing banter among friends and funny discussions about trivial things in their lives.

What really sets Master of None apart from other sitcoms, though, is its cleverness and how it delves into important issues in our world that are seldom talked about openly - all while making you laugh. In season one, episode four deals with the racism Dev encounters every day in his acting career, as someone like him of Indian descent (even though he is 100% American) is only offered parts as a convenience store owner, an IT guy, or "the Indian friend." He and his friends sit in a bar talking about how many black people are allowed on a show before it is considered "a black show." It's achingly honest but also hilarious. In episode seven, Dev and the other males have an eye-opening discussion with the women at their table about how they are treated in everyday life, and how their experiences are completely different than those of the males.

I love the honesty and wit of this wonderful show. After watching a few episodes, I was hooked and just wanted to watch all of them! I just finished watching the first episode of season 2 today, which is a unique show, filmed in black and white, chronicling Dev's adventures in Italy, with the feel of an old-time movie. Ansari is warm and endearing as Dev, and the supporting cast is all great, too. Aziz's real-life parents play his parents on the show! Although it is a comedy, it is also a moving drama, following Dev and his friends through relationship ups and downs, career mishaps, and family challenges, with plenty of laughs along the way.

Master of None is a Netflix original program, so it is available for streaming exclusively on Netflix. Seasons 1 and 2 are currently available there. Season 1 is also available on DVD (and season 2 will follow). I hope there will be a season 3!

Monday, July 24, 2017

It's Monday 7/24! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another packed-full week! 'Tis the season! We took another trip to NY state this weekend, this time to my hometown of Rochester, to visit my step-mother and go to my cousin's graduation party. It was a very short, whirlwind trip - we arrived about 7 pm Friday and left at 8 am Sunday, with two long days of 8 hours in the car on either end! But it was great to see our family and catch up with everyone. There were some cousins at the graduation party that we usually only see at weddings, funerals, and graduation parties! So, lots of fun but also completely exhausting for me.

One of my several birthday treats this weekend!
Oh, and my 52nd birthday was yesterday (yup, spent in the car mostly!), so I also went on a total sugar binge this weekend, with a birthday cake AND an ice cream birthday pie on Saturday, plus extra servings of Abbott's frozen custard (an amazing concoction that originated in Rochester). It was more sugar than I've eaten in the past six months (due to medical problems), so that helped me to feel more exhausted, too...but SO worth it! ha ha Now we are back home - for a while, hopefully - and catching up.
An AMAZING ice cream pie from Abbott's
So, our reading time was limited last week, but we still enjoyed our books:
  • I finished I Am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. I've wanted to read this one for a long time and am glad to finally have the chance. It's been great - fascinating and engrossing - a memoir about a young girl's childhood in Pakistan, her campaign to support girls' education, and the Taliban's shooting of her. Unfortunately, our book group was cancelled last week (in part because I wasn't feeling well enough to manage it), but I am still hoping for a chance to discuss it soon!
  • Now, I am reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I decided on a two-for-one book - this one works for my own Big Book Summer Challenge (see below) and also for my 2017 Classics Challenge, which I am really failing so far! I last read (and loved) this classic novel in my early 20's, so I don't remember much of it and am enjoying it so far.
  • I finished listening to Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin, a YA audio book about a teen girl in a Jewish family in Norway during WWII. I know, I keep saying no more WWII stories, but there are so many in my backlog and so many different angles! In this case, the angle is a story from Norway, which was occupied by the Nazis but not the scene of fighting. It was very good...but now I really am done with WWII novels for a while!
  • Today, I will start a new audio, A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, a new (relatively - I am always a bit behind) middle-grade novel about a boy with autism. I've heard great things about this book, so I am looking forward to it (and no war!).
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading one of my review books, Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford, part of the Spike Sanguinetti series. Not sure yet what he thinks of this thriller/detective series.
  • Jamie, 22, finished Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, book 1 of the series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen in the car yesterday (lucky boy - he can read in the car!) It's an epic fantasy of the type he loves that he picked out at his favorite used bookstore recently. He enjoyed it and wants to read more of the series. Not sure if he has started another book yet.
 Last week's blog posts: 
Movie Monday: The Dressmaker - a quirky, dark satire set in 1950's Australia

TV Tuesday: Sense8 - an intriguing supernatural show

Teen/YA Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - action-packed fantasy

Fiction Review: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf - warm, gentle story of aging and love

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)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fiction Review: Our Souls at Night

I have never read a novel by Kent Haruf before (though I’ve had Plainsong on my shelf for years), so I was thrilled when my neighborhood book group chose his last book, Our Souls at Night, for our June selection. This slim novel is a gentle, poignant story about aging, friendship, and love that we all enjoyed.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbors in the small town of Holt, CO, for many years, though they don’t know each other very well. So, it’s quite a surprise when Addie stops by Louis’ house one May evening with a very unusual proposal. They both lost their spouses (Addie was actually friends with Louis’ wife) years ago and live alone now. Addie says the nights are the worst for loneliness and asks Louis if he would come over and sleep with her at night…no, not that kind of “sleep with”! She is just lonely during the long nights and wants someone to lie next to her, someone to talk to.

Although Louis worries about what people will think, he agrees because he is lonely, too. He walks two doors over to Addie’s house that first night, with his pajamas and a toothbrush in a brown paper bag, and goes back home in the morning. It’s a bit awkward at first, but they soon get used to each other’s company, settle into a routine, and begin to get to know each other better. As Louis suspected, people in their small town do gossip, but Addie says she doesn’t care, and soon Louis adopts her attitude, too. Unfortunately, their grown children do care and are appalled.

This is a warm, gentle, achingly sweet story about reaching for happiness later in life, at a time when it seems like those days are behind you. It’s a brief story – less than 200 pages – that captures that magical summer after Addie’s outrageous proposal. Although Addie and Louis soon grow fond of each other, things aren’t easy for them, and several challenges pop up, some of which they may not be able to overcome. My favorite scenes in the book were with Addie’s grandson, where the three of them, plus a shelter dog and an elderly neighbor, form a makeshift family. Their adventures together made me smile.

Everyone in my neighborhood book group enjoyed this unique novel, and we had plenty to discuss – about aging, loneliness, being a widow, and happiness at any age. It’s a seemingly simple story that has great emotional depth, and it touched all of us. Haruf’s writing is exquisite – spare yet illuminating – and Addie and Louis truly come to life in these short pages. After reading this quiet yet beautiful and moving novel, I am eager to read the rest of Haruf’s novels, especially those set in Holt. I need to find Plainsong on my shelf and dust it off!

179 pages, Alfred A. Knopf 

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


Listen to a sample of the lovely audiobook here, from the start of the book, and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local:    

Or purchase Our Souls At Night from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Teen/YA Review: The Scorpio Races

I am a big fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s YA novels, though I tried them reluctantly because I don’t normally read much fantasy. However, I ended up loving Shiver and The Raven Cycle and read all of the books in both series. With my Big Book Summer Challenge as extra incentive, I finally read her earlier novel that I missed, The Scorpio Races, last month. I didn’t love it quite as well as her other novels, but I did end up enjoying this unique action-packed fantasy.

The novel takes place on a fictional island called Thisby, which seems to be maybe off the coast of Ireland and is rural, with a small town called Skarmouth. The island would be mostly forgettable except that it harbors an animal found nowhere else: capaill uisce or water horses. These unique creatures are horses that live in the ocean most of the year. The other thing that sets them apart from regular horses is their violence and blood lust, which peaks on November 1, a time of year when they are drawn onto the island of Thisby and eager for the blood of other horses or humans.

Other than this one fantastical element, life on Thisby is pretty normal stuff most of the year, though the water horses do play a role in some people’s lives. There are those on the island who train them and those who ride them in the annual Scorpio Races on the beach on November 1 (and those who bet on the race). The entire island is focused on preparing for the month of October when mainlanders come to Thisby for the excitement of the upcoming race.

Sean Kendrick is one of those who trains water horses. His own father was killed (gruesomely) in the Scorpio Races nine years ago, when Sean was just 10 years old. Despite that, Sean loves the ocean and loves the capaill uisce, especially Corr, a huge, red water horse stallion that he loves to ride and wishes he owned. He has won the Scorpio Races for the past two years on Corr, but for now, he is stuck working for a wealthy man who owns a huge stable where he helps to train both regular horses and water horses.

Puck Connelly is a spirited teen girl who lives with her two brothers, Finn and Gabe, in their ramshackle family home. The three of them were orphaned when both of their parents were killed by a capall uisce that attacked their fishing boat. Gabe, the oldest, works hard, and they sell handmade teapots to tourists, but they are barely scraping by. When their situation becomes even more precarious, Puck decides to ride in the Scorpio Races, to try to win the prize money to both save their home and keep Gabe on the island. The problem? Besides the high chance of injury or death, Puck is also the first girl to ever run the races, and many traditionalists on Thisby are not happy about her participation.

I have to admit that this novel didn’t grab me immediately; it was more of a slow build for me. I was a bit put off by the violence at first. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t normally read a lot of fantasy, so I wasn’t sure about this strange world on Thisby. But, like her other novels, Stiefvater has set a fantasy element – the water horses, in this case – in the midst of a normal-feeling world, which I tend to like better than wholly made-up fantasy worlds. By about the halfway point, I was fully engaged in the story, rooting for both Puck and Sean (though they obviously can’t both win), and eagerly reading to find out what would happen next.

 I connected with the characters right from the start: both Sean and Puck are multi-faceted and likeable, and the supporting characters feel real, too. As in Stiefvater’s other novels, there is plenty of adventure, action, suspense, and even a bit of romance. If you can get past the violence, The Scorpio Races is a fast-paced and exciting read for teens and young adults (and grown-ups, too!).

401 pages, Scholastic

The Scorpio Races
by Maggie StiefvaterTrade Paperback

 Or Purchase from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:

Or Purchase The Scorpio Races from Book Depository.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

TV Tuesday: Sense8

Our 22-year old son was home for a while when the college semester ended, and we had finished up our spring TV show together (Colony and Travelers) and were waiting for our summer show (Orphan Black!!) to start, so we were searching for something new that he, my husband, and I could all enjoy together. We settled on Sense8, a Netflix show, and quickly got hooked on its intriguing supernatural premise.

The first episode or two of Sense8 is a bit confusing (but stick with it) because a lot of different characters are introduced and there is no connection between them at first. Sun, played by Doona Bae, is a young professional woman in South Korea whose father doesn't recognize her accomplishments because she is female. Jamie Clayton plays Nomi, a trans woman living happily in San Francisco with her partner when things go terribly wrong on Pride Day and she ends up in the hospital. Kala, played by Tina Desai, is a beautiful Indian woman engaged to a very eligible bachelor who she is not certain she is in love with. Riley Blue, played by Tuppence Middleton, is a blue-haired DJ in London who may be in too deep with her drug dealing boyfriend. Max Riemelt plays Wolgang, a young German man struggling with his background as the son of a criminal. Miguel Angel Silvestre plays Lito, a handsome Brazilian actor who is a sex symbol on screen but harbors his own secret in his private life. Will, played by Brian J. Smith, is a practical-minded cop in Chicago who can't make sense of what he's just seen. Finally, Capheus, played by Aml Ameen, is a matatu (van) driver in Nairobi, a jovial man known as Van Damme for his obsession with the actor (and his colorful van's motif) whose mother is seriously ill.

Whew - see what I mean about confusing at first? But within a couple of episodes, you get to know each of these characters better. All eight of them see the same vision at the start of episode one, of a woman, played by Darryl Hannah, in a churchyard. Gradually, after that, they each begin to see the world through one of the other eight's eyes, seemingly transporting through time and space to a world very different from their own. In this way, they begin to become aware of each other, especially when one of them is in trouble or in danger.

We have watched 4 episodes so far, and it is more and more engrossing. Exactly what gifts and powers the eight disparate people possess is still somewhat of a mystery - to the viewers and to the eight "sensates" themselves - but we want to see more to find out what unfolds. Single sentence summaries of the show indicate that there are powerful people who want to stop these eight, but we haven't gotten to that point yet in the plot.

The multi-cultural cast are all very good, and you quickly form a bond with all eight sensates, seeing their challenges and flaws as well as their talents. The action moves around from one character (and one place) to another, but quite soon, they begin interacting with each other, as the story becomes more intricate. I hope I haven't made it sound too complicated because by the end of the second episode, you have a good idea who each character is and how he or she lives. The show also has a wonderful soundtrack (see Amazon link below), and after episode 4, you will be singing "What's Up" for weeks (we were!).

Sense8 is a Netflix original program, so it is available exclusively on Netflix. I see that the first season has 12 episodes, and there are already two seasons on Netflix, so I can't wait to see what happens next! Note that Netflix just announced last month that the show has been cancelled after its second season, with possibly a single 3rd season episode finale in 2018 to wrap things up.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Monday: The Dressmaker

Last week, I reviewed a movie I watched while my husband was away recently: Me Before You, based on the best-selling novel. That same week, I watched another movie that is a book adaptation: The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet.

Kate plays Tilly Dunnage, a woman in the 1950's returning for the first time in decades to the small, rural town in Australia where she grew up. It's a tiny, insular town where everyone knows everyone else's business. When Tilly arrives, she finds her mother, Molly (played by Judy Davis) in terrible shape: physically frail, barely cognizant and living in squalor. Tilly, always beautifully dressed and in full make-up, sets to work clearing out and cleaning up the decrepit house. It immediately becomes obvious that Tilly is not well-liked in the town, as townspeople gossip about her return and some dark secret from the past about why she left.

Tilly ignores the gossip and not only takes care of her mother but sets up shop as a dressmaker. She worked in fashion houses in Paris and Milan, so she brings haute couture to the Outback and transforms the plain women of the town, one by one. She is extremely talented and is soon a much-revered dressmaker, though the townspeople still gossip. Details of Tilly's childhood, the reason why she left, and the reason behind her cool reception in town gradually become clear. Tilly really has only one ally in town besides her mother: the handsome Teddy (played by Liam Hemsworth), whose family are also outcasts in town.

Tilly and Teddy become closer, as details of Tilly's and the town's history are slowly revealed, and the women of the town become more and more glamorous. Tilly is not one to forgive and forget, though, and as she remembers how various townspeople wronged her as a child, she plots revenge against each of them.

The tone of this movie is much different than I expected. Rather than a straightforward drama, there is actually a good bit of dark humor and satire here. Yes, there is also tragedy and sorrow, but often there is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the story. Colors in the film are super-bright and vibrant (especially after Tilly dresses the town's women in gorgeous fabrics) in contrast to the dull sameness of the surrounding countryside and decrepit town. The seemingly sweet story of the transformation of the town's women is underlaid with the dark backstory and Tilly's behind-the-scenes scheming. I was pleasantly surprised by the dark humor and enjoyed the film overall. Kate Winslet is wonderful in it, as are her supporting cast, including Hugo Weaving as the flamboyant, cross-dressing town police officer, who is thrilled with Tilly's fashion sense.

The Dressmaker is currently available on DVD and is available for streaming free for Amazon Prime members (or $3.99 to rent or $12.99 to purchase for non-Prime members). It is only available on DVD through Netflix.


It's Monday 7/17! What Are You Reading?

Is it really July 17th already? How is that possible? We spent the past 4 days traveling up to northern NY state (the town of Potsdam) for my 30th reunion at Clarkson University. Except we didn't actually set foot on campus! I spent all my time at my old sorority house, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and laughing a LOT. Lots of old stories floating around, but we also got laughing when we realized we were chatting about colonoscopies and menopause - times change! It was really great to see my old friends, and my husband and I traveled with our camper, so we enjoyed some nice days in gorgeous NY state parks, too (plus a fair amount of rain). We ended up driving back all in one day (which is a lot) and got home last night.
Me with 3 of my fellow '87 graduates on our porch!
So, lots of socializing this weekend, but we always find time for books, too! Here's what we've been reading:
  • I am still reading my only summer book group book, I Am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. I've wanted to read this one for a long time and am glad to finally have the chance. It's been great - fascinating and engrossing - about a young girl's childhood in Pakistan, her campaign to support girls' education, and the Taliban's shooting of her. I will probably finish it tonight.
  • I am still listening to Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin, a YA audio book about a teen girl in a Jewish family in Norway during WWII (I know, I keep saying no more WWII stories, but there are so many in my backlog and so many different angles!). At the start of the novel, the war hasn't really affected her and her family yet, but that is starting to change now.
  • On our road trip, my husband and I finished 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 (known as Sapiens) have resisted the alien invasion and continue to fight against them. We both enjoyed it - a classic sci fi story with plenty of action and suspense.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading Dust by Hugh Howey, book 3 in the Wool series, which I am dying to read! I just finished book 2, Shift, last month and want to read this one next, while the first two books are still fresh in my mind. This is Ken's 2nd Big Book of the Summer, and will be my third!
  • Now, Ken is reading one of my review books, Thousand Cuts by Thomas Mogford, part of the Spike Sanguinetti series. He's just started it, so no word yet on how he likes this thriller/detective series.
  • Jamie, 22, is still reading Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, book 1 of the series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's an epic fantasy of the type he loves that he picked out at his favorite used bookstore recently. He says it's great so far.
 Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Me Before You - a romance based on the best-selling novel

TV Tuesday: Fleabag - funny, moving, outrageous British dramedy

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)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TV Tuesday: Fleabag

With my husband and sons out of town two weeks ago, I had a quiet five days to myself at home, so I wanted to indulge in some "me time," enjoying something new on TV. I discovered Fleabag, a short British Amazon series. It looked like a funny, sexy comedy - perhaps along the lines of Chewing Gum (which I loved) - but it turned out to also have plenty of depth to it.

Fleabag is adapted from an award-winning play, and its lead actress, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, starred in and wrote both the play and the TV series. She plays an unnamed single woman, living in London, looking for love, and caught up in the crises of her daily life. Her sister, Claire, is seemingly perfect, married to a handsome American, thin and pretty, and with a life that seems perfectly put together. Though they don't have a lot in common, the two sisters do sometimes come together, in grieving for their mother, being disgusted by their inappropriately blunt stepmother (who was/is godmother to the narrator), and rolling their eyes about their inept father.

The narrator, who I guess can be referred to as Fleabag, also has an on-again, off-again relationship with a boring guy named Harry and a string of hilarious encounters (during the off periods) with other guys, including a man she meets on the bus who has teeth like a rabbit and a late-night booty call in the first episode who wants anal sex. Shortly into the first season, we also find out that Fleabag recently lost her best friend and business partner in an accident, which suddenly puts everything else into perspective and adds a significant layer of emotional depth.

The first season is only six half-hour episodes long (as is more the norm in the UK), but there is a lot packed into those three hours of television. Fleabag often looks directly into the camera to share an aside with the audience (or sometimes, just a look that says it all), again reminding me of Chewing Gum. The overall result here is a fascinating main character with interesting supporting characters, moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity, and moments of quiet introspection, too. It's the life of a modern woman, with all of its complexities and challenges (and more laughs than in a typical life!). This mix of humor and real-life emotion reminds me very much of another British Amazon show that my husband and I enjoy, Catastrophe. Just watching the trailer (below) reminded me again of how much I enjoyed this funny, moving, outrageous show - and it's perfect for binging.

The 6 episodes of season 1 are available on Amazon Prime. I was very excited to see that a season 2 is planned for 2018 - I can't wait!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Movie Monday: Me Before You

My husband was away for a week recently, and my sons were on vacation, so I had five days all to myself! A couple of evenings, I watched movies - choosing girly movies that the rest of my male household would never watch with me.  On my first evening alone, I chose Me Before You, a movie adaptation of a novel by JoJo Moyes I have wanted to read for years.

Me Before You is a sweet romance (that's why my husband and sons wouldn't be interested in it!). Sam Claflin plays ruggedly handsome, wealthy Will. At the start of the story, Will is at the top of his game - happy, successful, and engaged to a beautiful woman. On the other side of town, Lou, played by the adorable Emilia Clarke, lives in her childhood bedroom in her parents' house, to help them out. When she loses her job at the local cafe, the whole family is worried about the loss of her income.

Lou finally finds a new job at the huge castle in town (this is England). The wealthy Traynors are looking for a companion to help with their son, who was paralyzed in an accident. You guessed it - that scruffy-looking guy in the wheelchair is Will, but now he is sullen and depressed about the turn his life has taken. He has a muscular physical therapist/caregiver to help with the big stuff, but Will's parents want Lou to spend time with their son, to keep him company and get him re-engaged with life.

The plot from that point on is pretty predictable, but it's still an emotional movie and surprisingly fun. Much of the fun comes from Lou herself, who dresses in bright primary colors, wild patterns, and often wears her hair in braids or little pigtails. She is full of life, always smiling, and a good foil to Will's dark moods. She comes up with a plan to try to show Will that his life can still be full of joy and worthwhile.

As I said, the plotline isn't terribly surprising, but the story is well-executed, warm, and fun. The two main actors are both charismatic and engaging and pull you into their story. I recall hearing some complaints from fans of the novel when the movie first came out, but I can't speak to that since I didn't read the book. I did have one problem with the movie - its ending. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but suffice to say here that complaints from disabled people about the movie's ending and its message are definitely valid. Generally, though, up until that point, I enjoyed it. It made me smile and laugh and - yes, I cried, too. It was a mostly entertaining evening, though I would have preferred a different ending.

Me Before You is currently available on DVD and streaming on Amazon (free for Prime members; others can rent it for $2.99).