Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Christmas & After

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

Hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing holiday season with friends and family! Last week, I posted some of our holiday prep photos - today, the main event itself. Here are a few pics of how we celebrated Christmas and beyond this week:

Our son (in the kimono!) had to work Xmas Eve, so we ate at the restaurant where he works.

Christmas morning - never too old for stockings!

Christmas morning - the "before" picture!

Family visited for Christmas dinner

The results of our annual Cookie/Grinch Party with old friends!
The "kids" with the cookies - all grown up now!

....the same kids (plus a few extra) back in 2000 at the cookie party!
Snow this morning - very pretty, but it's been in the teens and 20's (F) all week!

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Pashmina

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani is a unique graphic novel for older middle-grade readers and teens that combines fantasy and realistic fiction to explore a young girl's desire to know more about where she comes from.

Priyanka is a typical teen girl in many ways: she is learning to drive, she works hard in school, she is bullied by mean girls, and she enjoys hanging out in her room and drawing. But Pri listens to a Bollywood mix while she draws, enjoys going out with her Uncle Jatin for samosas after school, and has a small shrine in her house to the goddess Shakti. Pri's mother and uncle were both born in India and moved to California many years ago. It bothers Pri that she knows so little about her mother's background, their family history in India, or even who her father is - all topics that her mother refuses to discuss. Her frustration turns to fascination, though, when Pri opens an old suitcase of her mother's to find a magic pashmina (a large scarf or shawl) - when she wraps it around her shoulders, she seems to be transported to India, where she looks around at the exotic surroundings. When Pri wins a cash award for her comics, she begs her mother to let her go to India in person and visit it for real. Pri goes on the trip and meets an aunt she never knew before and finally learns some answers about who she is and where she came from.
Pages from Pashmina
This is a wonderful story about struggling with your identity and figuring out who you are. The illustrations, drawn by the author, are beautiful, with a Wizard of Oz-like switch from the black and white pictures of Pri's everyday life at home and in school to gorgeous, full-color pictures when she wears the magic pashmina. Her journey takes her across the world but also inside her own history, and she learns the secret of the pashmina and its history along the way. It's a warm, engaging story that is both exotic and completely relatable.

167 pages, First Second (with a glossary at the end)

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

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

Purchase Pashmina from your favorite indie bookstore:
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Or order Pashmina through Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fiction Review: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

After finishing my Nonfiction November, I returned to fiction, starting with a 1940 classic, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, for a read-along hosted by the Book Cougars podcast, created by two women who've been to the same two Booktopias that I went to. I enjoyed this classic southern novel that centers on a small Georgia town in the late 1930's.

The novel focuses in on five very different characters in the town. John Singer is a deaf-mute who is heart-broken when his best friend and soul mate (and a fellow deaf-mute who knows sign language) moves away. Singer becomes a focal point for the other four major characters, who each come to talk to him in his rented room, finding him a very good listener (perhaps because he can't talk back!). Biff Brannon runs the local cafe with his wife and often stands silently at the front counter, observing his customers eating, drinking, and chatting. One of those customers is Jake Blount, who is new to town. Jake gets a job at the local carnival running and maintaining the rides, but his true passion is labor organization, and he is often heard ranting about the unfairness workers are subjected to and quoting Marx. Twelve-year old Mick Kelly is also a frequent visitor to the cafe during her long, nighttime walks around town. Her parents own the boarding house where John Singer lives, and Mick dreams of a life filled with music. Finally, Dr. Copeland is the town's only Black doctor, a well-educated man who has devoted his life to the never-ending job of trying to keep the Black community healthy. He shares many of Jake's philosophies, but his focus is on the need for his people to rise up and overcome their inequities. His daughter, Portia, works for the Kellys. In this small town where everyone is connected, these four people routinely visit Singer to tell him of their problems, hopes, and dreams, while he listens silently.

The reader gets to know the characters not only through their actions but also through their long discussions with the ever-patient Singer. As you might have guessed from the title of the book, all of them - including Singer - are terribly lonely, feeling isolated and alone in the world and thinking no one else can understand his or her thoughts and feelings. My favorite parts of the novel were those about Mick, who was a very likeable young girl - I was rooting for her! In addition to delving into each of their individual psyches, the novel also draws a picture of a southern town in the late 1930's, with most people struggling due to the Depression, racial tensions splitting the town, and hints of WWII to come. Some parts of the novel drag a bit, especially when Jake or Dr. Copeland get into one of their rants, but I mostly enjoyed it overall. It's often a very sad story, and there aren't any happy endings for any of the characters, but it is a compelling and moving portrait of a community in that time and place.

359 pages, Mariner Books

If you have also read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, check out The Book Cougars' discussion of the novel for their readalong. You can also join in their discussion of the novel in their Goodreads group.

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library. My review is my own opinion.

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.

You can purchase the book from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order The Heart is a Lonely Hunter from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Books Read in November

I see most bloggers are posting their 2017 year-end summaries....and here I am, just summing up November! Yes, behind as usual, but we are - rarely - home this whole holiday week, so I hope to catch up a bit and not start the new year too far behind!

Although I didn't have time to officially sign up for the reading challenge, I did my own version of Nonfiction November and read almost entirely nonfiction last month, except for two review books:

  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (CA), memoir
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (UT), middle-grade graphic memoir
  • Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders (TX), adult fiction, reviewed for Shelf Awareness

So, I read seven books in all in November, and 5 of them were nonfiction - definitely a record for me! The only two novels I read were review books for Shelf Awareness (sorry those reviews are not yet available - I will post links as soon as they are published). Of those seven books, two were graphic memoirs, two were on audio, one was a teen/YA. and one was for middle-grade. And I think you can see that memoir is my favorite kind of nonfiction! Oddly, it seems that almost all of the books I read took place in CA or TX last month. My favorite book of the month was Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a touching but very funny memoir.

Progress on 2017 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 3 more books was from my own shelves for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge for a year-to-date total of 25. For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, November was Last Chance (read a book you've been meaning to read all year).
I think Mennonite in a Little Black Dress counts - I bought it over 5 years ago! No classics last month for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge. Nothing new to add to the Well-Rounded Challenge because the categories are almost filled now. Just China for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2017 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added just one more state, Utah (I already had California and Texas!).

Finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month. I filled in 18 squares in November:

Spaces filled in:
NightSun - recent release, clean shaven, detective, mystery
Spinning - purple cover,  struggle
Where the Past Begins - family, free book
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress - shopping, bad boy actually good, dinner/feast, in a series, shelf love
Real Friends - forgiveness
Hap & Hazard and the End of the World - madness, historical
Bored & Brilliant - audio book
What was your favorite book read in November? Do you still remember November? (ha ha)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Graphic Memoir Review: Real Friends

As part of my unofficial Nonfiction November, I enjoyed reading the middle-grade graphic memoir Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. It's the real-life story of Shannon's difficulties with friendships during her pre-adolescent years, difficulties that many girls that age share.

Starting in Kindergarten, Shannon had a best friend named Adrienne. The two little girls were inseparable, playing pretend and Barbies at home and sticking close to each other at school. Shannon has a talent for making up awesome stories to act out, which reminded me very much of my own two sons when they were young. As they get a bit older, though, she finds she has to compete for Adrienne's attention. Adrienne is pretty and popular and becomes part of a group of girls known simply as The Group, a quintessential insular clique. A girl named Jen is at the center of The Group, but Adrienne is a close second, with Shannon allowed "in" only due to her long-standing friendship with Adrienne. Though Shannon is glad not to be left out, she doesn't always like the way the girls treat other kids and even each other, like ranking The Group in terms of who are Jen's best friends (hint: Shannon is often near the bottom of the line-up). One girl in particular, Jenny, is Jen's best friend and is especially nasty to Shannon.

Pages from Real Friends
The graphic memoir follows Shannon and The Group through the next few years, to the end of fifth grade, as Shannon learns about true friendship and how to stand up for her own values, with a pleasing twist at the end. It's clear that the author remembers what it's like to be at this tender age, when being snubbed by a friend can feel like the end of the world, and alliances between girls can change at the drop of a hat. The story rings true and feels real, especially with Pham's pleasing and realistic drawings. I loved how Shannon survived all those challenges and finally came to appreciate her own talents and values. It's a warm, funny, gentle story about friends and learning to trust your own instincts that is perfect for real kids caught up in the dramas of on-again, off-again friendships.

213 pages, First Second

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

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

Order from your favorite indie bookstore:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order Real Friends from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Books for Christmas!

Books are always a big part of our Christmas celebrations here in the Jackson house. My husband, son, and I are all avid readers (as you know from my Monday updates), and even my younger son who says he hates to read was very happy with two particular books this Christmas!

Here's what we gave to each other:

Books my husband received (all from me!)

Books I received from my husband and son - can't wait to read them!

Even our non-reading son was happy with these two!

Our fantasy-loving son will enjoy these hefty tomes.
I also gave Endurance by Scott Kelly to my mom's husband, who loves nonfiction, and My Passion for Design by Barbra Streisand for my mom (kind of an inside thing with her and I after watching the play Buyer and Cellar, recorded at the Westport Playhouse - really awesome one-man play).

Now, the extended family has left, and I am pretty exhausted...ready to lie on the couch and read all week!!

I hope you and your family also had a bookish Christmas!

Christmas Dinner

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Happy Holidays!

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

Not much time for blogging this week with all the holiday preparations. I have been running around town like crazy and literally ran after our mail truck yesterday with one last batch of cards (yes, I caught up with him!). Exhausted today but we are pretty much ready for Christmas now, except for wrapping gifts this weekend and doing a few minor food prep things. So, here are some highlights of our holiday prep and early celebrations:

Our favorite local tree farm - and it was snowing! A rarity here in Dec.

My sons and I with our chosen tree

The reindeer residents at the tree farm - feeding time!

Starting to look a bit festive

Our sons with our tree.

Our finished tree, full of memories.

Kicking off the holidays with a night out to a Brazilian steakhouse and...

...the recliner theater for Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

Beautiful winter sunset

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Memoir Review: Where the Past Begins

During my unofficial Nonfiction November, I listened to the audiobook of Amy Tan's new memoir, Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir. I've only read one novel by Tan, her very first one, The Joy Luck Club, but I enjoyed it very much.

I was drawn to her memoir more because of her personal life, which I know more about than her writing. Tan has Lyme disease (as do my son and I), and she went undiagnosed for years (which is unfortunately not uncommon). By then the infections had caused permanent neurological damage. Although she is doing much better with years of treatment, she has been left with seizures and other problems and a lifetime of treatment. In a world filled with horrible stories about the effects of Lyme disease and other tick infections (singer Avril Lavigne and author Rebecca Wells are two other celebrities who have spoken up about their experiences), Tan's is one of the worst. So, I went into this memoir with a different perspective than most, though the book was focused mainly on her writing life, her family's history, and her own life.

In the Introduction, Tan explains the conception of this unusual memoir. Her editor suggested she turn their e-mails back and forth during the writing of her last novel into a book. Around that time, she was combing through boxes of papers left by her parents: old photos, family documents, and some of Tan's early writing and drawings. From that kernel of an idea and those memory joggers came this memoir, which includes a wide range of Tan's writing, including stories of her childhood, bits of fiction she wrote years ago, some of those e-mails between her and her editor, fascinating stories of her family's history that rival the stories in her novels, and even excerpts from her journals over the years. Here's how she describes the journal bits:
"Since this is an unintended memoir, I thought it would be appropriate to include writings from my journals. I gleaned entries that reflect the spontaneity and seeming randomness of ideas that characterize how I think. They are also in keeping with the nature of the other pieces in this book. I call the longer, anecdotal entries from my journals "interludes." I call the shorter entries "quirks." They are quirky thoughts from the top of the head, or quirky things I have seen or heard, or quirky remnants of dreams. For writers, quirks are amulets to wonder over, and some of them have enough strangeness in them to become stories."

I included that excerpt because it gives you a feel for the "seeming randomness" (as she says) of the book, which jumps around a bit but is always interesting. I enjoyed listening to the audio book, read by Tan herself, and hearing her stories directly from her, though I sometimes lost the thread for a moment or two, so seeing those interludes and quirks on the page might have helped me to keep things straight. As someone who only writes nonfiction and is in awe of novelists, her musings and "quirks" only gave me more reverence for fiction writers. She doesn't say much at all about her experiences with Lyme - in fact, she never mentions it by name - but she does make oblique references to the cognitive dysfunction she suffered and its lingering effects. Mostly, this is a book about writing, a fascinating peek into the mind of a much-acclaimed novelist, that will appeal to writers, readers, and certainly to fans of Tan's novels.

368 pages, Ecco


To read more about Tan's harrowing experiences with Lyme disease, why she went undiagnosed for 4 years, and her lingering effects, this article (written by her) on her website is excellent. You might think hers is an extraordinary story, but it is quite typical for Lyme disease that goes undiagnosed (as most cases do because there are no accurate tests for it).

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

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

Click this link to hear a sample of the audiobook, read by the author.

Order from your local Indie bookstore:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Monday, December 18, 2017

It's Monday 12/18! What Are You Reading?

Busy, busy, busy! 'Tis the season, right? I spent much of last week trying to finish up my writing work for the year AND getting ready for the holidays. You should see my to-do list from last week! I kept adding to it until it was about three times longer than normal. But I managed to knock a lot of things off it this weekend. Our college sons came home Friday (temporarily) to help put up the Christmas tree and decorate it. It's one of our favorite parts of the holiday season, going through all our old ornaments - from vacations, childhood, and other memories - with the requisite complaining from our younger son that his brother has about 10 "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments, and he doesn't have any! I fixed that last year with a custom ornament, with a photo of him as a baby and 1998 on it! Always lots of fun and laughs.

This week's list looks more reasonable (so far!) though there are some BIG holiday prep items on it that I have barely started yet.

No matter what is going on, we always find time to read. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I just finished The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers for a read-along hosted by the Book Cougars podcast, created by two women who've been to the same two Booktopias that I went to! I enjoyed this 1940 classic novel about a small town in Georgia in the late 1930's. It focuses in on several characters, and - you guessed it - they are all very lonely! A pretty sad story but very well-written and engrossing.
  • I have just started Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors. My son gave me this novel for my birthday this summer. Her books always focus in on a big issue, and this one is all about race. Some chapters are from the perspective of a white supremacist, and those are REALLY difficult to read - just horrifying. But I guess that's the point. There are kind and relatable characters, too.
  • I also read a teen/YA graphic novel last week, Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani, about a teen girl who is Indian-American and struggling to understand her family history. A magic pashmina (large scarf/shawl) allows her to get glimpses of India and better understand her mother. I enjoyed it.
  • For my next audiobook, I chose a great one: American Street by Ibi Zoboi, a YA novel that was a finalist for the National Book Award...and with good reason. I was immediately pulled into this story of a teen girl who immigrates to the U.S. from Haiti, while her mother is detained by authorities. Her story of trying to adjust to life with her American cousins in cold Detroit, while also trying to get her mother released, is powerful and moving so far. I am loving it.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Farm by Tom Rob Smith, a thriller set in Sweden that sounds really good and was highly acclaimed. I gave it to him for his birthday. He enjoyed it and moved it to my side of the overflowing TBR bookcase!
  • Now Ken is reading another birthday gift, from our son: Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail, book 1 in A Pattern of Shadow and Light series. This is one of our son's favorite fantasy series, so he wanted to share it with his dad. It's 780 pages long so a good one to start now, with the holidays coming up!
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is re-reading a favorite trilogy, The Night Angel series by Brent Weeks. He is on book 3, Beyond the Shadows. He's finished with final exams now, so I see lots of reading in his near future!
Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: The Fundamentals of Caring - a funny, moving story

Memoir Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen - warm, funny memoir

Nonfiction Review: Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi - an inspiring and entertaining book

Saturday Snapshot: Winter Is Coming! - from fall pics last week to three snowfalls 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.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.    

Our tree is up!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Winter Is Coming!

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

Since I posted Fall photos last week, I thought I'd jump ahead to winter this week! Even though the official start of winter is still a week away, we had three significant snowfalls this past week. This is almost unheard of so early in the season here in Delaware where it rarely snows before January and sometimes not until early March!

What a difference a week makes...

First snow of the season last Saturday!

Pretty white snow and blue skies the next day
It got REALLY cold this week!

I love these brilliant red berries on my neighbor's tree

Bright blue skies mid-week

This fox was standing just inside my garage yesterday! we were both very surprised!

Another moderate snowfall yesterday, but blue skies are peeking out now

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!