Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fiction Review: NightSun

My latest review for Shelf Awareness has been published: NightSun by Dan Vining. You can read the full review at this link.

NightSun is a detective story with a twist: it's set in 2025 Los Angeles. So, it works as a mystery, a thriller, and a dystopian novel. Although there are two different cases being investigated in this novel, the backdrop and setting of near-future LA get plenty of attention, too. The tone and mood are fairly dark, as are most futuristic settings in books! The mysteries here and the bigger issues encountered are not all wrapped up in a neat bow by the end, so it's not a typical mystery novel, but there are some resolutions to the two cases. I wondered whether this might be the start of a series, with detective Nate Cole and PI Ava being introduced for future adventures.

All in all, I enjoyed this unique novel, and it is now in my husband's to-be-read stack! Check out the full review on Shelf Awareness.

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.
Find NightSun through an independent bookstore:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order NightSun from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

TV Tuesday: Favorite TV Shows Reviewed in 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I summed up my Favorite Movies Watched in 2017, so today it's time for TV to get its due. It was another GREAT year for TV shows! There is just SO much available now, between streaming services, cable channels, and networks, that it's impossible to keep up with all the amazing shows - but we gave it our best! In fact, our movie viewing has fallen off in recent years because we are watching so much more TV.

The full list of TV reviews I wrote this year (30 in all) is included below, and these have all been added to my TV Reviews tab (along with the ones previously reviewed). They are sorted by genre. Just to be clear, I only write reviews of shows that I enjoy, so everything on this list is worth trying!

As usual, we watched a mix of genres. This list of 2017 reviews makes it look as if we mostly watch shows on streaming services, but that is misleading. We still watch most of our shows On Demand through our cable service, but many of them are continued from previous seasons (so you can find their reviews in the TV Reviews tab).

Here are a few superlatives from my 2017 reviews to whet your appetite (click the links to see the reviews) - yes, I cheated a bit where it was a close tie!:

Best Comedy
Chewing Gum (N) - UK Channel 4 

Best Drama
Good Girls Revolt (A) - Amazon Prime (my pick)
The Last Tycoon (A) - Amazon Prime (my husband and my pick together)

Best Dramedy
  One Mississippi (A) - Amazon Prime (my pick)
Sneaky Pete (A) - Amazon Prime (my husband and my pick together)

Best Crime/Mystery/Thriller 
 Ozark (N) - Netflix

 Best Sci Fi
Travelers (N) - Netflix
Sense8 (N) - Netflix (more supernatural than sci fi)
A Tie! My husband, son, and I LOVE both!

Best New Network Show 
(since most of my Bests are on streaming services)
Wisdom of the Crowd (A, C, I) - CBS

In addition to the reviews listed below, also check out my post, When Good Shows Get Cancelled, a round-up of One-Season Wonders still worth watching!

KEY: Available on:
A = Amazon
C = Cable and/or Cable On Demand
H = Hulu
I = On network’s own website
N = Netflix
Note that Amazon Prime original shows are available only to Amazon Prime members (just like Netflix or Hulu), but some shows are available on Amazon (A) to anyone for a fee.

Chewing Gum (N) - UK Channel 4
Norsemen (N) - Norwegian show
Will & Grace 2017 (A, C, I) - NBC

American Crime - season 3 (A, C, I) - ABC 
Anne with an E (N) - Netflix
The Bold Type (A, C, I) - Freeform (formerly ABC Family)
Good Girls Revolt (A) - Amazon Prime
Gypsy (N) - Netflix
The Last Tycoon (A) - Amazon Prime
The Man in the High Castle (A) - Amazon Prime
Mercy Street (A, C, I) - PBS

Dramedy (both Comedy & Drama)
Fleabag (A) - British show 
Friends From College (N) - Netflix
Lilyhammer (A, N) - Norwegian show
Master of None (N) - Netflix
No Tomorrow (romcom) (A, C, I, N) - The CW
One Mississippi (A) - Amazon Prime
Sneaky Pete (A) - Amazon Prime

The Fall (A, N) - Irish show 
The Killing (N) - Netflix
Occupied (A, N) - Norwegian show 
Ozark (N) - Netflix
The Sinner (A, C, I) - USA Network
Ten Days in the Valley (A, C, I) - ABC
Time After Time (A, C, I) - ABC (also sci fi)
Wisdom of the Crowd (A, C, I) - CBS

Sci Fi
Salvation (A, C, I) - ABC
Sense8 (N) - Netflix (more supernatural than sci fi)
Travelers (N) - Netflix

Reality Shows
Food Network Star (A, C, I) - The Food Network

Monday, January 29, 2018

Movie Monday: Blade Runner

The week after Christmas, while my oldest son was home sick, he and my husband and I watched the original Blade Runner movie, which only my husband had seen before when it first came out, so that we can watch last year's sequel, Blade Runner 2049. We all enjoyed this sci fi movie from 1982, which is set in the far future world of 2019!

As with many futuristic sci fi movies, Earth - and particularly Los Angeles - has become a dark, bleak place. Human-like androids known as replicants live among humans. A young Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, an ex-cop who used to work as a "Blade Runner," someone assigned to assassinate replicants found among humans. When a bloody mutiny occurs off-world by a team of replicants, Rick is brought out of retirement to track down the androids responsible. During his investigation, though, he meets a female replicant, whom he gets to know and is attracted to. This makes Rick reconsider his role and think about what it means to be human.

We all enjoyed this gritty sci fi thriller, based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It's a dark movie, both literally and in tone, and Harrison Ford is, as always, fun to watch. There is plenty here to make you think, about being human, relationships, and the future. We were all amused by the film's depiction of the future, since it is set in 2019, and we are almost there! I always find it fascinating how sci fi writers in the past foresaw the distant future, where we are now. They generally get some things right, predict some things that are still far too advanced for us, and completely miss the boat on other technological advances. So, in this movie, there are androids that are almost impossible to tell apart from humans, yet Rick still has to find a pay phone (granted, it's a video pay phone) to make a call! All in all, we enjoyed this suspenseful and captivating film. Now we need to find time to see its recent sequel!

Blade Runner  is available for streaming on Amazon, starting at $2.99 or on DVD. It doesn't look like it is available on Netflix. And no spoilers here - ever - but from what I read, there are big differences between the theatrical version and the director's cut (we watched the theatrical version) and between director Ridley Scott's interpretation of the movie and Harrison Ford's! AFTER you have watched Blade Runner, you can check out this YouTube video, The Ending of Blade Runner Explained, to get in on the controversies (be ready to have your mind blown).


It's Monday 1/29! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another super busy week, but we finally had a quiet weekend at home with no travel, no one sick, and no emergencies, so I was able to catch up a bit with household stuff. I still haven't cleared my e-mails yet, though! But, I am down to about 150 and started going through them from both the bottom and the top of the list (after missing an important one a few weeks ago) - I'm getting there! Now, I have another very hectic week, with something scheduled almost every day, then two busy weekends coming up: my mom and her husband are visiting for Superbowl this weekend, and next weekend is Mardi Gras, when we host an annual gathering with some of our old friends from our New Orleans days (and more).

I'm also making slow but steady progress on blog catch-up. I'm not quite done yet with my 2017 wrap-ups - still need to sum-up my TV reviews - but I am getting there! I also hope to sign up for my 2018 reading challenges before February 1! (no, I haven't done that yet).

No matter how busy we get, we still read every night before bed and enjoy our books. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I just finished The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. In high school, I read every Bradbury book in my public library, so I was very excited to be revisiting one of his classics! I really enjoyed it and remembered why I like his writing so much. Besides just being a good and imaginative storyteller, he is SO clever - I had forgotten about his wit and sense of irony, which I found quite amusing in this book.
  • Today, I will start a new novel, Speak No Evil, by Uzodinma Iweala, the author of the highly acclaimed Beasts of No Nation. I'm reviewing this one for Shelf Awareness - it's due out on February 6. The blurb says it is about a top student in DC who is headed for Harvard but can't tell his very conservative Nigerian parents that he's gay. Sounds really good.
  • I spent most of my audio time last week catching up on podcasts (so many good ones!), but now I have just started a new audiobook, The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah, a teen/YA novel set in Australia about a boy named Michael whose parents are strongly anti-immigration. Then he meets Mina, a new girl in school who is a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan, and Michael must decide what side he is on. I've just started it, but it's already engaging, and I was surprised to realize that Australia is dealing with these same issues that we are in the U.S.!
  • Drumroll, please....My husband, Ken, finished reading a birthday gift from our son: Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail, book 1 in A Pattern of Shadow and Light series, which was 780 pages long! Woohoo! He enjoyed it but said he might wait a bit before jumping into the next chunkster.
  • Now, Ken is reading a book I gave him for Christmas, The Last One by Alexandra Oliva. It's about 12 people on a reality show like Survivior, who are out in the wilderness when a real-life disaster hits. They have no idea what's happening in the outside world, and when they see some evidence of the devastation, they assume it's a part of the show. Doesn't that sound like an amazing premise? He's enjoying it so far.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, finished reading book 3, Memories of Ice, from a favorite fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. He enjoyed books 1 and 2 a while back and says he has books 4, 5, and 6 waiting at his apartment, thanks to his favorite local used bookstore. This one was 900+ pages! I don't recall what book he is reading now, but it is another novel that is part of an epic fantasy series he enjoys (another big one with a bunch of books he has waiting!).
A few blog posts squeezed into a busy week:
Movie Monday: Taking Lives - a creepy thriller

2017 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up - I did well on my challenges last year!

Best Books Read in 2017 - my annual summary of what I read last year and my top picks

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.  

We did get outside for a hike on a beautiful Saturday this weekend, but I haven't had the time to participate in Saturday Snapshot in weeks!
Blue skies and sunshine this weekend!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Best Books Read in 2017

Drumroll, is my summary of books read in 2017, and my choices for the best books, in several categories. 2017 was an amazing reading year!

Summaries & Fun Facts:

Total Books Read in 2017 = 84 (9 more than in 2016)

Novels - 43
Nonfiction - 12
Teen/YA - 12
Middle-Grade - 17
Audiobooks – 26
Graphic Novels or Memoirs - 8
(some categories overlap)
Women Authors – 51 (61%)
Diverse books – 24 (29%)
From my own shelves – 28 (33%)
See my 2017 Reading Challenges page to see how I did last year!

Best of the Best:
These were mostly VERY hard to choose - see my Top 10 lists below for more amazing books.

Best Novel
The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams 

Best Nonfiction
Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold

Best Short Stories
Machine Learning by Hugh Howey

Best Graphic Novel/Memoir (actually graphic nonfiction)
The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson & Landis Blair

Best Audio Book
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas  

Best Teen/YA
American Street by Ibi Zoboi  
(this and The Hate U Give were complete ties for this category and Best Audio, so I gave one to each of them!) 

Best Middle-Grade
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue 

Top Ten (or Top Whatever) Lists:

Top 10 Adult Fiction:
  1. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  3. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  4. Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato
  5. The Leavers by Lisa Ko
  6. The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams
  7. Dust by Hugh Howey
  8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  9. Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
  10. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Top 8 Nonfiction:
  1. Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  3. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  4. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  5. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  6. The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson & Landis Blair
  7. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
  8. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton
Top 4 Teen/YA:
  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  2. Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz
  3. Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger
  4. American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Top 7 Middle-Grade:

Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold
Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott
Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

Top 10 Audio Books:

  1. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  2. The Risen by Ron Rash
  3. Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold
  4. Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz
  7. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
  8. The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
  9. A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold
  10. The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue
 What an amazing reading year! What were your favorite books read in 2017? Let me know in the comments or leave a link to your own year-end wrap-up!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

2017 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

I had such high hopes for catching up this month and posting my 2017 wrap-ups right away...sigh. Oh, well, you know my life motto - better late than never!

I did pretty well on my reading challenges in 2017, and most importantly, I really enjoyed them. Here are the challenges I participated in and what I achieved in each. You can see the complete lists of all the books I read for each challenge on my 2017 Challenges page.

Read Your Own Damn Books hosted by Estella's Revenge

My goal was to read 25 books off my own shelves, and I read (drumroll, please)...28 TBR books! woohoo! That's a win, even though my TBR books continue to multiply faster than I can read them. A new reviewing job this year meant that I got 3 new books on my shelves each month (and only read 1 for review), so they are adding up fast! My TBR bookcase (yes, an entire bookcase) now has 2 shelves with double layers of books. So, I did well on the challenge, but I'm going to need to do some culling this year - it's so hard for me to get rid of a book I haven't read yet! What if it's amazing?

2017 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo
I really enjoyed this fun challenge the past two years, where there is a different theme every month.I optimistically planned to check the category before the month began, but you can guess how that went! But I still managed to complete each month's category, so I did well on this one.

Here were the monthly categories and the books I read:

JANUARY – Diversify Your Reading
Kick the reading year off right and shake things up. Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own. 'Round Midnight by Laura McBride

FEBRUARY – Undercover Thriller
Read a book involving spies, detectives, private investigators, or a character in disguise. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

MARCH – Time Traveler
Read a book set in a different dimension, a book in which time travel is involved or a dystopian or science fiction book where reality looks very different than what we’re used to. The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

APRIL – Award Winners
Read a book that has won a literary award or a book written by an author who has been recognized in the bookish community. The Leavers by Lisa Ko won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver.

MAY – Book to Movie or Audio
Read a book that has a movie based off of it. For an extra challenge, see the movie or listen to the audio book as well. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood has had several movies and TV adaptations made from it; I am dying to see the newest TV show, but we don't get Hulu!

JUNE – Destination Unknown
Read a book in which the character(s) take a trip, travel somewhere, go on a quest, or find themselves on a journey toward something. The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams

JULY – Believe the Unbelievable
This month it’s all about fantasy. Epic fantasy, urban fantasy, fairytales, magic, etc. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

AUGUST – Seasons, Elements, & Weather
Read a book in which the season, the elements, or the weather plays a role in the story. Dust by Hugh Howey

SEPTEMBER – Creepy, Chilling, & Frightful
Cozy mystery ghost stories, paranormal hauntings, murder mysteries, weird and scary creatures- it’s up to you! Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

OCTOBER– Games, Challenges, & Contests
Read a book that involves a game of some sort. Video games, war games, psychological mess-with-your-mind games, characters who participate in a contest, or a story in which the character takes on a challenge.  Artemis by Andy Weir

NOVEMBER – Last Chance
Read a book you’ve been meaning to get to all year but haven’t yet or read the last book in a series you started. How about Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen - I'd been meaning to get to it for about 5 years!!

DECEMBER – Picking Favorites
Read a book by one of your favorite authors: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 hosted by Books and Chocolate.

My own personal goal for this one was to read 6 classics  (that would beat 2016's total of 4). Oh, I just missed it! I read 5 classics in 2017. Still better than the previous year, so that's progress.

They have 12 different categories to fit your classics choices into. Here are the 5 books I read and their categories:

1.  A 19th century classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)

2.  A 20th century classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940)

3.  A classic by a woman author.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. 
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë 

A 2017 Reading Challenge to Keep You Well-Rounded hosted by /r/books.
This one is kind of non-traditional - no sign-ups or links list - but it looks like fun! The idea is to expand your reading horizons by aiming to read one book in each of 52 categories.

I completed almost all the categories, except for 9 of them. Some were nearly impossible, like a book with over 1 million ratings on any one website - I couldn't find anything that fit that! Others were genres I rarely read. I enjoyed this one, though. You can see the full list of categories and which books I read for each on my 2017 Challenges page.

Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge hosted by Mom's Small Victories, one of my favorite blogs. I signed up for this one back in 2014, so this is a continuation (it's a perpetual challenge). I read 30 books set in other countries/cultures (20 different places) in 2016, so I hoped to do even better in 2017. I finished the year with 27 books set in other places, with 14 unique places (including the moon!). That's less than the previous year, but I did get to experience some new places last year through my books, like Uganda, Pakistan, and Thailand.

2017 Literary Escapes Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas Into a Good Book.

Hurray! After a year off, I found another reading challenge that tracks where books take place in the United States. I enjoy this so much that I kept tracking my states even when there was no challenge the past few years. I read books set in 27 different states in 2016 so was shooting for even more in 2017. I ended the year with books set in 24 different states.

Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! I enjoyed playing every month last year - I think my best month was 23 squares filled in.

Big Book Summer Challenge hosted by Book By Book  - my own annual reading challenge, held every year from May to September!

Big Books (over 400 Pages) Read During Summer 2017:
  1. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater 
  2. Shift by Hugh Howey
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  4. Dust by Hugh Howey
  5. The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
  6. Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger
  7. The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson & Landis Blair

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge (R.I.P.) hosted by Estella's Revenge and My Capricious Life

Another seasonal challenge I look forward to each September and October. I signed up for Peril the First (four or more books in mystery/suspense/thriller/supernatural/horror genres). I ended up reading 13! This is a great chance every fall for me to catch up on my spooky, creepy reading.

Books I read for R.I.P.:
  1. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, audio teen/YA fantasy 
  2. Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger, teen/YA sci fi thriller
  3. Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott, middle-grade/teen adventure
  4. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, adult thriller
  5. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, teen/YA fantasy
  6. Masterminds: Payback by Gordon Kormon, audio middle-grade thriller
  7. A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry, adult literary suspense
  8. Horizon, book 1, by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Artemis by Andy Weir 
  10. If I Run by Terri Blackstock
  11. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley 
  12. Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas 
  13. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells