Thursday, June 13, 2019

Teen/YA Graphic Novel Review: On a Sunbeam

I really enjoyed Tillie Walden's first YA graphic memoir, Spinning, a coming-of-age and coming-out story about figure skating, so I was eager to read her second book. This one is a graphic novel, On A Sunbeam, and entirely different from her first book. This creative story is set in space, in a world of all females, though it is still a coming-of-age story.

A young woman named Mia joins the crew of a fish-shaped starship. The rest of the crew includes Alma, Jules, Elliot, and Char (short for Charlotte), and their job is to travel through space to old, crumbling sites and restore them. The others welcome Mia into their ranks, and she gets a bunk in a room with a great view of space outside the window. The team begins to teach Mia how to do their restoration work. In an alternate storyline, we see Mia as a younger student, just starting out at a new boarding school. She meets a girl named Grace, and the two of them bond in trying to deflect a group of mean girls. Grace and Mia become good friends and eventually girlfriends, until Grace suddenly leaves under mysterious circumstances without saying good-bye, leaving Mia devastated.

Sample page from On a Sunbeam
The narrative moves back and forth between the two timelines, gradually filling in Mia's backstory as the team in the present works on their project and then moves on. Walden has created a wholly original world here, unlike anything I've ever seen. The spacecraft look like elaborate fish, the buildings and worlds the girls work to restore look both old-fashioned and futuristic, and the entire world is populated only by females. None of the underpinnings of this unique society are ever explained - they just are what they are. The hefty book (a great choice for Big Book Summer!) is illustrated in shades of mostly blue-gray, purple, and pinkish-orange, with occasional splashes of yellow, and the very detailed pictures on every page invite studying and lingering. The story can be a bit complicated at times, but it has plenty of depth and emotion for a graphic novel. While this sort of wholly-created-in-space science fiction is not always my kind of thing, the intriguing story and interesting characters pulled me in and kept me reading. I can't wait to see what Tillie Walden comes up with next!

533 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.

You can purchase On a Sunbeam from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
 Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order On a Sunbeam from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Booktopia 2019

Northshire Welcomes Booktopians!
Finally! It was over a month ago now (a busy month!), but here is my summary of the annual Booktopia event, held the first weekend in May each year at Northshire Bookstore in lovely Manchester, VT.

Ann and Michael, who started Booktopia, in 2015
A little history: Ann and Michael of the sadly now-retired Books on the Nightstand podcast (you can still listen to or download episodes at the link) began Booktopia almost a decade ago. It was always hosted at the amazing Northshire Bookstore, but at its height, they were coordinating 3 Booktopias each year, in different parts of the country. Listening to the podcast every week, I yearned to attend one of these incredible book-centered weekends, and in 2015, I invited my mother along (as a joint birthday gift for me and her), and we were blown away! We skipped it in 2016 when it fell on Mother's Day but attended again in 2017, 2018, and most recently, 2019. Ann and Michael ended their wonderful podcast a few years ago, and with it the 3 Booktopia events each year (can you believe they were too busy with full-time jobs, kids, the podcast, and hosting 3 major events a year??). Luckily, Northshire Bookstore decided to pick up the reins on their own and continue hosting the Vermont event.

My mom and I at Booktopia 2019
So, what is Booktopia? It's a wholly unique gathering of book lovers, booksellers, and authors. Unlike trade shows like BEA or the typical author events at bookstores, here the readers and authors spend the weekend together, sharing meals and conversation, and the author sessions are more like book groups, with in-depth discussions and Q&A's. If you love books and love to read, it's paradise! You can read more about our experiences at Booktopia 2015, Booktopia 2017, or Booktopia 2018, including photos and lists of the books and authors featured.

Booktopia 2019 was just as amazing! By now, we've gotten to know lots of other Booktopians, so we look forward to reconnecting with old friends (and meeting new ones) just as much as meeting the authors and hearing about great books. There are many of us who return every year (or most years). This year's list of featured books and authors included:




I read all but two of the books for Booktopia this year, and you can read my reviews at the links. As always, every book I read - chosen by the brilliant booksellers at Northbrook - was excellent.

Author Bianca Marais kicks off Booktopia 2019
So, the event began Friday morning with an introductory talk that was interesting and funny by Bianca Marais, who after her 2018 appearance at Booktopia now feels like an old friend. If you haven't yet read her first novel, Hum If You Don't Know the Words, you must! It is moving, powerful, funny - one of my favorites of this year. Her second novel, If You Want to Make God Laugh, will be released on July 16 - I've already pre-ordered it through Northshire!

Next the Northshire booksellers each took a turn recommending 4-6 of their favorite recent books, adding many new books to everyone's TBR list! The attendance fee for Booktopia includes a $50 gift card to the store, and those gift cards don't last long. Mine was spent before the event even began.

Me with Christopher Castellani, a Delaware native, after his session
All day Friday and Saturday are author sessions. You can choose which ones to attend. As I said, these are less like typical author talks/book signings and more like a book group discussion with the author present. Usually, many people have already read the book, so the author talks about his or her inspiration in writing it, the writing process, and answers questions from the group.

Our table Friday night - lots of old friends & a couple of new ones!
Friday night, there's always a big group dinner for everyone - readers, authors, and booksellers - where we play book trivia and do a Yankee book swap. For other meals, you are on your own, but Manchester is filled with wonderful restaurants, and smaller groups of Booktopians get together to share meals.

Readers with Stephen Mack Jones after the Yankee Book Swap
Saturday is more author sessions and then the big wrap-up in the evening, where each author gets 10 minutes to talk to the entire crowd - this portion of Booktopia is free and open to the public. Veteran Booktopians always laugh when every year, each author stands up there and says something to the effect of, "I had no idea what Booktopia was - this is such an amazing event! I've never been to anything like it." It is truly unique, and I think the authors love it as much as the readers who attend - after all, they are rock stars to this crowd of bookworms! Finally, all of the authors are available to sign their books.

Me with Sarah Blake (no, not sitting on her lap, just awkwardly crouching!)
On Sunday, exhausted but happy, we headed for home (an 8-hour combination drive and train ride for me!) after one last breakfast at Manchester's incredible Up for Breakfast restaurant. Mmmm...

It really is a unique and wonderful event. If you can manage the trip (people come from all over the country - and a few from other countries!), put it on your calendar for the first weekend in May 2020 - I'll see you there!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

TV Tuesday: Weeds

My husband's not a huge fan of comedies, but we usually have at least one comedy show in progress that we watch together, when we don't have time for a full hour-long drama. This winter we finished up House of Lies starring Don Cheadle (which is very raunchy and funny!) and decided to try another Showtime comedy, Weeds. We just started season 3 and are enjoying its edgy comedy and mild suspense very much.

Nancy Botwin, played by Mary-Louise Parker, recently lost her beloved husband to a sudden heart attack and is struggling to support her two sons, Silas and Shane, on her own. She lives in Agrestic, an upper class California suburb with cookie-cutter McMansions (and seemingly cookie-cutter lives for its residents). Nancy knows that many of her outwardly straight-laced neighbors and fellow parents indulge in smoking pot, so she decides to make some money on the side to help her maintain the lifestyle they are used to. She asks her friend Conrad, played by Romany Malco, to introduce her to his aunt, Heylia (played by Tonye Patano), who is a dealer. Nancy's brother-in-law, Andy, played by Justin Kirk, moves in ostensibly to help her with the boys, though he's actually broke and quite a pothead himself and very much like having a third kid around! Kevin Nealon plays Doug, Nancy's accountant, who also likes to get high and helps Nancy set up her business. Elizabeth Perkins stars as Celia, a haughty and self-absorbed neighbor (and sometime-friend) who ends up running an anti-drug campaign in their neighborhood, with no idea that Nancy is dealing.

Just the set-up is funny: as the opener to the show (accompanied by the song "Little Boxes") indicates, Agrestic is filled with identical houses and almost-identical families living seemingly perfect lives. Just below that perfect surface, though, are marriages falling apart, affairs with fellow residents, and lots and lots of people getting stoned to get through their lives. Mary-Louise Parker is wonderful in the lead role, with an excellent and entertaining supporting cast. The plot reminds us a bit of Breaking Bad, in that Nancy gets started in the drug business to support her family but ends up getting pulled further and further into the criminal world, until she is in over her head. It's one of those shows where just when you thought things couldn't get any worse...they do. But it's less dark and more funny than poor Walter's story. There are, of course, some silly stoner scenes, especially when Andy and Doug hang out together, but most of the plot centers on Nancy (who doesn't usually get high) and her efforts to run a business without getting pulled into the dark side of the drug scene. She is fearless (sometimes stupidly so!), and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in every episode, plus some suspense as to whether she can manage to get out of whatever current crisis she is mired in. We are thoroughly enjoying it, and it makes a nice change from the one-hour drama shows we mostly watch - a fun palate cleanser.

There are 8 seasons in total, and we are currently on season 3 (though it's hard to imagine how much worse things could get for Nancy!). Weeds is a Showtime original, so it is available on their streaming service and also on Netflix. It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $9.99 for the first season of 10 episodes, and it is available on DVD.



Monday, June 10, 2019

It's Monday 6/10! What Are You Reading?

Last week was characterized by huge amounts of stress and pressure during the week and then a very nice weekend! We've been struggling with several family crises with our son's health the past few weeks and we had to buy a new-to-us SUV in order to manage our weekend trip to see family - our old one just wasn't going to make one more trip! Our 2003 Honda Pilot had 217,000 miles on it, and we got to the point where the repairs needed outweighed its value by far. It was a scramble last week to get everything done in time, but we managed to buy a 2017 Nissan Pathfinder and get all the paperwork together so we could take it to Rochester, NY, (my hometown) for a family-filled weekend. The trip was just what we needed! We are all feeling more relaxed and less stressed, we had a wonderful time with a couple of different branches of the family, and by Sunday, our son was feeling much better. And now, I feel ready to face a new week, with a fresh outlook (unlike last week!).

As always, our books provide comfort in the hard times and fun in the happy times! Here's what we've all been reading this week:

No surprise that I am still reading my first Big Book of the Summer! I kicked things off with a doozy - a 959-page chunkster - Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This is a readalong for the Book Cougars podcast for June, plus a classic (I am behind on my Classics Challenge), and from my own shelves, so it counts for several challenges. I've never read the novel and saw the movie many decades ago, and I am enjoying it so far. I'm surprised (though I shouldn't be) by how wonderful and well-written it is. I'm completely engrossed in the story, in both the personal dramas as well as the detailed perspectives of the Southerners during the Civil War and what that time period and culture was like. I'm almost halfway now and still looking forward to reading it every evening! The Yankees have just taken Atlanta (and therefore won the war), and the story has been wholly engrossing so far.


On audio, I am still listening to another Big Book, Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, a novel I've wanted to read ever since it was released last year. It's two intersecting stories about Harry, a man who works for the Forest Service whose wife dies suddenly, and Amanda, a woman who lives in a nearby rural area whose husband also died unexpectedly. Harry goes to the woods and ends up meeting Amanda and her daughter. I am loving it so far. It's a story about healing...and trees! It's intriguing, compelling, heartfelt, and maybe even a bit magical - and set in the forest, so what's not to like?
My husband, Ken, is reading his second Big Book of the summer, The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, a recent political thriller that's gotten a lot of press. The fast-paced novel is set over the course of three days and deals with cyber-terrorism and espionage of such a magnitude that the whole nation is at risk. Even the President himself is a suspect, as the investigators try to root out a traitor in the cabinet. Word is that Clinton's inside knowledge of the workings of the White House and government make this political thriller extra-chilling and suspenseful. Ken is enjoying it so far, and my stepmom, who we stayed with this weekend, also enjoyed it.

Our son, Jamie, 24, finished a novel that we put in his Easter basket, The Wolf, by Leo Carew, book 1 in the Under the Northern Sky series. I picked it out for him at an awesome indie bookstore at the beach in Delaware, Browseabout Books, because the epic fantasy sounded right up his alley. He loved it and wants to read more in the series (book 2, The Spider, will be released on July 30, just in time for his birthday!). Jamie thinks my Big Book Summer Challenge is hilarious because almost everything he reads (including this one) counts as a Big Book!

And here's the exception to that...Jamie just started a new series, The Runes of Issalia, by Jeffrey L. Kohanek, and each book is normal-sized at about 300-ish pages - but he is reading the whole series at once since the boxed set was on sale for the Kindle. He has already finished (the lucky boy can read in the car!) book 1, The Buried Symbol: A Discovery of Magic, and is now reading book 2, The Emblem Throne: A Quest of Magic. He's enjoying the series so far.





Blog posts last week:
Movie Monday: Like Father - warm, funny, delightful movie about an estranged father and daughter who reconnect

TV Tuesday: Dead to Me - suspenseful, darkly comic, twisty story of female friendship

Fiction Review: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor - unusual coming-of-age story that is warm, tender, and thought-provoking

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.

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

What are you and your family reading this week?


Remember to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It's easy-going, like summer - you only have to read one book of 400 or more pages between now and September (though you can, of course, read more!) It's lots of fun and a great way to add extra enjoyment to your summer! All the details are at the link - you can sign up there if you have a blog or, if not, just leave a comment on that page or sign up at the Goodreads group linked from that page. Join the fun!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Fiction Review: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

I'm not sure how it came to be June already or what happened to May, but here we are! And this is - finally - my very last review of a book I read for Booktopia Vermont 2019 (which means I will finally post a summary of this amazing event next week, with plenty of photos). On the train on the way home from Booktopia a month ago, I escaped the noise and crowded conditions by being completely immersed in Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor. I know the title sounds a bit odd, and this is certainly a unique novel, but it is also warm and tender and thought-provoking. I probably would have never picked it up on my own (that's the beauty of Booktopia and book groups!), but I ended up loving it.

In 1993 in a college town in Iowa, Paul is a grad student. Let's get this out of the way right away: Paul is also a shape-shifter. He doesn't know why or how, and he doesn't know (but really wants to know) whether he's the only one or there are others like him, bu he's always been able to change his body - he can give himself bigger muscles or get taller or shorter just by thinking about it, and he can also change his gender. In the opening pages, for example, Paul has decided he wants to know what sex is like for girls, so he borrows some clothes and concentrates on changing his body, and sets out for a dyke concert in a local bar. When he's not experimenting with gender and sex, Paul takes his classes and works at a thrift store and tends bar at the only gay bar in town. He hangs out with his friend, Jane, as he continuously questions his identity and purpose, not so differently than most college students. Paul's experiments and quest for answers take him to a female-only music festival in Michigan, a lesbian-filled house in off-season Cape Cod, and finally to the thriving gay community in San Francisco. Mostly, though, Paul just wants to know who he is and to be in love. He's just not entirely sure what that will look like.

Paul's quest is one that any young person can relate to, even if his unique abilities set him apart - he just has more options than most people, which makes figuring out who he (or she) is even more difficult. As you might guess from the subject matter, the novel is sometimes quite graphic, both in language and sex scenes, but what surprised me was how warm and tender the story is. Though we have little in common, I really came to care about Paul and root for him to find both himself and true love. Being set in the 90's, music (especially punk) is also a strong theme in the book, with Paul's musical tastes and mixtapes being a constant backdrop to what is happening. As Paul criss-crosses the country, bits and pieces of his past are also revealed, so the reader slowly gets a picture of his family life and his childhood. The publisher chose to put some shocking one-word excerpts from reviews on the cover, like "deep," "hot," and "smut," but as the author pointed out at Booktopia, those are single words taken from comprehensive reviews, and I think the publisher did a disservice to the novel by trying to scandalize potential readers and boiling a complex narrative down to sex. Instead, the author has taken a unique premise - shape-shifting - to explore issues of gender fluidity and sexuality in a whole new way, and created a thoughtful, poignant coming-of-age story sprinkled with entertaining pop culture flourishes. I really enjoyed this singular novel.

337 pages, Vintage Books
Random House Audio


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 audio book here, excerpted from the part of the book where Paul and Jane go to the music festival in Michigan. I think it sounds great on audio, narrated by Dani Martineck.
 
You can purchase Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

One marvelous Indie to try is Northshire Bookstore, which hosts Booktopia every May:

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

TV Tuesday: Dead To Me

I watched the first episode of the new Netflix series Dead To Me on my own at lunchtime and immediately thought, "Oh, my husband will like this one, too!" So he watched the first episode and agreed, and we've been watching it together ever since. It's very hard to review this suspenseful, warm, funny TV show because there are surprising plot twists right from the very first episode, so I'll tread carefully here to avoid spoilers...

Christina Applegate (of Married with Children fame) stars as Jen, a grieving widow and mother of two sons. Her husband was recently killed - suddenly and violently - in a hit-and-run, and it's clear from the opening scene that Jen isn't coping well, when she says horrible things to a kind friend who brings a casserole over and then slams the door (check out the trailer below). Jen finally drags herself to a grief group counseling session and meets Judy, a bubbly, effervescent woman played by Linda Cardellini (who starred in Freaks and Geeks, ER, and Scooby Doo). Judy lost her fiance, and the two women soon bond over sleepless nights and shared grief. They are opposites in some ways, with Jen very sarcastic and tightly wound and Judy a sunny free spirit, but they share a dark sense of humor and help to support each other. Before long, Jen invites Judy to move into her guest house, as their relationship continues to grow.

That's about all I can say about the plot (and about all you will see in the trailer), but there are some surprises in store in this twisty, strange, dark comedy about friendship and grief. The two stars are both outstanding in this show - warm, funny, and emotional (in their own ways). Suspense builds as secrets are slowly revealed. We are both loving this show! The darkly comic tone, suspense, and the theme of female friendship remind us somewhat of A Simple Favor, the movie we saw last year (definitely check it out). This wonderfully innovative TV show will make you laugh and keep you guessing.

There are ten episodes in this Netflix original show. We have watched eight of them so far, and can't wait to see what happens next!

Have you tried Dead to Me yet?


Monday, June 03, 2019

Movie Monday: Like Father

Last weekend, a bit bored with the same old TV shows we've been following all fall/winter/spring and with a long weekend ahead of us, my husband and I enjoyed some movies, including Like Father, a Netflix movie starring Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer that I've been wanting to see since its release last year. It was a fun, warm, delightful film that we both enjoyed.

Kristen Bell plays Rachel, a high-powered ad executive who is such a workaholic that she is late to her own wedding because she was outside talking to a client on the phone. When her phone falls out of her bouquet at the altar, her husband-to-be gives up and calls it quits. As Rachel runs out, she notices her estranged father trying to quietly leave the wedding. Her father, Harry, played by Kelsey Grammer, left when Rachel was just five years old, and she has no idea why he suddenly showed up on her wedding day. The two end up getting drunk - really drunk - together that night, and they wake up the next morning out at sea on the cruise ship that was supposed to be Rachel's honeymoon with her new husband. Instead, she is stuck on the boat with her father, who she barely knows.

As you can imagine, there is lots of humor from the situation, with the father-daughter pair trapped in the honeymoon suite among other happy couples celebrating. But this movie is also poignant and heart-warming, as the two begin to get to know each other and reconnect. There's even a bit of a mystery as to why Harry stayed away for so long and why he showed up now. The supporting cast are all good, including Seth Rogen as a chill teacher from Canada who Rachel picks up, but Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer are at the center of the story, and both are excellent in their roles. They are both favorites of ours, so watching them made the movie even better. The whole thing is warm, funny, and uplifting (and the climactic karaoke scene lots of fun!). It's a very entertaining movie that also leaves you feeling good.

This is a Netflix original movie, so it is available exclusively on Netflix.


It's Monday 6/3! What Are You Reading?

It's June! How did that happen? Not officially summer yet, but it certainly feels like it here. It's been hot and humid already, though it is cool and lovely out this morning - what a nice change! And, of course, the Big Book Summer Challenge started last week, so it must be summer now!

We are all enjoying our Big Books - here's what we've all been reading this week:

No surprise that I am still reading my first Big Book of the Summer! I kicked things off with a doozy - a 959-page chunkster - Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This is a readalong for the Book Cougars podcast for June, plus a classic (I am behind on my Classics Challenge), and from my own shelves, so it counts for several challenges. I've never read the novel and saw the movie many decades ago, and I am enjoying it so far...even though I can barely hold it up! I'm surprised (though I shouldn't be) by how good it is. I'm completely engrossed in the story, in both the personal dramas as well as the detailed perspectives of the Southerners during the Civil War and what that time period and culture was like. I'm a bit more than 200 pages in, so I have a ways to go.

On audio, I finished listening to a YA novel, The Knowing by Sharon Cameron, the sequel to The Forgetting, which I listened to on audio two years ago (review at the link). It's an original and engrossing science fiction dystopian novel about memory, but to say any more about the second book would give away spoilers about the first book. Suffice it to say, it was a suspenseful and compelling story that I enjoyed just as much as the first one.

And now, I am listening to a Big Book on audio, Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, a novel I've wanted to read ever since it was released last year. It's two intersecting stories, about Harry, a man who works for the Forest Service whose wife dies suddenly and Amanda, a woman who lives in a nearby rural area whose husband just died unexpectedly. Harry goes to the woods and ends up meeting Amanda and her daughter. That's about as far as I've gotten so far, but I am loving it and it seems like it is about healing. It's intriguing, compelling, and maybe even a bit magical - and set in the forest, so what's not to like?


My husband, Ken, finished his first Big Book Summer book, Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly, a novel where the author combines two of his popular characters, Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard, who was introduced in The Late Show, which Ken also enjoyed. In this new cross-over novel, the two team up on the unsolved murder of a runaway. Which reminds me, the new season of the TV adaptation of Connelly's novels, Bosch, just started April 19 - can't wait to see it! We both love the show (and the books, of course).

Now, Ken has moved onto another Big Book, The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton, a recent political thriller that's gotten a lot of press. The fast-paced novel is set over the course of three days and deals with cyber-terrorism and espionage of such a magnitude that the whole nation is at risk. Even the President himself is a suspect, as the investigators try to root out a traitor in the cabinet. Word is that Clinton's inside knowledge of the workings of the White House and government make this political thriller extra-chilling and suspenseful.

Our son, Jamie, 24, is reading a novel that we put in his Easter basket, The Wolf, by Leo Carew, book 1 in the Under the Northern Sky series. I picked it out for him at an awesome indie bookstore at the beach in Delaware, Browseabout Books, because the epic fantasy sounded right up his alley. He's loving it. Jamie thinks my Big Book Summer Challenge is hilarious because everything he reads (including this one) counts as a Big Book!




Blog posts from last week:
Movie Monday: Fracture - psychological thriller starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins

Fiction Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - warm, moving, engrossing and very funny novel

Fiction Review: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake - multi-generational family saga that also highlights political and social changes

Celebrate National Trails Day...with a Book! - 5 books about hiking and the outdoors

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.

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

What are you and your family reading this week?

Remember to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It's easy-going, like summer - you only have to read one book of 400 or more pages between now and September (though you can, of course, read more!) It's lots of fun and a great way to add extra enjoyment to your summer! All the details are at the link - you can sign up there if you have a blog or, if not, just leave a comment on that page or sign up at the Goodreads group linked from that page. Join the fun!

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Celebrate National Trails Day...with a Book!

Today (June 2 every year) is National Trails Day! To be clear, you should first celebrate by taking advantage of some of our thousands of amazing trails and getting outside! Check out a paved walking trail (wheelchair accessible) in a local park, a hike with an amazing view in a state or national park, or even a portion of one of our long trails that criss-cross the nation. Grab a friend, leave the earbuds at home, and get outdoors to experience nature up-close.

But, then...when you get back home (or, even better, back to your campsite), you can curl up on the couch (or on the deck or porch!) with a book about hiking and get engrossed in some immersive stories, where the outdoors play a big role.

To get you started, check out my latest book column at Shelf Awareness, Take a Hike!, which offers four different books in which hiking and the outdoors are a major part of the story. Two are memoirs and two are novels, and I enjoyed all four of them immensely. Click the link to read all about them, but the 4 books included there are:
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (skip the movie and read the book!)
  • The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Celine by Peter Heller

One other to consider is The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler, which is no longer in print but still available used or at your library. It's an emotionally complex and absorbing novel that takes place at Camp Chippewa, a Boy Scout camp among the forests and lakes of Wisconsin. This immersive story follows three generations of boys and men from 1962 to the present as they navigate life’s ups and downs, experiencing bullying, aging and friendship over the years.



So, get outside for a bit today, then relax with a good book about the outdoors! Happy Trails Day!






Friday, May 31, 2019

Fiction Review: The Guest Book

The last book I finished for Booktopia this year was The Guest Book by Sarah Blake, which I listened to on audio (it definitely counts as a Big Book, if anyone wants to add it to their summer list!). I thoroughly enjoyed Blake's earlier novel, The Postmistress (review at the link), so I was looking forward to this new one, and it didn't disappoint. Blake has created a multi-generational family epic that traces the changes in both a prominent family and the country over the decades.

In 1936, Ogden and Kitty Milton are living a life that others dream of, though there is tragedy in their past. Ogden's financial business is so successful that he and Kitty buy a small island, Crockett's Island, off the coast of Maine and vacation there with their children and friends. Some say that war is coming and the Nazis are dangerous, but they don't take that talk seriously. A friend of Ogden's visits from overseas and asks a huge favor, but Kitty says no, a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

In 1959, Kitty and Ogden's children, Moss, Joan, and Evelyn, are in their early 20's and enjoying life in the Big Apple. Evelyn is about to get married, Joan is working for a small, revolutionary publisher, and Moss works for his father, though his heart is in his music. The siblings meet two new people, outside of their parents' usual circles, and insist they come along for the annual summer lobster picnic on Crockett's Island. That turns out to be somewhat awkward, with the younger generation insisting that the world is changing, while Kitty and Ogden and their old friends laugh at the notion. When disaster strikes, everything does change, in an instant.

In the present day, Joan's daughter, Evie, teaches history. After recently losing her mother, she comes across some old photos that cause her to begin looking into her own family's history. She and her cousins are meeting with lawyers to determine the fate of Crockett's Island because this generation of Miltons just can't afford to own an island anymore. Wrapped in memories of endless childhood summers on the island with her family, Evie returns with her husband and son and cousins while trying to get to the bottom of what could be a great family secret.

The novel intricately weaves together the stories of the three generations, as multiple family secrets are hidden and later come to light. It is the study of a family changing over time but also that of a country, especially in the 1959 parts. The novel delves into memory, lies, and secrets, as well as what we inherit from our family and how the generations are tied together. It's a family saga but also a chronicle of the social and political changes of the 20th century. I found it thought-provoking and entirely engrossing, with a fast pace and intriguing, three-dimensional characters. I very much enjoyed meeting Sarah Blake at Booktopia and hearing her speak, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

496 pages, Flatiron Books


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.

Listen to a sample of the audio (it starts in the first 1959 section) -  Orlagh Cassidy does a great job narrating!



You can purchase The Guest Book from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fiction Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Every once in a while, you meet a literary character who steals your heart. Eleanor Oliphant is one of those characters. The novel that features her, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is warm, moving, engrossing, and very funny, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Twenty-nine-year-old Eleanor is satisfied with her life. She works as an accountant in an office, barely speaks to her colleagues, goes out to the same place every day to pick up a sandwich for lunch which she eats in the staff room while she reads the newspaper and does the crossword. On Fridays, she picks up a frozen pizza, a bottle of wine, and two bottles of vodka, goes home to her small, shabbily-furnished apartment, and spends the weekend alone with the vodka "spread...throughout both days so I am neither drunk nor sober." Eleanor feels her life is fine - and she will tell you that if anyone ever happened to ask - but she does recognize her isolation:
"It often feels as if I'm not here, that I'm a figment of my own imagination. There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I'd lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock."
Then, everything changes. When she attends a charity concert in a pub - not a typical activity for Eleanor, but her office provided the tickets - she spots the love of her life onstage. Eleanor immediately falls head over heels for the lead singer, knows that they will end up married and living happily ever after, and sets out to improve herself so that she is ready to meet him properly. This involves some hilarious experiences, particularly with the waxing salon, but Eleanor suddenly has a purpose. Two other things happen at about the same time. She meets the office IT guy, Raymond (a pretty stereotypical IT guy, dressed in hoodie and scruffy beard), and they very slowly, gradually become friends, and she unwittingly ends up helping an older man who has a heart attack in the street.

Gradually, with growing hints throughout the novel, Eleanor's past slowly comes to light, including the significant traumas that caused her to be so self-contained and isolated. These events are heart-breaking, but the dark tone is offset beautifully by Eleanor's unintentionally hilarious descriptions of the world around her, as she awakens to it. She is proper, tight-laced, and completely out of touch with pop culture (her shocked description of Spongebob Squarepants is one of my favorite passages!). With Raymond's help, she slowly joins the real world. I SO want to share with you some of the funniest passages (and there are many!), but I think they are better discovered by the reader as the story moves along. Suffice to say that there are many, many laugh-out-loud moments in this unique novel. My book group universally loved Eleanor and the novel (a rarity for us) and gave it an average rating of 8, with several 9's and 10's in the group. It is a poignant, delightful, compelling book that I never wanted to end, and despite the trauma in Eleanor's past, it is ultimately an uplifting story of healing and renewal. Just describing it and paging through it makes me want to read it all over again.

325 pages, Penguin Books


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 audio, which sounds wonderful! Cathleen McCarron does a beautiful job of narrating Eleanor's story. It will give you a taste of Eleanor's unique voice.


You can purchase Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.