Monday, February 25, 2019

It's Monday 2/25! What Are You Reading?

February 25. A day I have known well since I was a little girl - my dad's birthday. I miss him every day but especially on significant days like today. It's impossible to see that date and not get hit with the sadness of missing him. I'll include a couple of photos at the end of this post in memory of all our good times together!

I finally had plenty of quiet writing time last week! I've been working on a book, about treatments for the chronic immune disorder my son and I have, and I had several good writing days last week when I was able to finish one chapter and start and finish another - progress!

And we had a nice weekend, with a good mix of getting things done and relaxing. Books are always a part of that! Here's what we've all been reading this past week:
  • I have about 6 pages left of Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, for my neighborhood book group this week. I am already loving it! It's a split narrative that takes place in one house in Vineland, NJ, which was created as a utopian community in the 1860's (in real life). One side of the story takes places back then, when a high school science teacher who's not allowed to teach about Darwin's theories lived in the house, with a female botanist who corresponded with Charles Darwin living next door. The other half of the story takes place in the same house in the present, with a family dealing with a lot of crises - the husband's father is very ill and living with them, and their two adult children have both had to move back home (along with a newborn baby). I love Kingsolver's novels to begin with, and her way of connecting the two parallel stories in different time periods is so clever & engaging. 
  • I finished listening to The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea. I am writing a book column for Shelf Awareness for Cinco de Mayo that includes this book. It's the true story of an attempt in 2001 by 26 Mexican men to cross the border into Arizona through a desolate stretch of desert known as the Devil's Highway. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and is certainly relevant to the immigration controversies and challenges rocking our nation (and the world) right now. However, the author really doesn't address political or moral issues related to immigration - his focus is on telling this harrowing story from the facts collected through interviews and police reports and on the human toll. It's fascinating, compelling, and eye-opening.
  • Now, I am listening to The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh, a unique thriller. It's about an isolated town in Texas where all its citizens (about 50 of them) are in witness protection, either criminals or innocent witnesses. The Blinds is an experiment where each person's memory - or at least portions of it -  is erased before they arrive in town, so no one knows who is who or what they did before. It's been a dull, sleepy town for eight years but now there's been both a suicide and a murder and Sheriff Calvin Cooper must try to keep the peace as the outside world threatens to interrupt their uneasy harmony. It's excellent so far!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Edge by Jeffrey Deaver. Though we both love Deaver's Lincoln Rhymes series, this is a stand-alone novel, so we were intrigued by it. He said it was kind of slow to start but he ended up enjoying it.
  • Our son, Jamie, 24,wants to read book 4, Kingdom Blades, of the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, a favorite series of his. But, being him, he decided to first re-read the first 3 books in the series. So, he's just re-started book 1, Cephrael's Hand, a mere 780 pages. He says he's enjoying it and is glad he decided to re-read because he's remembering details he'd forgotten...and the series is sooo good!
Blog posts from last week - catching up!
Teen/YA Review: The Beautiful Lost by Luanne Rice - road trip novel that deals with mental illness and family problems

2019 Reading Challenges - better late than never!

Nonfiction/Graphic Novel Review: Escaping Wars and Waves by Olivier Kugler - original, powerful true stories in words and drawings of Syrian refugees

Fiction Review: Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts - delightful, engrossing historical fiction about the wife of the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

My summary of Books Read in January - great reading month & good start on my challenges

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?  

A few memories of my dad - as you can see, he was a very hands-on dad and grandpa!

Dad and I in Canada circa 1969

Grandpa with his grandsons (my sons)
Dad hiking & geocaching with us

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Books Read in January

A crisis-filled start to the new year has left me a bit behind on the blog, but I'm catching up now! January was a wonderful reading month. Here's what I finished reading last month:

Wow, 9 books in all in January! No wonder it took me awhile to finish my reviews. It was a wonderful variety to kick off the New Year, with half the books adult novels, two nonfiction, two middle-grade, and one YA. Two were audio books, and two of my books were graphic novel-style (one middle-grade fiction and one memoir)...which explains why I fit so many in as those tend to be quick reads! I traveled to a lot of different locations through my books last month, though it looks like Massachusetts will be a popular one this year. I enjoyed every one of these, but I think my favorite was The Rent Collector, with Finding Dorothy a close second.

Progress in 2019 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges - and I just finished signing up for a record number of them for 2019!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - 4 of my 9 books were from my own shelves - a good start! 
Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - January was New to Me Author month. Seven of the nine books I read were new authors for me, so I chose Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
Back to the Classics Challenge - no classics read last month
Monthly Keyword Challenge - I didn't read a single book with any of the monthly keywords in the title! Slow start... 
Diversity Reading Challenge - wow, I rocked this new challenge! Seven of the nine books I read were diverse. 
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I added 3 international books. Countries included Mexico, Germany, France, India, Japan (all in one book!), Cambodia, and Canada.
2018 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added 5 states: Delaware (yay!), Maine, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Massachusetts (with 3 books set there already).
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 January - 

Spaces filled in:
The Parker Inheritance - free book, audio book, repercussions
Less - shelf love, new to you author
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: Monster Mall - in a series, ghosts/spirits/souls, multi-word title
Finding Dorothy - read a physical book, cold weather
Form of a Question - competition
The Rent Collector - not in a series
The Beautiful Lost - YA, outdoor activities
Being Mortal - library book
True Enough - made into a movie, siblings

Free Space

What was your favorite book read in January?    

Friday, February 22, 2019

Fiction Review: Finding Dorothy

I was intrigued by the premise of Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts, so I chose it as my January review book for Shelf Awareness. It far surpassed my expectations!

This magical, unique novel features parallel narratives. In one story, Maud Baum, widow of Frank L. Baum, gets involved with the making of the movie adaptation, The Wizard of Oz, of Frank's book in the 1930's. In the other, Maud is a child, growing up in the 1870's in upstate New York with her suffragette mother and kind father. The two stories alternate, so the reader goes along as Maud meets and marries Frank and they raise their children and also sees the details of their lives that made it into Frank's famous children's book...and eventually onto a Hollywood soundstage.

The novel is beautifully written, the characters are three-dimensional, the historical fiction is fascinating, and the behind-the-scenes details of a beloved Hollywood classic (one of my personal favorites) are such fun! I really loved this novel!

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness.

368 pages, Ballantine 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 book - it sounds wonderful!

You can purchase Finding Dorothy from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order Finding Dorothy from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Nonfiction/Graphic Novel Review: Escaping Wars and Waves

At the end of the year, I reviewed a unique graphic novel-style nonfiction book for Shelf Awareness. Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees by Olivier Kugler is a powerful chronicle - in both words and drawings - of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The author, a journalist illustrator, visited various refugee camps in different countries (plus a couple of refugee families now settled in other countries), and tells the refugees' stories in this unique and moving book. He uses the refugee's own words to describe what they've been through, why they left, what their lives were like before the war, and what things are like in the camps now. Those heartbreaking and inspirational stories are illustrated with drawings made from photos he took during his visits. Here's an example page from the book:

I spent hours poring over these detailed pages, absorbing the stories of these remarkable people - and the people who are helping them. It's a truly unique book that everyone should read.

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness.

80 pages, Penn State University Press

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 Escaping Wars and Waves from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order Escaping Wars and Waves from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

2019 Reading Challenges

Since it's February 20, I figured it might be time to choose and sign up for my reading challenge for the "new year"!! Ah, well, best laid plans...

I might have gone a little overboard this year, signing up for more reading challenges than ever before, but most of them fit perfectly with my reading goals. So, I don't see them as adding any extra pressure - just some fun ways to track my progress!

Throughout the year, you can check on my progress in each of these on my 2019 Reading Challenges page.

Better late than never, here are my 2019 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2019 hosted by My Reader's Block

I am again signing up for the Mount Vancouver level this year and aiming to read at least 36 books from my own shelves. Last year I almost made it and read 33!

I have an entire TBR bookcase (that now has double rows on every shelf!), so I really need this challenge.

There are monthly summary link-ups (I will try to remember!)

2019 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo.

I enjoy this challenge every year! I only missed one monthly motif last year, so I will try to hit them all in 2019!  This also has monthly review link-ups.

JANUARY – New to You Author
Read a book by an author whose writing you’ve never read before.
FEBRUARY – Cover Love
Yes. We’re giving you permission to judge a book by its cover and read a book with a cover that really caught your eye.
MARCH – Royalty, Kingdoms, Empires, Governments
Read a book in which the character is involved in a ruling or governing body in some way.
APRIL – Crack the Case
Read a mystery, detective story, true crime, cozy mystery, or book involving a puzzle to solve.
MAY – One Sitting Reads
Read something that is short enough you could get through it in one sitting- try a graphic novel, comic book, short story, essay, or short collection of poetry.
JUNE – Diversify Your Reading
Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own or read about a culture you want to learn more about.
JULY – Through The Years
Read a book involving time travel, a book with a ‘time’ setting such as The Great Gatsby (20s), read a historical fiction/nonfiction, or choose a book published in your birth year.
AUGUST – Mode of Transportation
Read a book where the mode of transportation plays a role in the story (ex. Murder on the Orient Express or The Boys in the Boat)
SEPTEMBER – Animal, Number, Color, Name
One of those things needs to be in the title of the book you choose (ex. Water for Elephants, Red Queen, Fahrenheit 451, Rebecca, Harry Potter)
OCTOBER – Tricks and Trades
Read a book set in a theater, an amusement park, a circus, or a book involving magic, illusions, or characters with special powers.
NOVEMBER – Seasons, Elements, and Weather
Embrace a winter wonderland setting, pick a beach read, or read about a natural disaster. As long as a season, element, or the weather plays a key role in the story or is part of the title, it counts. (ex. Little Fires Everywhere, The Snow Child, On The Island)
DECEMBER – Last Chance
Finally read that one book that you’ve been meaning to get to all year long.

Back to the Classics hosted by Books and Chocolate.

Another one I am returning to this year. For the last two years, I aimed to read 6 classics and managed just 5, so I am once again setting my goal at 6 classics. Here are the categories:

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 

3. Classic by a Woman Author.

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.

5. Classic Comic Novel. Any comedy, satire, or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it's a work that's traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. Some classic comic novels: Cold Comfort Farm; Three Men in a Boat; Lucky Jim; and the works of P. G. Wodehouse.

6. Classic Tragic Novel. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. Examples include The Grapes of Wrath, House of Mirth, and Madame Bovary.

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages. 

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either North or South America or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America). 

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those continentss or islands, or by an author from these regions. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria). 

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you've lived, or by a local author. Choices for me include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany). 

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

Monthly Keyword Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block

I was looking for something new and interesting for 2019, and this one caught my eye. Here's how it goes:

"Your task is to read at least one book for each month whose title includes one or more of the key words for that month. For instance, for January you might read Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie. A full chart of all key words for the year - "

Sounds like fun!

2019 Diversity Reading Challenge hosted by Lukten Av Trykksverte

I usually count these up myself anyway at the end of the year, so I thought it would be fun to join a challenge and track it as I go. Last year, I read 22 books (25%) that counted as diverse books (though I might have had a few more, using this criteria - it's pretty broad). So, I will aim for 25 diverse books for 2019 (but hope for much more!). This one also has monthly review linkups.

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 can't wait to see what places I visit in books in 2019! Last year I read 31 books set in other countries/cultures (30 different countries/regions - I read a trip-around-the-world memoir at the end of the year!), so I hope to do even better this year (though that will be hard to beat).

2019 Literary Escapes Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas Into a Good Book.

I love tracking where I read! Last year, I read books set in 25 different states for this challenge last year, so I hope to do even better this year.
Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Stop by to print out this month's Bingo card and play along!

Big Book Summer Challenge hosted by Book By Book (me!)

Starting at the end of May. I usually aim to read 6 Big Books (400+ pages) during the summer for the challenge. All are welcome to join the fun! I'll post the sign-up page at the end of May.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Teen/YA Review: The Beautiful Lost

Sometimes by the time I get around to listening to an audiobook, I've forgotten why I chose it and what it's about. So, I was pleasantly surprised to get partway into The Beautiful Lost by Luanne Rice and realize it involved a road trip! As much as I love any story with a roadtrip, this one has far more depth than just a romantic journey; this engaging YA novel also deals with some serious issues like depression, mental illness, and family trauma.

Maia has struggled with depression ever since her mother left. She even spent some time in a mental hospital when it got really bad, but she doesn't want to go back there, even though she can feel some of the effects of depression beginning to dig its claws into her again. Her father and stepmother, Astrid, are worried that she might harm herself, but Maia insists she is just missing her mother. When she decides to sneak away to drive to Canada and find her mother, someone else unexpectedly comes along. Billy is a boy from her class who she's got a secret crush on. He lives in the group home in town, and everyone knows that his father killed his mother and is in prison now. As Billy and Maia set off for the north, they barely know each other, but all those miles on the road together help them to get closer. They have a lot in common, beginning with absent mothers. Maia can still feel that inevitable slide toward depression beginning, but she feels certain she will be OK if she can just be with her mom again, listening to whale songs and looking at constellations.

Billy and Maia have a long, challenging trip from Connecticut to Canada, but along the way they get to know each other and better understand what each has been through. I enjoyed the mix of fun, romantic roadtrip chronicle with real-life issues. The story doesn't end when they reach their destination, and, as you might have expected, there are some surprises in store when Maia is finally reunited with her mom. Billy's and Maia's problems are complex and deep-seated, but by learning to trust each other, they both realize they don't have to face them alone. Because Maia's mom is a scientist, there is also a thread of the natural world throughout the story - especially the lives of whales - that enhances it. I'm glad I went along for the ride with Maia and Billy.

304 pages, Point Paperbacks
Scholastic Audio

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 audiobook.

You can purchase The Beautiful Lost from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order The Beautiful Lost from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.