Tuesday, April 30, 2019

TV Tuesday: The Other Two

I usually watch a TV show on my own at lunchtime on weekdays, but sometimes I don't have time for a full hour show and just want a brief respite of comedy in 30 minutes (or less). My favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, mentioned a new show on Comedy Central, The Other Two, so I gave it a try and am really enjoying it. It's a fun comedy that also is also insightful, very clever, and full of heart.

The premise is that an adorable thirteen-year old boy made a music video that went viral and now the whole world is going crazy over ChaseDreams ala Justin Bieber. But the show isn't about Chase. The title refers to his two older siblings, Brooke (played by Heléne York), a former dancer, and Carey (played by Drew Tarver), an aspiring actor and current waiter, and the effects of their little brother's newfound fame on them. Molly Shannon, of Saturday Night Live fame, plays their mother who is a bit ditzy but really cares about her kids and is getting swept up in Chase's fame. Ken Marino plays a goofy, inexperienced manager with dollar signs in his eyes, and in later episodes, Wanda Sykes is added to the cast as a hilarious publicity manager. Each 30-minute episode is titled about a different milestone in Chase's career, while the action really focuses on his two kind but hapless older siblings. For instance, when ChaseDreams releases a sweet new music video with the lines, "My brother is gay, and that's OK" (cleverly titled Chase Gets the Gays), Cary's life is suddenly thrust unwillingly into the spotlight. A few episodes in, Brooke becomes Chase's personal assistant.

I am loving this show! It is funny but also very clever in its portrayal of our fame-hungry, social media-driven society. It's not played just for laughs, though. With each episode and each new set of challenges, both Brooke and Cary begin to grow a bit, learning to respect themselves more, and, as young adults, trying to figure out what they really want out of life. As you can imagine, Molly Shannon is great in her role as the mom, as she, too, comes out of her shell and starts to find herself, as her young son's career skyrockets. It's a warm, fun, intelligent show about coming of age in our crazy world today, in the shadow of a sibling's spotlight.

NOTE: As with most Comedy Central shows, this one can sometimes be explicit in terms of language and sexuality. 

I've watched eight of the ten episodes in season 1 so far and want more! I've been watching it On Demand, where all episodes are still available. It is also available on Comedy Central's website, though only the first episode is free to all - you can see the other nine by signing in with your cable, TV, or satellite provider. You can also stream it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $16.99 for the season (or for the same prices on YouTube).



Monday, April 29, 2019

It's Monday 4/29! What Are You Reading?

Last week was kind of a tough one. Of course, I was glad to be back home, after three trips in the previous two weeks, but I found out I lost a freelance writing job that I really enjoy. It wasn't about the quality of my work - which was often published with little or no editing - but about volume. They wanted me to do more each month than I could fit into my schedule. It was pretty demoralizing that I had worked hard and done a good job for more than two years, and enjoyed the work, but they still let me go. I was upset but have been trying to look on the positive side. It actually didn't pay well, and now I will have a lot more time to work on other projects I've been wanting to do, like publishing a couple of books and doing more travel writing.

On the plus side last week, I did a lot of catch-up work and even cleared the kitchen counters this weekend, which is always a big mood booster! All that clean counter space...ahhh!

And now I have three more (busy) days at home before I leave again...this time for Booktopia VT 2019! I am very excited about this annual weekend event that my mom and I often attend. It's an entire weekend in beautiful Manchester, VT, spent with authors and book lovers (many of whom return every year and have become good friends). It's exhausting for me because of my chronic illness but also a LOT of fun, so I am resting up and reading like crazy to try to finish the book selections! You can read all about last year's Booktopia here.

So, here's what my family and I have been reading this week:
  • I finished a review book, Last Day by Domenica Ruta. It's about a slightly-altered history where the world celebrates Last Day every May 28, with a nod to ancient myths and stories about the end of the world. The novel follows several very different characters with intersecting stories during the Last Day celebrations, including a teen girl, a tattoo artist, a special needs adult woman, and an astronaut on the International Space Station. I really enjoyed the interconnected stories, and the way the author used this fictional event to shine a light on our real world.
  • Now, I am happily back to Booktopia reading with Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones. It's a thriller set in Detroit and book 2 in a series featuring ex-cop August Snow (though Ilm having no problem starting with book 2). It's suspenseful, action-packed, and funny, too, with plenty of surprises. I've been staying up too late reading every night!
  • I forgot to mention in past weeks' summaries that I have been slowly making my way through the graphic novel On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. I enjoyed her YA graphic memoir, Spinning. Here, she turns her talents to a fictional story about an all-female world out in space, featuring a team of young women who work on reconstructing crumbling places and go on a mission to find a missing person, with flashbacks to the main character's time in boarding school. It gets a little confusing sometimes because of the imaginary worlds, but it is interesting and engaging.
  • On audio, I finished listening to another Booktopia book (trying to cram them all in!), Soon the Light Will Be Perfect by Dave Patterson. It is set in a small, impoverished town in the 1990's, at the start of the first Gulf War, and is a coming-of-age story about a twelve-year-old boy's summer, with his older brother, his father who works at a local military tank factory, and his mother, who is very sick with cancer. It's emotional and compelling, as the young narrator struggles to make sense of what's going on in his life.
  • Now, I am listening to another Booktopia selection on audio, The Guest House by Sarah Blake. I really enjoyed her novel The Postmistress, and this new one is good so far. It's the story of multiple generations of a family, the Miltons, who own a small island in Maine and run a successful financial institution, from the 1930's, in the shadow of the rising Nazis, through present-day, where one of the grandchildren, Evie, a history professor and now an older woman herself, digs into her own family history. I'm enjoying it so far and like novels that weave together stories from different characters and different times.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, a suspenseful thriller that I enjoyed last fall (review at the link). It's about a woman on a cruise with just 12 passengers who thinks she saw/heard a woman go overboard. She's a classic unreliable narrator, and no one believes her in this closed-room-type mystery. We both enjoyed it.
  • Ken started a book this weekend then set it aside to save for Big Book Summer (coming up in one month!). Instead, he picked up a book I just bought for myself, True Grit by Charles Portis, the classic western that the movies were based on. I got it for the Book Cougars podcast read-along, though I haven't had time to read it yet with all the Booktopia preparation! He is excited to read a western, something a bit different for both of us.
  • Our son, Jamie, 24, has been reading the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, a favorite of his. He first re-read book 1, Cephrael's Hand, book 2, The Dagger of Adendigaeth, and book 3, Paths of Air. He is now reading book 4 (for the first time), Kingdom Blades, and he's really been enjoying it. He and I were talking during a long car ride last week, and he said he loves this series - he put it on a par with Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time - high praise and good company!
Blog posts last week:
Teen/YA Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - compelling, powerful second novel from the author of The Hate You Give

Fiction Review: Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais - stunning, moving, important, funny novel - a must-read!

Saturday Snapshot: Lake Anna State Park and Monticello, Virginia - some highlights from our camping vacation, which already seems like a long time ago!

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? 

My husband and I hiking in VA earlier this month - I'm ready for another vacation!
 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Saturday Snapshot: Lake Anna State Park, Virginia

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at A Web of Stories (same host as always but with a new blog - check it out!).

It seems like a very long time ago now, with such a chaotic month full of travel, but way back in early April, we had a few days' vacation time camping in Virginia. This has become a spring tradition for us, traveling just a bit south (but still just one day's drive) to visit some Virginia state parks as soon as it warms up enough for camping. We had to cut this trip short for a family funeral, so we only visited one park, but Lake Anna was beautiful, our few days there were very relaxing, and the weather turned out pretty good, with only passing showers (mostly at night). We hiked, went kayaking, read a lot, and visited nearby Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson - a special treat for me after reading America's First Daughter last fall. I got to see everything described in the book in real life!

Here are some photo highlights:

Beautiful sunset on our first night at Lake Anna SP

ha ha Looks creepy but it was a nice, warm spring day!

Hike on Railroad Ford Trail in Lake Anna SP, VA

Tulips in bloom at Monticello

We were surprised to find loons on a Virginia lake!

My husband kayaking as the clouds begin to break up

Dock on Lake Anna, VA - sun is trying to come out!

Redbuds provided the only splash of color!

The Golden Hour

Ahhh...reading in front of the campfire - bliss!

Crescent moon at sunset (click to enlarge)

Our home away from home

Storm coming!
Sunset over and through our camper

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Fiction Review: Hum If You Don't Know the Words

Bianca Marais, author of the novel Hum If You Don't Know the Words, was one of the featured authors at Booktopia 2018, a wonderful weekend book event held every May that I attend whenever I can, but I didn't have time to read her book before last year's gathering. I was thrilled to hear she'll be making a rare second appearance at Booktopia 2019 (click on Events) next week, so I finally read her stunning, powerful, funny novel while stuck in airports and very uncomfortable airplanes last week - it was the perfect distraction.

In 1977 Johannesburg, 9-year old Robin, a white girl, lives with her parents in a suburb populated by mining families; her father is a supervisor in the local mine. A long way from there, in the mountainous region known as the Transkei, a 50-ish Xhosa woman named Beauty lives a satisfying life with her children in a dirt-floor hut. It is just her two sons at home now, as Beauty allowed her smart and determined teen daughter, Nomsa, to attend high school in Johannesburg. But she has just received an urgent letter from her brother that he fears Nomsa is in trouble, so Beauty packs a small bag, changes into "city clothes," and begins the multi-day journey. Things are worse than she imagined when she arrives in the city to find a huge student-led protest, later known as the Soweto Uprising, being held that day, with her daughter as one of the leaders. Beauty somehow survives that horrible, bloody conflict intact, but Nomsa is missing. That same violent day ends with Robin's parents being brutally murdered while at a neighborhood party. Robin is left devastated and mostly alone, with only her aunt to care for her, who is rarely home due to her job as a flight attendant. Desperately searching for Nomsa, Beauty takes on the job of caring for Robin so she can legally stay in the city with proper papers. The two isolated, damaged people slowly bond, as Robin begins to heal with Beauty's help. Robin worries, though, about what will happen to her if Beauty finally finds her daughter.

I was blown away by this moving, powerful novel about love and loss set during a turbulent, often horrifying time in South Africa's history. The racial inequities are stunning, especially when contrasted with the affection and love that Robin and Beauty begin to feel for each other, and Beauty's attempts to help Robin understand the world they live in. This novel took me on an emotional rollercoaster ride, punching me in the gut with its wrenching, shocking losses, and alternately making me laugh out loud. Chapters alternate between Robin's and Beauty's perspectives, and Robin's childish understanding of the adult world is often hilarious (plus, there's a talking parrot named Elvis). I loved every moment of this unique and exquisite novel, and loved both Robin and Beauty as well. It's the kind of novel that you finish and just hold to your chest, sighing in satisfaction and wishing you could read it all over again for the first time.

415 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons

Listen to a sample of the audio book, which sounds wonderful!


You can purchase Hum If You Don't Know the Words from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Hum If You Don't Know the Words from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Teen/YA Review: On the Come Up

I've been so excited to read Angie Thomas' second teen/YA novel, On the Come Up, since her first novel, The Hate U Give, was so powerful, moving, and engrossing. I listened to both of them on audio, which I highly recommend because it feels like her female teen characters are telling their stories directly to you. On the Come Up was just as compelling and important as the much-lauded The Hate U Give.

Sixteen-year old Bri is having trouble concentrating in school and on ACT prep because she is so focused on her rap career (that and she keeps getting sent to the principal's office). Well, it's not a career yet, but Bri loves rap music and seems to have the same talent as her father, a well-known rapper who was murdered twelve years ago. When she gets a chance in The Ring, a spot that sponsors a local rap battle, she proves her talent. Her aunt, who acts as her manager, has been in a gang since her brother was shot by a rival gang, but she is determined to keep Bri far from that life. Others recognize Bri's talent, though, including her father's old manager, who wants to make Bri a star. Besides the usual allure of being a rap star for any kid, Bri sees this path as a way to save her family. Her mother (sober eight years), older brother, and she have been barely scraping by, even losing electric for a while when they can't pay the bill. When Bri's mom loses her job, they are reduced to needing food from a local charity and in danger of losing their house. Though she's been warned that this new manager might not have her best interests at heart and she is drifting away from her best friends, Sunny and Malik, Bri is determined to help get her family out of this hole. After being unfairly targeted by the security guards at school, Bri records an angry but brilliant song. Once her words get out onto the airwaves (and internet), though, they are out of Bri's control, and the consequences are serious as her intentions and subtle irony are lost.

This second novel is set in the same fictional neighborhood as The Hate U Give, Garden Heights, but provides a completely different view of life as a black teen girl. One of the few kids of color at her charter arts school, Bri is often unfairly called out for saying or doing things that are ignored when done by white kids. With her mom's history and the lack of decent jobs nearby, Bri's family's economic struggles are very real and clearly shown here. The author paints a picture of a family struggling to better themselves (Bri's brother has a college degree) but against horrible odds. In addition, the culture of rap music is explored in depth. I'm not much of a fan of rap myself, but Bri's ability to pull together rhyming, incredibly clever lyrics on the spot was impressive, even to someone like me who knows little about the genre. The real force of this novel comes in the way that Bri's words and actions are misunderstood, with social media multiplying those effects. As in The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas once again opened my eyes to seeing things through others' perspectives and making me think while also providing an entertaining, suspenseful, and engaging story of a strong young woman.

464 pages, Balzer + Bray
HarperAudio


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 excellent audio book here.


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

Or you can order On the Come Up from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, April 22, 2019

It's Monday 4/22! What Are You Reading?

I'm back! I missed two weeks of What Are You Reading Mondays because my husband and I had three trips in the past two weeks - it's been an exhausting whirlwind of chaos! We started with a very nice and relaxing few days of vacation, camping in Virginia, with plenty of reading time. We had planned on a full week, as we usually do in April when the weather warms up enough to camp again, but we cut it short and rushed home to unpack, do laundry, and repack. My husband's first cousin had died the previous week of a heart attack, so we flew to Oklahoma for the funeral and to help clean out the house (which used to be his and my husband's grandparents' house). It was complicated because we discovered the house was still in their Grandma's name (she died in 1990!), so we also had to meet with a local estate lawyer. It was a tiring weekend but a much more tiring trip home - it took us 18 hours to get home last Monday, through 4 airports, on 3 planes (I was in the back, non-reclining row on 2 of those), with everything delayed everywhere we went and several runs down concourses with heavy backpacks. We finally arrived home at 2 am Tuesday! Then we had just a couple of days at home - unpack, do laundry, repack again! - and headed to the Poconos in PA this weekend for Easter with my family. I am SO hugely relieved to be back home now (though I leave again in 10 days for Booktopia!) and to be getting caught up - my to-do list for this week is a mile long!

So, this is a longer-than-usual reading update from my family - I will try to keep it as brief as possible!
  • I finished re-reading Mudbound by Hillary Jordan for my neighborhood book group. I first read it in 2010 and remembered liking this novel set after World War II in rural Mississippi, but OMG, IT IS AMAZING! Populated by three-dimensional characters that I quickly came to care about, it is the story of a white family and a black family, sharing land (and success or failure) but culturally separated in the still very racially divided Deep South. A must-read, if you somehow missed it - or a re-read if you don't remember the details (like me).
  • I finally moved onto my Booktopia 2019 (click Events and scroll down) reading - about time! I read Leading Men by Christopher Castellani, a local Delaware author. It's an engrossing and fascinating fictional account of the real-life relationship between famed playwright Tennessee Williams and his lover for 15 years, Frank Merlo, a working-class Italian-American from New Jersey. Much of the novel takes place in Italy. I really enjoyed it and can't wait to meet the author.
  • I needed a paperback for the plane trip, and I picked the perfect one, another Booktopia selection, Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais. It takes place in South Africa in 1977 during apartheid, about Robin, a 10-year old white girl who loses her parents, and Beauty, a 50-ish black woman whose own daughter is missing and who takes care of Robin. It is a stunning, moving, thoughtful, funny, amazing novel! It helped pass those long (and painful) hours crammed into tight plane seats.
  • This past weekend, I had to set aside the Booktopia books to read a review book (due this week), Last Day by Domenica Ruta. It's about a slightly-altered history where the world celebrates Last Day every May 28, with a nod to ancient myths and stories about the end of the world. The novel follows several very different characters with intersecting stories during the Last Day celebrations, including a teen girl, a tattoo artist, a special needs adult woman, and an astronaut on the International Space Station. I'm enjoying it so far.
  • On audio, I finished listening to On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - finally! This one is about a 16-year old girl named Bri who wants to be a rap star (and she's quite good at it), but her family is struggling and she's always getting sent to the principal's office in her mostly white school. As her local fame grows, there are unexpected consequences. It was just as captivating and thought-provoking as The Hate U Give - highly recommended.
  • On our road trip to Virginia, my husband and I listened to Sunburn by Laura Lippman, a thriller by the talented author. Though most of her novels are set in Baltimore, we were surprised to find that this one was set on our own small state of Delaware! It's about a mother who walks out on her husband and young daughter and starts a new life, and it was filled with all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, as her secrets are slowly revealed. Great suspense, and it kept us engaged through both Virginia and Oklahoma!
  • Now, I am listening to another Booktopia book on audio (trying to cram them all in!), Soon the Light Will Be Perfect by Dave Patterson. It is set in a small, impoverished town in the 1990's, at the start of the first Gulf War, and is a coming-of-age story about a twelve-year-old boy's summer, with his older brother, his father who works at a local military tank factory, and his mother, who is very sick with cancer. It's good so far, and I am immersed in their story.
  • My husband, Ken, finished the third and final book in the Themis Files trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel, Only Human. He and I both LOVE this unique and thrilling sci fi series that begins with Sleeping Giants, when a giant robotic hand is found half-buried in South Dakota. It got even better with book 2, Waking Gods, and he and I have both been excited to read the conclusion. He said it was good - my turn next!
  • On our camping trip, Ken read Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer, a tongue-in-cheek mystery novel featuring our former President and Vice-President as the detectives trying to find answers in the mysterious death of one of Joe's favorite Amtrak conductors. It is set here in Delaware (all these Delaware books are rarities!), so Ken enjoyed the humor, suspense, and local references.
  • Now, Ken is reading The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, a suspenseful thriller that I enjoyed last fall (review at the link). It's about a woman on a cruise with just 12 passengers who thinks she saw/heard a woman go overboard. She's a classic unreliable narrator, and no one believes her. I really enjoyed it, though my husband says it's a bit slow for him so far (he likes more action, and this is more of a slow, creepy build-up).
  • Our son, Jamie, 24, has been reading the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, a favorite of his. He first re-read book 1, Cephrael's Hand, book 2, The Dagger of Adendigaeth, and book 3, Paths of Air. He is now reading book 4 (for the first time), Kingdom Blades, and he's really been enjoying it.
Some blog posts from the past few weeks:
TV Tuesday: Manifest - intriguing, suspenseful show with some supernatural twists

Fiction Review: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie - outstanding, compelling historical fiction about Hamilton's wife

TV Tuesday: The Enemy Within - excellent thriller series with a great cast & twisty plot

My Summary of Books Read in March - a good reading month!

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? 

My husband reading Hope Never Dies while camping.

Me reading Leading Men by the campfire - ahhh, bliss!
 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Books Read in March

Scrambling to get ready for our third trip in two weeks (Easter with family starting tomorrow), but I'm going to try to squeeze in my March summary, in between packing and laundry and cooking!

March was a good reading month for me, with one longer book so not as much quantity as lately:
  • The Den by Abi Maxwell (NH) - adult fiction for Shelf Awareness review and Booktopia (due out May 14)
  • Tangerine by Christine Mangan (VT, Morocco) - adult fiction on audio
  • My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (NY) - adult fiction

  • The Widows by Jess Montgomery (OH) - adult fiction on audio
  • A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas (UK) - adult fiction for Shelf Awareness review (due out April 30)
  • Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan - illustrated short stories, YA and adult
 

So, that's 6 books in all in March, which is pretty amazing for me since one of them was 600 pages long! All were adult fiction (though one is also YA), and four of them were historical fiction, so I was living in the past in March! I listened to two of them on audio. My favorite was definitely My Dear Hamilton, which I loved just as much as their first historical novel, America's First Daughter, that I read last fall - and just like that one, I was dreading reading such a long book and then was totally hooked in the first chapter! I also really enjoyed The Widows - my favorite last month on audio. I will link to the upcoming Shelf Awareness reviews as soon as they are published.

Progress in 2019 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - Yikes, only 1 book out of 6 was from my own overflowing TBR shelves!
Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - March was Royalty, Kingdoms, Emnpires & Governments month, so My Dear Hamilton was a perfect fit.
Back to the Classics Challenge - no classics read - again! Slow start. I really tried to fit one in, but book group reads, review books, and Booktopia had to come first.
Monthly Keyword Challenge - I didn't read a single book with any of the monthly keywords in the title...again. Maybe this one wasn't a good choice for me!
Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2019 - no nonfiction books last month.
Diversity Reading Challenge - my great progress came to a screeching halt this month, as I apparently read a LOT of books by and about white people! Just 1 book (My Dear Hamilton) had some diversity in it, as it included the Iroquis's involvement in the American Revolution.
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I added two new countries: Morocco and the UK.
2018 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added 4 new states (I love the beginning of the year!): Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio.
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 19 squares in March (it was a weird Bingo month because almost every book fit almost every category I had!) - 



Spaces Filled In:
The Den - woman on the cover, coming of age, family secrets, daughter
Tangerine - character relocates, not in a series, dual POV,  audio book
My Dear Hamilton - library book, historical
The Widows - free book, luck - good or bad, female authors
A Good Enough Mother - missing person, read a physical book, green on the cover
Tales from the Inner City - shelf love, compilation

Free Space

What was your favorite book read in March?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

TV Tuesday: The Enemy Within

I'm back! My husband and I have been off on two trips this past week - a few days of camping in Virginia (very relaxing) and a long weekend in Oklahoma for a family funeral, culminating in an 18-hour trip home through 4 airports, on 3 flights, finally getting home at 2 am last night! And we leave again in 3 days for Easter with my family. Just trying to catch up and catch our breath in between!

So, I haven't been on the blog for a while and wanted to tell you about a new TV show we are loving, The Enemy Within - we even watched it on my laptop in our hotel room this weekend.

Jennifer Carpenter, of Dexter fame, stars as Erica Shepherd, a woman who is viewed as public enemy #1 and a traitor after she gave the names of fellow CIA operatives to a notorious terrorist who then killed them. Now, that terrorist, Tal, has set off multiple bombs, killing numerous people, including FBI agents. FBI agent Will Keaton, played by Morris Chestnut (who we enjoyed on Goliath and also starred on Rosewood), decides the only way to finally catch Tal is to bring Erica out of prison to help. One of the agents that Erica helped Tal to kill was Will's girlfriend, so he doesn't trust Erica, but he needs her. His colleagues, including Daniel, played by Raza Jaffrey, and Kate, played by Kelli Garner, are against this plan and consider Erica to be a terrorist herself, but Will soon finds out from Erica that there is far more to her story than was reported in the news. She shares her secret with Will but insists he keep it quiet for personal reasons. Besides wanting to catch Tal, who used to be her main target in the CIA and whom she knows better than anyone, she is desperate to see her teen daughter, Hannah, played by Sophia Gennusa, again. Erica and Will begin working together to find Tal, despite the protestations of the rest of the FBI team, while Erica is now imprisoned in a cell at the FBI. Each episode provides another piece to the puzzle of this violent terrorist.

We loved Carpenter as Dexter's sister, Debra, on Dexter and are thrilled to see her back on the screen in such an excellent thriller series. She is just as good here as Erica, as is Morris Chestnut as Will, as the two slowly begin to trust each other. Each episode is suspenseful and action-packed but also thoughtful, slowly digging deeper into Erica and Will's backgrounds as the two start to understand each other better. Erica is a brilliant CIA operative and analyst, and she slowly begins to prove her worth to the resentful FBI team, as they catch various Tal operatives, though the man himself remains tantalizingly out of reach. We've watched six episodes so far and are totally hooked. In fact, this is my favorite of the new batch of early-spring shows, and I can't wait to see each new episode. Both Erica and Will are complex and interesting characters, and I am eager to see what happens next in their joint mission to catch this notorious terrorist.

The Enemy Within is currently airing at 9 pm on Mondays on NBC (ooh, that means there should be a new episode On Demand today!). We are watching it On Demand, and also watched an episode on the NBC website while we were traveling. There are eight episodes currently available of the 13-episode season. It also seems to be available on Hulu or you can stream it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season.



Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Fiction Review: My Dear Hamilton

Last fall, I complained about - and then lauded - a 600-page historical novel, Americas's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, that I read for my neighborhood book group. Short story is that I dreaded reading it and thought I'd hate it but was pulled in by chapter 2, ended up loving it (see review at link), and never wanted it to end! So, this winter, my other book group chose the second book from these two amazing authors, My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, and - well, ditto. I guess I'm a slow learner because I once again wasn't looking forward to reading it and then absolutely loved it. These two women are incredibly talented, writing engrossing, fascinating novels from the perspective of the important women in our Founding Fathers' lives. In this case, the subject of the novel is Eliza Hamilton, wife to Alexander Hamilton.

The novel opens in 1777 in the wilds of Albany, when Eliza was a young woman in her parents' home during the Revolutionary War. Her father was General Schuyler, her mother was descended from Dutch New Netherlanders, and they lived in a lovely home close to where some of the Iroquois tribe lived. Known as Betsy at the time, Eliza grew up with her older sister, Angelica, and her younger sister, Peggy. Eliza loved the outdoors and felt at home both among the dignitaries who came to eat at her father's table and among the Iroquois, who adopted her and allowed her to attend Indian conferences with her father. Eliza was at the center of the founding of our country from the earliest pages of this novel, as a general's daughter, helping out as a nurse during some of the worst periods of the war, knowing Benedict Arnold when he was still an American hero, accompanying Lafayette and James Monroe to a meeting with the Iroquois to ask for their support in the war, and of course, eventually meeting and marrying Hamilton, who helped to establish and define our government in many important ways. Even after Hamilton's early death, Eliza was not only a mother dedicated to her own children but also a woman determined to help other widows and children without families through charity work and eventually establishing her own orphanages. She lived into her 90's and, along with Dolley Madison, was one of the last remaining representatives of the Founding Fathers at the unveiling of the Washington Monument.

As is obvious even from that very brief synopsis, Eliza lived an incredible, impactful life, taking part in the birth of our nation and living long enough to see it grow into a solid democratic government that was held up as a model for other nations. Most of the Founding Fathers and their wives - including George and Martha Washington - were among her closest friends. But her impact was not only in being an observer to history. Eliza played a huge role herself, both as Hamilton's wife and closest colleague in his many writings and in her own right, long after he was gone. What struck me most about this captivating book was how little things have changed in almost 250 years! The details of the controversies and issues that often separated Hamilton from his contemporaries are still being fought in politics today: federal vs. state powers, malicious media that can't always be trusted to report the facts, the electoral vote vs. the popular vote, and even sex scandals.

As with America's First Daughter, I was riveted from the first pages, by both the intricate story of an interesting and influential woman and by the historical details, which are rarely seen from a woman's perspective. For those who are bothered by historical fiction because they can't tell what is real and what is made up, the authors have written an extensive Note from the Authors in the back which details where they got their information, what is historical fact, and what they had to piece together with their imaginations - as they say, the most unbelievable stuff is the true stuff! I learned so much reading this novel - why wasn't history class in school ever this interesting? - that I drove my husband crazy interrupting his reading to say, "Hey, did you know..." But I was also enthralled, from beginning to end, by an incredible, well-told story of a strong and remarkable woman. Dray and Kamoie are talented historians and storytellers, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

These are excellent books for book groups to read - there is so much to discuss that I think we could have continued on for hours!

621 pages, William Morrow


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Listen to a sample of the audio book. I read the book in print, but the audio sounds good.


You can purchase My Dear Hamilton from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

TV Tuesday: Manifest

Way back in September last year, in my Fall TV Preview, I mentioned that one of the shows I was most looking forward to was a new NBC show called Manifest. My instincts were right, and my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed every episode in the first season of this twisty, suspenseful, mysterious show.

In the first episode, an ordinary American family is returning from a vacation in Jamaica: brother and sister Ben and Michaela Stone, played by Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh, their parents, and Ben's wife, Grace, and their twins, Olive and Cal. They are happy and relaxed, waiting in the lounge area for their flight home to NYC, when the airline announces (as they so often do) that they are overbooked and looking for volunteers to give up their seats and travel on a later flight. So, Mom, Dad, Grace, and Olive head home as planned, while Ben, Cal, and Michaela wait for the later flight. On that second flight, though, they hit some terrible turbulence, worse than anything anyone has ever experienced before. Finally, they get through it and continue to New York, where they land safely, though their plane is immediately surrounded by police and other emergency vehicles. After disembarking, they discover that they have been missing and declared dead for over five years. It's impossible, but there they are, all 191 people on that plane, back from a 3-hour flight. All of their friends and family have aged five years. Olive is now five years older than her twin brother, Cal. Worse, many people at home have moved onto different lives or new relationships.

There are so many intriguing pieces to this complicated puzzle.  The show is a family drama, about people readjusting to each other after a five-year absence and all the complexities that result. It's a mystery: what happened to that plane? How is this even possible? And then it takes even more of a supernatural turn, as both Ben and Michaela begin to hear voices in their heads, often telling them to do something, after returning home. It's an intriguing, convoluted, compelling story with twists and surprises - both personal and universal - in every episode. We absolutely loved it, with some of the bizarre things that happened reminding us somewhat of Lost (though perhaps with a bit more focus and purpose!). The acting is all very good, and we especially enjoyed the main characters. Jack Messina, who plays young Cal, plays a growing role as the season continues, and is excellent. All in all, we enjoyed every episode and can't wait for season two!

All episodes are still available free On Demand, if you have cable. Some of them are also free on the NBC website (looks like #1 and #12-16), while the rest need a login from your cable provider to unlock. The first season is also available on Hulu, and it looks like Amazon is trying to get it for streaming (I would check back again).  Youtube has it available for $1.99 an episode. It is available on DVD, for purchase or to borrow through your library.



Monday, April 01, 2019

It's Monday 4/1! What Are You Reading?

Last week was hectic, as we shuffled our plans around to accommodate a memorial service next week, but I think we have it all figured out now. We have three different trips in the next three weeks, sometimes with only a day in between at home, so I won't be online much! And I never did get around to all the blogs I wanted to visit last week (I just now closed the tab for last week's Monday post and didn't get to everyone who left a comment - sorry!). This week will be a semi-rushed preparation week, getting my freelance work finished early and submitted, packing, doing laundry, making plans, etc....but I do hope to do better with blog visits! I'm missing my favorites and had been doing well at visiting new blogs recently, too!

No matter what is happening, we always make time for reading, and I hope to have extra reading time with a short camping trip and some long flights coming up. Here's what we've all been reading this past week:
  • I finished A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas, my next review book for Shelf Awareness. It's a psychological thriller about a therapist who works with trauma patients. Her own young adult son is missing, and a patient comes to her who reminds her of her son and brings up all sorts of difficult feelings, as typical therapist/patient boundaries are crossed. It was an engrossing novel, with a constant sense of tension and dread that builds toward some surprises. It will be released on April 30, and I will post a link to my review when it is published.
  • Now, though I should be reading and preparing for Booktopia 2019 (just one month away!), I have one more book group obligation first. I am re-reading Mudbound by Hillary Jordan for my neighborhood book group. It's also our All-County Reads pick this spring. I first read it in 2010 and remembered really liking this novel set after World War II in rural Mississippi, but OMG, IT IS AMAZING! Populated by three-dimensional characters that I quickly came to care about, it is the story of a white family and a black family, sharing land (and success or failure) but culturally separated in the still very racially divided Deep South. A must-read, if you somehow missed it - or a re-read if you don't remember the details (like me).
  • I finished a very unique illustrated book, Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan. Tan is known for his amazing illustrations, graphic novels, illustrated short stories, and even a short film. This unusual book is a collection of short fantasy stories about animals in an urban environment, accompanied by beautiful 2-page paintings. You can read my full review at the link.
  • On audio, I finished The Widows by Jess Montgomery, which was recommended by the Book Cougars podcast (they also interviewed the author - episode 68). I highly recommend their podcast - they are friends of mine from Booktopia, and I always look forward to a new episode! Set in 1924, The Widows is inspired by the true story of Ohio's first female sheriff and tells the fictional story of two widows who are brought together by unexpected circumstances and find themselves at odds with the male leadership and corruption in their communities. I really enjoyed it; you can read my review at the link.
  • Now, I am listening to On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - finally! Like everyone else, I was blown away by her first novel, The Hate U Give, which was especially powerful and compelling on audio, and I was excited to listen to her latest. This one is about a 16-year old girl named Bri who wants to be a rap star (and she's quite good at it), but her family is struggling and she's always getting sent to the principal's office in her mostly white school. As expected, it is excellent so far and captivating.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson, a very good psychological thriller about a woman who discovers she is living next door to a killer - and he knows that she knows. I read it first, and my review was just published on Shelf Awareness. It's a taut suspense thriller.
  • Now, Ken is reading the third and final book in the Themis Files trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel, Only Human. He and I both LOVE this unique and thrilling sci fi series that begins with Sleeping Giants, when a giant robotic hand is found half-buried in South Dakota. It got even better with book 2, Waking Gods, and he and I have both been excited to read the conclusion.
  • Our son, Jamie, 24, has been reading the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, a favorite of his. He first re-read book 1, Cephrael's Hand, book 2, The Dagger of Adendigaeth, and book 3, Paths of Air. He is now reading book 4 (for the first time), Kingdom Blades, and he's really been enjoying it.
Blog posts from last week:
Movie Monday: Lion - a moving, powerful, uplifting adaptation of a memoir

TV Tuesday: Good Trouble - a new spin-off of The Fosters, about 2 sisters starting their adult lives

Fiction Review: The Widows by Jess Montgomery - compelling historical fiction based partly on the real-life first female sheriff of Ohio

Fiction Review: Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan - a wholly unique collection of fantastical short stories about animals in cities, accompanied by breath-taking paintings

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? 

Forsythia is finally starting to bloom, but it's COLD today! Had to get my parka back out!