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:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


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


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.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Movie Monday: Fracture

We are getting a little bit bored with all the TV shows we are keeping up with at this point in the season (especially since we've been watching some of them for 3-4 seasons and are on the 15th or 20th episode of the season now!), so we decided to watch some movies this weekend. Last night, we found a thriller from 2007 on Netflix that sounded good, Fracture, and it lived up to our expectations with plenty of suspense and creeping tension!

Anthony Hopkins stars as Ted Crawford, a wealthy and brilliant man who investigates plane crashes and spends his spare time creating beautiful and intricate marble runs and perpetual motion machines. In the early scenes of the movie, he witnesses his wife and her lover together at a hotel, goes home to wait for her, and coldly shoots her in the head. He is calm and meticulous as he waits for the police, gun in hand. Lieutenant Ron Nunally, played by Billy Burke, shows up with a SWAT team and falls to the floor in shock when he sees the bleeding woman, who is - you guessed it - his lover. Over in the Los Angeles D.A.'s office, Willy Beachum, played by Ryan Gosling, is a quiet and unassuming young man from Oklahoma who has a 97% conviction rate. Although he is being hired by a ritzy corporate firm, he is assigned this one last case, Crawford's, because the police say it is a slam-dunk with the weapon and a signed confession. Willy is schmoozed and distracted by his new firm and especially his new beautiful boss, Nicki, played by Rosamund Pike. He is completely stunned to go to court, expecting a quick guilty plea from the old white-haired man, to find a sly, clever defendant who insists on representing himself, pleads not guilty, and requests that the case go directly to trial without the preliminaries. Soon enough, every single piece of police evidence falls apart, bit by bit, and Willy finds himself struggling to figure out how to convict this man who he knows is guilty.

Anthony Hopkins is at his most Hopkins-esque in this tense thriller, playing with his opponent as only Hopkins can, like a suited, gentlemanly Hannibal Lector. As Crawford, he is intelligent, arrogant, and certain that no one can touch him, further frustrating Willy. The tone is dark, as befits a thriller, but with a subtle sly humor, thanks to Crawford's refusal to take the proceedings seriously. We joked before the movie started that Gosling usually plays a brooding, mostly silent character in his films, and there is some of that here, but at the beginning, you also see Willy as a smiling, happy, upwardly mobile guy with everything looking perfect for his future. Of course, Crawford pulls that easy confidence from him, little by little. As the audience, you watch Crawford shoot his wife in the opening scenes, so you know he did it, but the real mystery here is how can he get away with it? It's a captivating question that kept us rapt and guessing right up until the very last scene.

Fracture is currently playing on Netflix and it is available for rent streaming on Amazon, starting at $3.99.
We love thrillers and mystery/suspense movies, but it seems to us like there aren't as many of them (and certainly not as many good ones) today as there were 10 or 20 years ago.

What movies do you recommend in the thriller/suspense/mystery genres? We also enjoyed A Simple Favor (dark, suspenseful, and funny) and Taking Lives (though it is from 2004 - see what I mean?) recently.

Check out this trailer - you'll be hooked!


It's Monday 5/27! What Are You Reading?

Happy Memorial Day to those in the U.S! I hope you are enjoying your long weekend (and, of course, remembering the reason for the holiday). We've had a pretty good weekend, with a mix of getting things done around the house (long overdue), spending time with family, and a little time for fun. After all of our recent travels, it's been nice just to be home and take a breath and get caught up a bit. I am writing this from our screened porch, which we scrubbed clean on Saturday to get it ready for the season - it's beautiful out here! As for my week, it was busier than expected, though I did squeeze in some writing time.


The big news here is that Friday I kicked off my annual Big Book Summer reading challenge! woohoo! I look forward to this every year, as do many other readers who come back to participate every summer. The challenge is easy-going for summer (and it works if it's the start of winter where you are, too!) - you only have to read one book with 400 or more pages between now and Labor Day (September 2). Easy, right? Many of us, though, take this opportunity to tackle some of the bigger and oft-ignored books on our shelves or TBR lists. I had fun on Friday going through my shelves and picking out a bunch of 400+ page books! I won't get to all of them this summer, but I like to have a nice selection to choose from. You can read all about the 2019 Big Book Summer Challenge, sign-up (those who don't have a blog can leave a comment or use the Goodreads group to sign up), and see what I hope to read this summer! Hope you'll join the fun!

And, speaking of fun, here's what my family and I have been reading this week:

I finished Inheritance by Dani Shapiro, a memoir that has gotten a lot of buzz this year and with good reason. It's the fascinating story of a woman who sent her saliva off to Ancestry.com (just because someone gave her and her husband kits as a gift) and was shocked to discover that her father was not actually her biological father and she was only half-Jewish, not 100% Orthodox Jewish, as she'd thought. Her parents are both dead, so she can't ask them and sets off to dig into her own history, find her biological father, and figure out how this happened. It's just as good as everyone said and is a very moving story - not just about genetics but also about family, culture, and identity.

Next, I finally had a chance to read True Grit by Charles Portis, a classic Book Cougars podcast that my husband recently read, too. I enjoyed the 2010 movie remake so knew the general story, but the novel was so good! It's set in 1870's Arkansas, where a 14-year-old girl wants to avenge her father's murder by chasing after the outlaw who shot him. She teams up with a Federal Marshal, who is widely known as the meanest Marshal in the region, and a Texas Ranger, both of whom have their own reasons for wanting to capture this particular man. It's filled with action and suspense, as I expected, but the novel is also very, very funny! Mattie (the girl) is a fantastic character, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Now, I can join in the readalong discussions and listen to the podcast episode!
western and a readalong for the

Last night, I started my first Big Book of the Summer! Yay! I kicked things off with a doozy - a 959-page chunkster - Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Coincidentally, this is another readalong for the Book Cougars podcast, for June, plus another 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!


On audio, I am still 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 is a suspenseful and compelling story that I am enjoying just as much as the first one.

My husband, Ken, finished Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones, a Booktopia book that I read recently and passed onto him. You can read my review at the link - it's a fast and funny thriller about an ex-cop in Detroit who stumbles onto a crime involving young undocumented immigrant women. He enjoyed it, especially its sense of humor (as did I), and we are both looking forward to reading the first in the series, August Snow, which I bought at Booktopia after meeting the author.



Ken has now started his Big Book Summer Challenge, too! He's reading 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! We both love the show (and the books, of course).


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!






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?

I won't get to all of them, but here are my own 2019 Big Book Summer Challenge books!
 

Friday, May 24, 2019

My Big Book Summer 2019

I have just announced the 8th year of my annual reading challenge, Big Book Summer Challenge, so I guess I should be the first to sign up!

I always enjoy tackling some big books in the summer, and I'm looking forward to doing it again and finally reading some of these bricks that have been collecting dust on my shelf (NOTE: for this challenge, a Big Book is defined as a book with 400 pages or more).

I probably won't get through all of these, but I like to have some options to choose from. These are all currently on my shelves, waiting patiently to be read (along with many others!):

 
 
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (959 pages!)
  • The City of Mirrors (#3 in The Passage trilogy) by Justin Cronin (602 pages)
  • The Air You Breathe by Frances De Pontes Peebles (449 pages)
  • The Likeness by Tana French (466 pages)
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (453 pages)
  • Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge (483 pages)
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (536 pages)
All of these also qualify for my Mount TBR reading Challenge 2019 (which is good because I'm not doing very well on it so far this year). Two of them will also count for my Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge, which I am also behind in. Gone with the Wind is also the current selection for the readalong for the Book Cougars podcast, so feel free to join in the fun! The Time Traveler's Wife is a re-read that one of my book groups just chose for July, and since it is one of my all-time favorites, I do plan to re-read it, and Fly By Night is a middle-grade novel, so that one should be pretty quick. The City of Mirrors is a carry-over from last year's Big Book Summer, so I really want to get to it and finish the series this time. I doubt I will get through all of these, but I will try!

This weekend, I will be starting Gone with Wind, the biggest of my Big Books, so my Big Book Summer is officially kicked off!

How about you? Are you up for tackling a Big Book (or two or three) this summer?  Join me and sign up for the 2019 Big Book Summer Challenge! The rules, details, and link-ups are on that page.

(Note: You don't need a blog to participate - you can either leave a comment on the Challenge page or sign up in the 2019 Big Book Summer Goodreads group.  

Join me in some bookish summer fun!

2019 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

About 8 years ago, I came up with the idea to use the relaxed freedom of summer to tackle some of the biggest books on my TBR shelf that I'd been wanting to read but never seemed to have the time for.  One of my book groups takes time off during the summer, so with fewer interfering commitments, I declared it The Summer of the Big Book and really enjoyed delving into some hefty tomes, like The Passage and Pillars of the Earth.

It was so much fun that seven years ago, I created this challenge so that YOU can join me. And here it is Memorial Day weekend again and the unofficial start of summer 2019. So join in the fun!
And please note that if it is the start of winter where you live, you are still welcome to participate!

The Details:
Hey, it's summer, so we'll keep this low-key and easy!

  • Anything 400 pages or more qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 24 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 2 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal. Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with 400+ pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Sign up on the first links list below if you have a blog (or in the comments below or on Goodreads if you don't have a blog).
  • Write a post to kick things off - you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to this blog (no blog? No problem - see below).
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you've read...but you don't have to! There is a separate links list below for big book reviews or progress update posts.
That's it!  Go check out your shelves and your TBR list and sign up below!

Don't have a blog? No problem! You can still participate in the challenge - just leave a comment in the Comment section below, stating your goals for the Big Book Summer Challenge, or sign up in the Goodreads group.

Whether you have a blog or not, join the group on Goodreads for the 2019 Big Book Summer Challenge, where we can talk about Big Books and our progress on the challenge. If you don't have a blog, you can also use the Goodreads group to sign up for the challenge, post updates, and show which Big Books you are reading.

Check out my own list of books to read for the challenge this summer.

At the end of the summer, there will be a Big Book Giveaway! After Labor Day, I'll select one name from among the participants (bloggers who leave a link below as well as those without a blog who leave a comment to announce their participation or participate through the Goodreads group) and will send the winner an Amazon gift certificate.

And help spread the word on Twitter with #BigBookSummer (you can follow me at @suebookbybook).
   

Link-up your 2019 Big Book Summer Sign-Up Posts here - be sure to include a link to your kick off blog post (not your homepage):


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Come back to this page during the summer to add a link whenever you review a Big Book or post a progress report.

Add links here to your reviews of Big Books and any progress updates or wrap-up post: 


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books Read in April

Let's see...in April, I traveled to Virginia, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania in cars and on planes, camping, staying in hotels, and staying in my mom's guest room. It was a hectic, chaotic month, but all that travel also provided plenty of reading time!

Here's what I finished reading in April:
  • Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (MS) - adult fiction
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - teen/YA fiction on audio
  • Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (NY, Italy) - adult fiction


  • Last Day by Domenica Ruta (MA) - adult fiction, reviewed for Shelf Awareness
  • Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones (MI) - adult fiction 

That's eight books in all in April, a very good reading month for me! Much of the month was spent packing in as many books for Booktopia (held the first weekend in May) as I could manage - summary coming up next week! I read all fiction last month and mostly adult fiction, with just one  YA novel. I listened to three of the books on audio. I enjoyed all of these, and Mudbound was particularly powerful and well-written, but my favorite of the month (and perhaps even the year!) was Hum If You Don't Know the Words, a moving, heart-breaking, and heart-warming story of love and healing - if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it.

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

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - 3 of my 8 books were from my own shelves (and they were all fairly new, so I am still losing ground!).
Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - April was Crack the Case month, so Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones 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. Clearly this challenge wasn't a good choice for me!
Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2019 - no nonfiction books again last month.
Diversity Reading Challenge - back on track last month, as 5 of my 8 books were diverse books.
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I added two new countries: Italy and South Africa.
2018 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added 2 new states: Michigan and Mississippi. Plus, I read my second book of the year set in our tiny state of Delaware - amazing!
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 21 squares in April - 




Spaces Filled In:
Mudbound - military, siblings, vengeance
On the Come Up - Easter egg, musician, feisty
Leading Men - travel, shelf love
Sunburn - audio book, tricks or pranks
Hum If You Don't Know the Words - a book someone recommended, transformations
Soon the Light Will Be Perfect - free book, male author
Lives Laid Away - read a physical book, library book, in a series
Last Day - not in a series, tattoo, new adult
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in April?

Monday, May 20, 2019

It's Monday 5/20! What Are You Reading?

Wow, that week went by fast! It was wonderful to just be at home and not traveling anywhere, but my overflowing to-do list still seems just as long as last week! And I still have almost 100 unread e-mails - every time I clear some out, more come in. It's going to take me a while to catch up on everything. That's most of what I did this weekend - paid bills, cleared e-mails, and did a bit of yard work. Baby steps!

My reading life was busy last week, too, with two book groups meeting back-to-back, plus an author interview. Juggling three books resulted in my having to set one down halfway through and start another, so I could at least read a bit of it before the discussion. I really don't like doing that - I'm a monogamous reader! Luckily, they were all really great books.

Here's what we've all been reading this week:
  • I (eventually) finished reading Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman for my neighborhood book group last week. I LOVED this novel!! I want to shout it from the rooftops - it's just so good. My whole book group agreed, giving it one of our highest ratings ever. The titular character is socially awkward, to put it mildly, but also endearing, and the reader gradually finds out that her odd behaviors actually stem from some pretty horrific traumas in her early life. Eleanor takes things very literally and is completely clueless about pop culture, so the book is very, very funny, even as she digs down into that trauma and begins healing. One of my favorite passages was when she encounters a SpongeBob balloon! This is a must-read.
  • My second book group this week discussed Inheritance by Dani Shapiro, which I am still reading. This memoir has gotten a lot of buzz this year and with good reason. It's the fascinating story of a woman who sent her saliva off to Ancestry.com (just because someone gave her and her husband kits as a gift) and was shocked to discover that her father was not actually her biological father and she was only half-Jewish, not 100% Orthodox Jewish, as she'd thought. Her parents are both dead, so she can't ask them and sets off to dig into her own history, find her biological father, and figure out how this happened. It's just as good as everyone said and is a very moving story - not just about genetics but also about family, culture, and identity.
  • On audio, I decided to choose a YA novel because I haven't read one in a long time, so I am listening to 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 is a suspenseful and compelling story that I am enjoying.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones, a Booktopia book that I read recently and passed onto him. You can read my review at the link - it's a fast and funny thriller about an ex-cop in Detroit who stumbles onto a crime involving young undocumented immigrant women. I think he is almost finished with it. We are both getting ready for the Big Book Summer Challenge, starting this weekend!
  • 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 so far!
Blog posts last week:

TV Tuesday: Proven Innocent - a legal drama about wrongful convictions

Fiction Review: Sunburn by Laura Lippman - psychological thriller perfect for summer!

Fiction Review: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan - moving, powerful, captivating story about racial inequity in 1940's rural Mississippi

Saturday Snapshot: Spring Blooms - catching up with some of the lovely signs of spring from the past two months.

Remember, my annual Big Book Summer Challenge begins this weekend, so take a look through your shelves or your TBR list and pick out a book or two of 400 pages or longer so you can join in the fun (even if it's the start of winter where you are)! I already have a stack of Big Books that I can't wait to tackle. I'll be posting the sign-up page on Friday, but in the meantime, if you are unfamiliar with it, you can take a look at last year's Big Book Summer Challenge to see what it's all about. I can't wait to begin - and I am starting with a whopper this year!

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?

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday Snapshot: Spring Blooms

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

Whew, 6 weeks of non-stop travel is finally over, and I am thrilled to just be HOME. Since I've missed so many Saturday Snapshots, here are some photos of the spring blooms from the past couple of months, in rough order, from around our neighborhood (I was home in between trips for a few short walks and some photos!). I love watching the different blooms mark the stages of spring:


First crocuses of spring!

My favorite sign of spring - brilliant yellow forsythia!

Daffodils in bloom
Daffodils and one of the first trees to bloom here.


A redbud tree - we saw these in early April in VA then at home.

Weeping cherry tree - almost missed this one!

I think a regular cherry tree in bloom.

My own lilacs - another favorite - I love the scent!
Azaleas popped out all over the neighborhood in gorgeous colors.

Neighbor's rhododendrons are in bloom now


Our own purple irises are just beginning to bloom - they don't last long!

Hope you are enjoying the weekend and the spring!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Fiction Review: Mudbound

I read Mudbound, Hillary Jordan's award-winning novel, for the first time back in 2010, and I remembered liking it. So, when my library system chose Mudbound as its All-County Reads book for this year and then my book group chose it as our April selection, I decided to re-read it. It didn't matter that I had read it before; I was blown away by this powerful, moving, thoughtful book set in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940's.

Laura is 31years old and living in Memphis with her parents in 1939. She is resigned to being a spinster teacher when her brother, Teddy, brings home an older man named Henry to dinner one night. Laura and Henry enjoy dinners together, stroll along the city streets, and attend theater performances, while Henry works for the Army Corps of Engineers. Eventually, they marry, and after the war ends, Henry announces that he wants to return to his home state of Mississippi and be the farmer he has always wanted to be. He finds a house in a town near the farm for Laura and he and their two young daughters to live in, but when that deal falls through, the entire family - plus Henry's miserable father, Pappy - are all forced to live in the ramshackle farmhouse, which is really just a stark cabin with no running water or electricity. Laura struggles in this hardscrabble life with the help of Florence, a black woman sharecropper on Henry's land who lives with her husband, Hap. In addition to being generally cruel, Pappy is also a malicious racist who is none too happy with Florence's presence. Henry's brother, Jamie, and Florence and Hap's son, Ronsel, both return from the war and come to live on the land as well. When the two men bond over what they experienced in the war and become friends, there are many in the area - including Pappy - who are incensed by the sight of a black man and a white man together. Ronsel became used to being treated as a hero in Europe and is unprepared for this cruel and patronizing treatment at home. As storms roll through the area during the rainy season, cutting the farm off from the surrounding area, tensions also build among the people.

Jordan has written this stunning, compelling novel from the perspectives of multiple characters so that readers hear from Laura, Henry, Florence, Hap, Jamie, and Ronsel in alternating chapters, as they each tell their part of the narrative. In this way, the reader gets to know each of them and hear first-hand what they are each experiencing. The stark contrast between the treatment of the black characters and the white characters is shocking and disturbing, not only between Jamie and Ronsel but also Hap and Florence's position farming the land as sharecroppers versus Henry's role as the landowner. The climax of the story is as horrifying as it is inevitable, given the incidents leading up to it and the people involved. Through it all, the isolation and constant struggles of the literally-mudbound farm provide a metaphor for the lives of the people who live there. I was riveted by this heartbreaking story of love, friendship, and loss during a time of such inequities and upheaval. We typically think of those post-war years as prosperous and easy, but life in rural Mississippi was anything but, especially for those with darker skin. I am so glad that I re-read this remarkable novel.

324 pages, Algonquin Books
Winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction
Pen America Literary Award winner


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Listen to a sample of the audio book, which is an entrancing production with seven different narrators.


Mudbound was also adapted into a movie on Netflix (which I plan to watch, even though my book group members said the novel is better!). It does look good - here's the trailer (no spoilers here, if you haven't read the book yet):




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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Fiction Review: Sunburn

At the beginning of April, my husband and I took our pop-up camper out for its maiden voyage of the year, and drove down to Virginia to enjoy a few days of vacation. For the ride, we chose a thriller on audio by local author Laura Lippman, who normally sets her suspenseful novels in the Baltimore area. This time, we were surprised to find that her latest creepy thriller, Sunburn, actually takes place across the bay in our own little state of Delaware.

Polly is vacationing with her husband and young daughter at the Delaware beaches in June 1995 when she packs a small bag and slips away. She gets a ride with a passing car that's heading west; Polly isn't sure where she's going or what she's going to do, but she knows she wants to go west. When the car passes through the small, inland town of Belleville, DE, Polly gets out, has a meal at a local bar and restaurant and decides to stay awhile. She easily gets hired as a waitress for the busy season, with tourists passing through on their way from Washington and Baltimore to the beach. While working there, Polly meets Adam, a handsome single man who comes in alone for a drink. Adam is clearly entranced by red-headed, sunburned Polly. He is also passing through but decides to stay. In fact, he's trained as a chef and soon gets a job cooking at the little place, giving the owner a break from the kitchen work. The two strangers end up working together and soon, sleeping together. They are mutually attracted to each other, but both of them carry secrets that they hold back, even as they get to know each other better. What is each of them hiding? Which secrets will be spilled first and will they destroy the newly formed relationship?

Sunburn is a gripping psychological suspense story, filled with a creeping dread as each new secret is revealed. The reader soon learns more about Adam and his reasons for being in Belleville, but Polly's mysteries are revealed more slowly, with edgy tension. The darkness of some of these secrets, combined with the passionate relationship between the two main characters, gives the novel a noir feel. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to this taut thriller on audio, and Susan Bennett provides the perfect voice for Polly. Both my husband (who reads a lot of thrillers) and I were captivated and finished the audio book that week, anxious to find out how it would all end. Lippman is always a good bet for a thriller, but we found this one to be uniquely compelling.

320 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks


Note: This blog contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

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.


Listen to a sample of the excellent audio book, read by Susan Bennett.


You can purchase Sunburn from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


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