Saturday, June 29, 2019

Saturday Snapshot: HOT Summer Days

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

Life around here has been an endless series of crises, so I haven't been able to get outdoors and walk like I normally do. This week, my 94-year-old father-in-law was in the hospital (he's fine now), so once he was settled back into his apartment Thursday night, I looked forward to a quiet, "normal" day on Friday. But it has been in the 90's and humid every day this week (and my car doesn't have A/C, so all those trips back and forth to the hospital were agony!). At 9 am, it was already too hot to walk in my neighborhood, so I drove a few miles to our local Ashland Nature Center, a beautiful, familiar, and shady place! I was still sweating by the end of my short hike, but it was far more tolerable in the shade, and I loved just getting outside for a bit. Here are some glimpses of the gorgeous trails, with everything lush and green.

I love this little bridge in the woods over the stream.

Cool stream running through all that green.

An enticing trail through a tunnel of lush green.

Robin's egg!

One of Delaware's two covered bridges reflected in the stream

Beautiful flowers in bloom in the butterfly garden.

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend and staying cool!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Memoir Review: Inheritance

Like everyone else, I have been hearing about Dani Shapiro's best-selling book, Inheritance: A Memoir About Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, ever since its release in January this year. So, when one of my favorite podcasts, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, chose the book as its first book group selection AND one of my own local book groups chose it for this spring, I made time to read it. This unique story of discovering a shocking secret about your family - and yourself - in your 50's kept me rapt.

Dani opens the book by describing what happened when, in a rush to leave for a trip, she and her husband took a quick peek at newly delivered genetic results from, and her life was forever changed. Dani grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, with both a Jewish mother and father. Her parents had died, but - like us all - they had both left an indelible impact on her life and her identity. So, when her genetic results clearly stated that Dani was slightly less than 50% Jewish, she was stunned and assumed it must be a mistake. It was no mistake. Through the magic of the internet and with her husband's help, Dani discovered over the course of mere days that the father that she grew up with was not actually her biological father, and (somewhat miraculously) tracked down the man who had donated sperm anonymously to a fertility clinic as a medical student over 50 years ago. Dani's whole world was turned upside down, as everything she thought she knew about herself and her family seemed to be a lie. Slowly, she pieced together the story of what had happened so long ago, talked to family members, and began to come to terms with this life-changing news.

Throughout this fascinating and incredible memoir, Dani slowly unravels the truth and brings the reader along for the ride. She remembers bits of her childhood that never made sense before (such as how people often commented that blond, blue-eyed Dani couldn't possibly be Jewish), struggles to reconcile the life and father she lived with versus the truth she has discovered, and slowly - very slowly - begins to put her life back together. I was riveted by this incredible true story. Dani, a well-respected author of both memoir and fiction, is a wonderful writer, and her story is both compelling and thoughtful. This is an excellent choice for book groups, and we had some interesting and in-depth conversations about Dani's musings on family, fatherhood, and identity.

272 pages, Knopf

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

Listen to a sample of the audio book, read compellingly by the author. It's even more powerful to hear her read her own words aloud.

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

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

Fiction Review and Author Interview: Evvie Drake Starts Over

As I have mentioned here before, I am a big fan of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and I listen to it (and look forward to it) every week. So, when I saw that the host of PCHH, Linda Holmes, had written her debut novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, I pitched an author interview to my editor at Shelf Awareness. I was absolutely thrilled when she said yes, and last month, I had the chance to chat with Linda on the phone about her new novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My review of the book is below, and you can read my interview with Linda here.

Evvie Drake is packing her car to leave her husband when she gets a phone call that he’s been in a serious car accident. Before she can get to the hospital, he dies…and no one – not even her best friend, Andy – knows that she was about to leave him. This leads to a rather awkward and extra-difficult time for Evvie, as everyone sees her as the inconsolable, grieving young widow, when in fact, her emotions are also mixed up with guilt and the pressure of keeping her secret. One year later, she still feels stuck in a kind of limbo when Andy asks her if his friend, Dean, might rent the apartment connected to her house. Dean is a professional baseball player, a star pitcher with a bad case of the “yips.” As Andy explains to Evvie, “Well, he was a very good pitcher, and then all of a sudden, he was a very bad pitcher.” Dean is looking to escape the nonstop media attention, and this small town in Maine seems like a good place to lay low and figure out what’s next in his life. So, Dean moves into the apartment, and he and Evvie become friends. They both vow not to mention the others’ problem (i.e. dead husband and baseball), but as they grow to care about each other, they each want to help the other.

On the PCHH podcast, Linda Holmes often talks about her love of romcoms, so it’s no surprise that she chose to write one as her first novel. What is a bit of a surprise is just how good it is. She nails the witty banter and will-they-won’t-they of all romcoms, but, as she explains in her interview with me, she gives the story a much-needed twist. Neither Evvie nor Dean actually fix each other; both of them need to fix themselves before they can even consider a future together, and that’s a nice, realistic change from the typical girl-meets-boy-and-he-fixes-her romcom trope. I was hooked on this story and its likeable characters right from the first chapter. Holmes is very talented with the witty banter, and I was often laughing out loud while reading, but it is also a very warm, tender story with plenty of emotional depth, delving into grief, friendship, love, and moving forward. She’s working on a second novel now, and I can’t wait to read it!

289 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  sample of the audiobook, narrated beautifully by Julia Whelan (who also narrated best-sellers The Great Alone and Educated).
You can purchase Evvie Drake Starts Over from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order Evvie Drake Starts Over from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Author Interview & Memoir Review: The Light Years by Chris Rush

The blog has been a bit quiet this week because my father-in-law went into the hospital Monday morning, so we've been spending our days driving back and forth and sitting with him and trying desperately to find a doctor to talk to (hospitals are very frustrating places!). The good news is that he is back at home now, and he's fine. It was just a bad respiratory virus, but at 94 years old, it took a lot out of him for a few days.

So, I finally have a few minutes to tell you about a book that absolutely blew me away! The Light Years by Chris Rush is a very unique memoir that was released back in April (we've had a lot of crises here lately). I had the opportunity to both review the book and interview the author for Shelf Awareness. You can read the author interview here and the book review here (or you can just scroll down from the interview - they are both in the same newsletter). I also wrote a slightly longer review here on the blog.

The memoir is about Chris' very unusual childhood. Feeling like he didn't fit in, after trying two different boarding schools, Chris headed out West at just thirteen years old. He moved in with his older sister and joined the drug counter-culture of the 60's and 70's, dealing drugs, doing drugs, enjoying the southwest wilderness, and experiencing a very unique coming-of-age without any responsible adults around. There are some horrifying moments in his memoir, but it is also very, very funny on almost every page. I was quite literally laughing out loud often as I read, in between the more poignant or frightening passages. You can read my full review here.

My interview with Chris was thoroughly enjoyable. As expected, he has a wonderful sense of humor, and he was thrilled that I "got" the humor in his book. The author interview is almost as interesting as the book itself because Chris has lived such an interesting life and is so open about his past and how it has affected the rest of his life.

I should mention that this book did not come to me through the usual review channels. It was sent to me by another author, Victor Lodato, who wrote the wonderful novel Edgar and Lucy, which I read and reviewed two years ago (review at the link - it's an excellent book and perfect for the Big Book Summer Challenge!). I also had the pleasure of meeting Victor in person at the 2017 Booktopia event, and he and I stayed in touch. He helped to edit The Light Years and also beautifully narrates the audio book (he has a great reading voice!), and he thought I'd like it. He was right!

So, thank you, Victor, for introducing me to this remarkable memoir!

384 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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 Light Years on audio, read by Victor Lodato, featuring the very funny opening scene of the memoir.

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

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

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Saturday Snapshot: First State National Historic Park

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

Most of the past few weeks has been an exhausting blur of crises and urgencies, with new and serious issues with our son's health, suddenly needing a new car (immediately!), internet out all this week, etc. However, there was one oasis of a day in all that - last Saturday - when our family of four spent the whole day together, relaxing and enjoying each other's company. My husband left on Sunday morning for a business trip, so we spent Saturday together for an early Father's Day and enjoyed a nice picnic-style dinner that night here at home with my father-in-law. In the morning, the four of us took a hike together,  a rarity these days that we used to enjoy every week.

We decided to check out the brand-new First State National Historic Park, Delaware's first (and only) National Park! It was just designated a year or two ago and includes several historic areas, but we set our sights on the natural part of the park, the Beaver Valley area. This is just minutes from our house, so the area's not new to us, but this particular hike was. We climbed a sloping hill to gorgeous views of the surrounding valley, walked through woods, and alongside horses and neat rows of corn, just shin-high. The weather was perfect, and it was lovely to just enjoy each other's company and the beautiful surroundings. Here are some highlights:

Covered bridge near us, adjacent to the new National Park

My namesake: Brown-eyed Susans!

Gorgeous view of the valley

Horses along (and on) the trail

Brandywine Creek - VERY high compared to normal levels!

Male Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

Father & Sons

Another month and we'll have local corn!

Back home on our deck

Enjoying our newly-cleaned and spruced up screened porch!

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fiction Review: True Grit

My favorite books podcast, Book Cougars, recently hosted a readalong of the classic Western novel, True Grit, by Charles Portis. Since I am behind on my Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge, and I enjoyed the most recent (2010) movie adaptation of the novel, I decided to join the fun, and I picked up a copy at Browseabout Books, one of our favorite independent bookstores, in nearby Rehoboth Beach. My husband was interested, too, and he read it before I did. I finally fit it into my reading schedule in May. I remembered only the barest outline of the plot from the movie and was pleasantly surprised by how good the novel was – not only action-packed and suspenseful, as I expected, but also riveting and very funny.

Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross travels from her farm in Yell County, Arkansas, to Fort Smith to avenge her father’s recent murder. On a trip to Fort Smith to buy some ponies, her father was shot in the head by their hired hand, Tom Chaney, in a drunken fury. Mattie wants to return the ponies, get their money back, and make sure that Tom Chaney is arrested and punished for what he did. She finds, though, that Tom is on the run with some other criminals, off into Indian Country (which would later become Oklahoma). Mattie inquires as to the meanest, most ruthless of the U.S. Marshals, and she hires one-eyed Rooster Cogburn to help her track Tom. Gruff Rooster isn’t too happy to be traveling with a fourteen-year-old girl, but Mattie pays him well, and she soon wins his grudging respect, as they track the killer across the wild, dangerous country.

Mattie is one of the best literary characters ever – she’s in a class with Scout Finch for spunk, personality, and intelligence, only with a big helping of courage added in. Determined to see her father avenged, Mattie is single-minded and fearless and keeps up with Rooster and the other rough, experienced men they team up with later. I remembered the fast-paced action and suspense of the story from the movie, but what I loved best was the dry humor of Mattie’s narration. Her very serious, precocious attitude plus a touch of young girl naiveté makes for a very amusing account that often had me laughing out loud, as in her assessment of the temperaments of animals:
“I had hated these ponies for the part they played in my father’s death but now I realized the notion was fanciful, that it was wrong to charge blame to these pretty beasts who knew neither good nor evil but only innocence. I say that of these ponies. I have known some horses and a good many more pigs who I believe harbored evil intent in their hearts. I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces?”

Portis is an absolute genius to so perfectly capture the voice of this young girl. The straightforward tone and deadpan telling (Mattie tells the story as an adult, looking back) make for a subtle yet amusing tale of a classic Western adventure, complete with bandits, gunfights, and rattlesnakes. I had never heard of Portis’ other four novels, but now I am eager to read them. Thanks, Book Cougars, for the inspiration to read this wonderful classic!

224 pages, The Overlook Press

If you have also read True Grit, you can listen to the readalong episode on Book Cougars, where the two hosts discuss the book.

Listen to a sample of the audio book - which sounds wonderful! I bet it's great to listen to Mattie tell her story. 

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

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

Movie Monday: Murder Mystery

My older son was home last night, and we were both pretty worn out, looking for a light, fun escapist movie, so we watched the new Netflix original, Murder Mystery, which fit the bill perfectly.

Jennifer Aniston plays Audrey, a hairdresser who loves to read mystery novels, and Adam Sandler plays her husband, Nick, a NY cop who's failed the detective exam three times. They've been married for 15 years and have never been on a honeymoon, so they take a long-dreamed-of trip to Europe. On the flight over, Nick falls asleep and when Audrey wanders up to first class, she meets Charles Cavendish, a very wealthy man played by Luke Evans. After chatting on the flight, he invites Audrey and Nick to come on his yacht and sail around the Mediterranean. The two New Yorkers are treated to luxury like they've never seen before, with other guests on the yacht including a beautiful movie star and a famous race car driver. It turns out that the purpose of the voyage is the wedding of Charles' elderly uncle to a beautiful young woman. The uncle surprises the small group of family and close friends by announcing that he is writing them all out of his will and instead leaving everything to his fiance. Soon, the uncle is dead. At the next port, Inspector de la Croix (sounding very much like Inspector Clousseau) boards the ship and begins to question its guests. Nick and Audrey find themselves the prime suspects in a murder, and as they race across the region to try to clear their names, the body count continues to grow.

This playful film takes a classic whodunit (and a closed-room mystery, since there was only a small group on the yacht) and turns it into a fast-paced farce. All of the characters are exaggerated stereotypes, in a classic mystery style (some reviewers have said it reminds them of Clue). Audrey's experience reading mystery novels is used in humorous ways, as is Nick's police experience (and lack of detective status). The settings are gorgeous, as are most of the people. As is often the case on TV and movies, it's sometimes hard to imagine how Nick ended up with beautiful and poised Audrey, but hey, we went along for the ride. That's what this movie is - a fast ride through the water and streets of Europe, as Audrey and Nick try to solve the mystery. There are car chases (in amazing cars), gunshots, and other typical mystery tropes, as well as lots of dead bodies to keep the amateur detectives busy. Parts of the movie feel a bit predictable but the mystery itself kept surprising us. It's not a great movie but a fun little romp when you feel like some mindless escape...which was exactly what we needed last night.

Murder Mystery  is a Netflix original so is available exclusively on Netflix.

It's Monday 6/17! What Are You Reading?

This summer continues to be busy, busy, busy here! It was another week with our sons in and out (they are both sort of half living home and half living in their apartments in the nearby college town) - I only ask that they give me some notice if they'll be home for dinner! It's nerve-wracking not knowing if I'm cooking for 2 or for 4 (or for 6 or...) each day. We had a very nice weekend together as a family, something we haven't been able to do for a long time. My husband left on a business trip Sunday morning, so we celebrated Father's Day on Saturday. All four of us took a hike on a perfect day to a nearby trail we'd never tried with great views. I have sooo been hankering for some camping and vacation time, so this gave me a little taste. In the evening, my father-in-law joined us, and we enjoyed a nice picnic-style dinner and gifts and some time in our newly-cleaned and spruced-up screened porch. All in all, it was a lovely day. Then, everyone cleared out, and by 8:30 am on Sunday, I was alone...which was also very nice! Both sons came back home for dinner (leftovers - no cooking!) and both are heading out of town tomorrow. With my husband gone this week, I am hoping to get caught up on writing, household stuff, and everything else that hasn't been getting done lately. You know how this goes...I probably won't manage a fifth of what I've planned, but a girl can dream! (and, yes, my dreams involve fierce productivity).
A Father's Day hike

We have all been enjoying our (mostly Big) books this past week - here's what we've been reading:

Surprise! I am still reading my first Big Book of the Summer, a 959-page chunkster, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This is a readalong for the Book Cougars podcast for June, plus a classic (I am behind on my Classics Challenge), and from my own shelves, so it counts for several challenges. I've never read the novel, though I saw the movie many decades ago, and I am enjoying it so much. I'm surprised (though I shouldn't be) by how wonderful and well-written it is. I'm completely engrossed in the story, in both the personal dramas as well as the detailed perspectives of the Southerners during and after the Civil War and what that time period and culture was like. I'm about two-thirds of the way through now (they are very big pages with dense text) and still looking forward to reading it every evening! The story has been wholly engrossing so far, and I can't wait to see what Scarlett does next. I will need to set it aside this week to re-read a favorite novel for my book group.

I forgot to mention last week that although I've been reading the same book for three weeks now, I did squeeze in a graphic memoir in small increments over the past couple of weeks: A Fire Story by Brian Fies. It's the fascinating, horrifying, and eye-opening story of Brian and his wife's experiences with the 2017 California wildfires. They were awakened in the middle of the night and could see the fire quickly approaching, so they packed a few things and evacuated. Within hours, there was nothing left of their neighborhood - every single house burned to the ground, leaving just ashes. As an author and illustrator, Brian began drawing and telling this story immediately in the days after the fires, with some cheap drawings tools he bought, so there is an immediacy, level of detail, and personal touch to the book that is stunning. It brings a whole new understanding of these disasters, way beyond what you get just from watching a news story.

On audio, I finished listening to another Big Book, Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, a novel I've wanted to read ever since it was released last year. It's two intersecting stories about Harry, a man who works for the Forest Service whose wife dies suddenly, and Amanda, a woman who lives in a nearby rural area whose husband also died unexpectedly. Harry goes to the woods and ends up meeting Amanda and her daughter. It's a story about healing...and trees! It's intriguing, compelling, heartfelt, and even a bit magical, with fairy tale elements woven in, thanks to the imagination of the young girl. I really enjoyed it and recommend it.

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

Ken took a slim paperback on his trip, The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong. This thriller was given to me by one of the booksellers in our local bookstore who runs an international mystery book group at the store. Each month, they read a mystery or thriller set in a different country, and this was a favorite in the group. Jeong has been called "the Korean Stephen King" and the novel has been described as "The Talented Mr. Ripley meets The Bad Seed." It begins with the main character waking up, with no memory of the night before, to find his mother's dead body in a pool of blood....ooooh! Enticing, right?

Our son, Jamie, 24, was reading a new series, The Runes of Issalia, by Jeffrey L. Kohanek, but he gave up in the middle of book 2, The Emblem Throne: A Quest of Magic. He said it was all plot with no character development or depth to it. It's a shame because he did like the premise, but he just wasn't enjoying it much. Instead, he has gone back to a favorite series, Sorcery Ascendant Sequence by Mitchell Hogan, and is re-reading the first book, A Crucible of Souls (a Big Book, like most that he reads!) in preparation for reading book 2. He's enjoying it so far but probably won't have much reading time this week with travel, his girlfriend, and a weekend-long outdoor concert!

Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: Weeds - funny, suspenseful & irreverent show about a suburban mom who deals pot to make ends meet

Booktopia 2019 - my wrap-up of this unique and awesome event - plan to attend in 2020!

Teen/YA Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden - original graphic novel about an all-female sci fi adventure and romance

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

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

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Teen/YA Graphic Novel Review: On a Sunbeam

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

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

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

533 pages, First Second

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

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

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Booktopia 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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