Thursday, July 02, 2020

Fiction Review: Truly Madly Guilty

I know that I am late to the party. Everyone has been raving about Liane Moriarty's novels for years, and Big Little Lies was such a huge hit that Reese Witherspoon made it into an HBO TV show that was an even bigger hit. So, I used my Big Book Summer Challenge as added motivation to finally read Liane Moriarty's Truly Madly Guilty, which my mother lent to me years ago. Now I see what everyone has been raving about! I loved this compelling modern drama about friends and family.

The novel begins with Clementine, a mother, wife, and professional cello player, talking about something horrible that happened at a neighborhood barbecue. In fact, Clementine is giving a public talk about this incident, and her childhood best friend, Erika, is in the audience. But the author cleverly switches scenes before the reader finds out what happened at this life-changing barbecue. And that sets up a pattern for the first three-quarters of the novel. The action moves back and forth between the present-day and flashbacks to the day of the barbecue, beginning in the morning and ever-so-slowly building to ... whatever happened. Erika and her husband, Oliver, live a quiet life in a suburban cul-de-sac outside Sydney in a pristine home. That fateful morning, Erika runs into their next-door neighbor, Vid, who is married to the gorgeous Tiffany, and lives in a slightly outrageous castle-like home. Vid is a friendly, outgoing man who truly loves to throw parties and shower his guests with good food, drinks, and music, and he invites Erika and Oliver to a barbecue that night. Erika tries to wriggle out of the invitation by explaining that Clementine and her husband, Sam, and their two little girls are coming for dinner, but Vid insists they all come to his house. The party starts out fun and festive, but the chapters taking place in the present day make it clear that something happened that day, at that barbecue, that changed all of their lives.

Moriarty builds such delicious tension into this novel right from the first pages and draws the suspense out, until it is almost unbearable and the reader is thinking, "What on earth happened at that barbecue??" The characters feel real, and she slowly builds them up, gradually revealing bits of information from their childhoods and backgrounds that explain their behaviors and feelings in the present, making them three-dimensional and complex. Much of the action is ordinary families going about ordinary lives but with that constant tension just beneath the surface. I guessed all kinds of things but was still shocked when the secret was finally revealed! Even though it qualifies as a Big Book (over 400 pages) for my challenge, I read it in record time because it was just so compelling that I stayed up much too late most nights, reading "just one more chapter." I loved the experience and can't wait to read more Liane Moriarty novels!

517 pages, Flatiron 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 audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.

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


Or you can order Truly Madly Guilty from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

TV Tuesday: Quiz

Among the few new offerings on cable TV this summer is Quiz, a limited series (just three episodes) based on the true story of a couple who cheated on Britain's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? show ... or did they? We enjoyed it recently.

Mark Bonnar plays Paul Smith, a network executive who gets excited about the new game show that's been pitched. Its creators say it will be like no other game show in TV history, with a top prize of a million pounds awarded to the contestant who can answer a series of multiple choice questions. He and his team finalize the details of the now-familiar (to us) Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and the show begins to air. Meanwhile, we see a married couple: Charles Ingram, played by Matthew Macfadyen, is a major in the British army, and his wife, Diana, played by Sian Clifford, is a huge fan of pub trivia games. She plays often with her brother, Adrian, played by Trystan Gravelle, and their dad is an even bigger trivia fan. So, Diana and Adrian are understandably excited about the new quiz show taking Britain by storm. They study it and connect with other trivia fans online. Soon there is a community of people obsessed by the show, with all kinds of tricks and tips on how to work the system to get accepted onto the show and then to get from the fastest finger chairs to the "hot seat." Adrian and Diana both manage to get on the show and earn some money, but Adrian is seriously in debt, and they convince Charles to go on the show, too. Using their knowledge from the group, they help him get on the show. Diana is in the audience, and another member of the uber-fan group, Tecwen, played by Michael Jibson, is in the fastest-finger seats up front--and later, a co-defendant in court. Charles wins the million pounds, but the show takes him, Diana, and Tecwen to court, saying that they worked together and cheated.

The action in the show, right from the start, moves back and forth between the trial and the earlier months leading up to the game show appearance, so the audience gradually gets a fuller picture of what happened while knowing that they end up in court. We also see both the contestants preparing, and a behind-the-scenes view of the TV crew creating the show. It's only a three-episode series, but it manages to tell an engaging and gripping story. I won't give away how the trial ends (though that is in the real-world news, if you look), but the show keeps you guessing and even ends on an ambiguous note. There is plenty of suspense surrounding the question: did they cheat or didn't they? We enjoyed this short but engrossing show based on an intriguing real-life story.

Quiz is available in the U.S. on AMC. We watched it On Demand through our cable company. It is also available for free on the AMC website. It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $4.99 for the full season.




Monday, June 29, 2020

Movie Monday: The Lovebirds

I am so behind in reviewing the movies we've watched! It's almost impossible to find time to write a second blog post on Mondays, after writing my What Are You Reading post (but Movie Monday has such nice alliteration!). Anyway, here is a review for a recent release that we enjoyed last month, The Lovebirds, a mystery-action-romance (yeah, hard to categorize).

Kumail Nanjani stars as Jibran, and Issa Rae stars as his girlfriend, Leilani. The movie opens with their first date, showing how they connected immediately. Before long, though, several months have passed, and we see the perfect couple arguing before a night out together. They head out, dressed up for a dinner party at a friend's house, but both the evening and their fight are interrupted when a cyclist comes out of nowhere and bounces off their car windshield. The two are both stunned, but the cyclist quickly jumps up and rides off, and a guy, played by Paul Sparks, jumps into their car and commandeers it, saying he is a police officer. The chase scene that follows is exciting at first, until Jibran and Leilani realize he's not chasing the cyclist to make sure he's OK or arrest him, but to make sure he is dead (you can see some of this, hilariously, in the trailer below). The supposed cop takes off, leaving bystanders to conclude that Jibran and Leilani killed the cyclist. From then on, the two lovebirds are caught up in a crime caper, trying to find the guy, who they nickname Moustache, who is the real killer in order to clear their names. The run all over the city (New Orleans), changing into ridiculous disguises purchased at a convenience store, breaking into places, and trying to outrun the police, who are looking for them, and solve the crime themselves. Of course, this was not just a simple hit-and-run, and the two unwittingly find themselves stuck in a web of lies and secrets involving some of the most powerful people in the city.

This movie is a whole lot of fun, filled with action-packed scenes, hilarious lines, outrageous situations, and a sweet love story, too. I'm a big fan of Kumail Nanjani, who co-wrote and starred in The Big Sick, a rom-com that is the real-life story of how he and his wife, Emily, met (also recommended). I've been listening to--and loving--Kumail and Emily's podcast, Staying In, during the pandemic. His wonderful sense of humor comes through in this role, and Issa Rae, who I was less familiar with, is very funny here, too. The mystery itself is twisty and unexpected and takes the pair all over the city. The setting was a delight for us as well; we used to live in New Orleans and love to see it on the screen, and it's a fun location for this crazy comedy caper. Kumail and Issa have great chemistry in their roles, and it's refreshing to see an interracial couple on-screen who are both people of color. It's a fun romp, and we enjoyed watching it!

The Lovebirds was originally planned for a theatrical release but was switched to a Netflix release because of the pandemic, so it is available on Netflix.

Have you seen The Lovebirds yet? What did you think?

You'll get a glimpse of the movie's humor and action in this trailer:


It's Monday 6/29! What Are You Reading?

We are definitely well into summer now--it's been HOT and very humid here. It's a rare thrill when it cools down enough that we can turn off the a/c and open the windows (my preferred way to live!). My chronic illness brought with it an intolerance to heat (plus I grew up in the north, in western NY), so I really don't like this part of summer here in the Mid-Atlantic when I can;t be outdoors as much as I'd like. I try to at least take a short walk before it gets too hot, but I still come back drenched in sweat! And I try to enjoy a bit of time on our screened porch, but it's been even too hot lately for that most days.

Lush woods behind our house & no bugs in the screened porch!
Anyway, I didn't mean to complain--it's just summer, right? On the plus side, I had a few days of feeling better (still working on getting the dose of my antiviral right), and my husband and I had a rare empty-nest weekend to ourselves. We also planned a camping trip (yay! finally!) with our sons next week ("last" family trip before our younger son moves out and starts his new job), and I got to see friends twice last week! gasp! I was feeling kind of down and realizing it had been weeks since I had seen anyone besides my family and a few store clerks (behind masks), so I took a walk with a very good friend at our local nature center--a short walk and a long chat sitting in the shade. Ahhh, just what I needed. And we had friends over for a driveway sit (this is a thing now) on Saturday. It was too hot for our planned campfire, so we just sat in our camp chairs in the driveway and ate Mexican take-out, well-distanced but still together again. In both cases, it was wonderful to talk and catch up with some of our oldest friends.

SO enjoyed a walk and talk with a good friend
We are all enjoying Big Book Summer here--there's still plenty of time to join the fun! You only need to read one book of 400 or more pages by September (and, of course, you can read more if you want). We've got LOTS of participants this year--I think everyone was looking for a little excitement to add to their lives after all we've been through--both through blogs and on the Goodreads page. You can read all the details and sign up at the link.


Here's what we've all been reading this week at our house:

I finished Catch-22 by Joseph Heller--woohoo! I struggled with this classic last summer, even though I had wanted to read it for years. It has an odd tone that takes some getting used to, with a mix of humor and horrifying scenes of war. The novel takes place during WWII on the fictional island of Pianoso in the Mediterranean. The central conflict in the novel is that one crazy colonel keeps raising the required number of missions for the Army Air Force squadron. Every time one of the men gets close to meeting the requirements and going home, the colonel raises the number of required missions again. The main character, Yossarian, tries to get sent home on the basis of being crazy, but Catch-22 states that any man who says he is crazy and doesn't want to fly any more missions is proving that he's sane because no sane man would want to fly more dangerous missions. Last summer, I had trouble adjusting to the dark humor and unevenness--you can be laughing at something absurd on one page and then on the next, a dozen men die in combat--but I did better with the novel this year. I realized that's really the point of it: for the reader to feel unsettled and see (often exaggerated as satire) all of the absurdities inherent in war. It's a unique and intriguing book, and I'm glad I read it. Sometimes, you need to read a book at the right time.

I liked Catch-22, but I was definitely in the mood for something lighter after I finished it! I am now reading Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. This is a major departure for me, as I don't normally read romance, but I am loving this novel. I'd heard all kinds of rave reviews but somehow didn't know that the main character, Chloe, has a chronic illness! This is extremely rare in fiction, and--even more rare--the novel deals with Chloe's condition and challenges (even in the midst of a hot romance) very openly and honestly. What a thrill to see my own experiences reflected in the pages of a delightful novel. Chloe has fibromyalgia and has a near-death experience as the novel opens. Normally a very structured, controlled person (in large part due to her illness), she makes a Get a Life list and begins to cross things off, starting with moving out of her parents' home and into her own apartment. The new super in her building is also super hot, and the attraction between the two is instant (though of course, they don't like each other at first). I'm enjoying it very much.

I am still listening to the audiobook, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (it's a a Big Book and my audiobook time is limited with our house full most days). You've probably heard about this one, since it is getting a LOT of attention right now. It's the prequel to The Hunger Games, and it begins at the start of the 10th annual Hunger Games, while the war is still a recent memory. The story focuses on Coriolanus Snow, a teen-aged boy, who readers of the trilogy know will eventually become President of Panem. Here, though, he is a self-conscious boy from a great family that has fallen on very hard times. He's trying to hide the fact that the remaining members of his family--him, his cousin, Tigris, and their grandmother--are barely surviving, eating cabbage and lima beans and unable to keep their home if the rumored property tax is truly put into place. He feels like he has one chance to prove himself: as a mentor to one of the contestants from the districts. He is  assigned to mentor a girl from District 12, a girl who creates quite a stir on Reaping Day with her colorful outfit and beautiful song. As Coriolanus gets to know her better, his role in her life becomes more and more complicated, causing him to question the Hunger Games and the Capitol's role in it. I am loving this book, and as always, Collins has provided such thought-provoking, morally complex subject matter.

My husband, Ken, is still reading another Big Book from the collection we inherited from my dad: Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz. It is about a man named Spencer who is both physically and emotionally scarred. He's usually a loner, but when he meets a woman named Valerie in a bar, they make a connection. When he goes to visit Valerie, she has disappeared, and then her house explodes while he is there. Spencer barely escapes and is now on the run, wondering what on earth he has stumbled onto and what happened to Valerie. Ken says that it is a gripping thriller (though he gets annoyed by the way Koontz throws around long and obscure words just for fun!), and so far, it seems to be a straightforward suspense novel--no signs yet of Koontz's frequent paranormal twists. He's enjoying it.

Our son, 25, has been plowing through one book after another in Brock E. Deskins' series, The Sorcerer's Path. He read the first four books in the series a couple of weeks ago, and the week before last, moved onto books 5 through 8! Last I heard, he was reading book 8, The Sorcerer's Destiny, but he was away visiting his girlfriend this weekend. Clearly, he is loving this series! It's about a young boy from a wealthy family who's left on his own and must survive in the streets, among thieves, thugs, and murderers. He not only wants to survive but to avenge the wrongs done to him and his family. This series also revolves around some sort of mysterious magical power. He's enjoying the series (obviously!) and says he and his college roommate discovered this author years ago, and he's enjoyed reading his books ever since.



Blog posts last week--I am still struggling to catch up on reviews:
TV Tuesday: Summer 2020 TV Preview - in this weird time, here's what we are enjoying and planning to try this summer, plus some trailers

Fiction Review: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen - 6 years after a global pandemic, circumstances bring 4 different people together

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, June 27, 2020

Fiction Review: A Beginning at the End

I absolutely loved Mike Chen's first novel, Here and Now and Then, when I read and reviewed it for Shelf Awareness last year. That was a time travel novel that focused in on characters and their relationships. His second novel, A Beginning at the End, takes a similar approach with a sci fi plot but a narrative focus on the people. Except that the sci plot in this novel is about a global pandemic. Yeah. Not feeling so sci-fi-ish anymore, is it? The novel is different, though, and I enjoyed listening to it on audio, during our own stay-at-home orders.

The pandemic in A Beginning at the End is far more deadly than our own with COVID-19. In the novel, the global pandemic (also a virus) killed most of the planet's population, leaving pockets of humanity in quarantine communities, gangs, and communes. The novel begins six years after the pandemic hit, though, so the remaining people are attempting to define their new normal (sorry, I know everyone is sick of that term now but it's accurate here!) and rebuild trashed infrastructure. Certain cities have survived and re-taken their communities back from gangs; these are referred to Metropolitan Zones or Metros, including the San Francisco Metro, where this novel takes place. The narrative is split between several key characters. When the pandemic hit, Moira was a teen superstar known as MoJo, complete with elaborate costumes and face paint. She had grown to hate that life, though, numb from the influence of alcohol and drugs and under the controlling thumb of her manager/father, so she uses the crisis as an opportunity to disappear and become an ordinary person. As Moira, she is working in the SF Metro and planning to marry her boyfriend. She's been planning her wedding with Krista, a wedding and events planner who sometimes moonlights as a "reunion agent." Krista has her own dark history, featuring an alcoholic mother. Moira works in the same news agency as Rob, an IT specialist, and at the start of the novel, Rob and Krista get stuck in an elevator together, so Rob confides in her his worries about his beloved daughter, Sunny, who's struggled since her mother died.Those four characters, almost strangers when the novel opens, get pulled together by evolving events. Besides Moira's upcoming wedding and Rob's problems with Sunny, news reports of the virus re-emerging in a mutated form throw all of society into chaos again.

The four characters band together on their own personal quest, so the novel moves into a more action-packed, thriller-like story toward the end. Still, though, the author's focus is always on the people and their relationships (to each other and to others), zeroing in on the human side of the medical crisis and their own personal issues. Given that, I wasn't bothered by reading about a pandemic during our own pandemic, since the focus is on the characters, and the virus in this novel was clearly apocalyptic, destroying society for 6+ years. It also helps that the story centers on a time after the crisis is passed, though the re-emergence of a mutated virus was unsettling (in this case, scientists quickly got to work on a modified treatment and vaccine). I liked all of the characters and found myself pulled into their world, which was both similar to and different from the one we have been living in since March. I kept thinking about the author writing this book and then seeing real-life events unfold similarly just after the book was released: that must have been truly surreal for him! The audiobook was well-done and immersive, and I enjoyed escaping into this parallel universe and getting to know the characters.

400 pages, MIRA


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, the opening scene from MoJo's concert when the pandemic breaks out six years earlier, and/or download it from Audible at the link.

You can purchase A Beginning at the End from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org


Or you can order A Beginning at the End from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer 2020 TV Preview

The rest of 2020 is looking like a bit of a deserted wasteland for new network TV and even some popular streaming shows, since all shows had to suspend production in March. Many of our past summer favorites won't be around this year or are iffy:  
  • Instinct was cancelled after its second season (a shame--if you missed it, you can still catch the first two seasons on CBS All Access).
  • Ozark was already released in the spring (and we already finished season 3).
  • Stranger Things has been postponed until 2021. 
  • Younger (season 7) is still rumored to be coming this summer, though no date has been announced yet.
We are still watching and enjoying several shows that we started in the spring, including Blindspot, and a few that I mentioned in my Spring 2020 Preview (see trailers at the link): Quiz, The Good Fight, and Snowpiercer. We are also loving and continuing Better Call Saul, Dead to Me, and we're watching The Good Place and Star Trek: Discovery with our son. The Alienist is due back for a surprise second season, starting on July 26. Many of the others I just mentioned will be wrapping up soon, though.

So, our TV plan for summer 2020 is to try some new-to-us streaming shows! I'll mention a few of them here, with trailers, but if you have any other great shows for us to try, please leave a comment! (We have cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and CBS All Access.)

We watched the first episode of Tin Star last week, a thriller starring British actor Tim Roth as a police officer who moves his family to a small town in the Canadian Rockies, where an oil company begins to make trouble for him right from his first days on the job. Another favorite of ours, Christina Hendricks, stars as an oil company employee (i.e. bad guy). We are intrigued by the first episode and want to see more, but our son wants to watch it with us, so we're waiting for him to catch up (and the three of us have a few episodes left of Star Trek: Discovery to finish up first). It's available on Amazon and has two seasons so far.



On our son's advice, we also just started another show starring Tim Roth, Lie to Me. Here, he plays an FBI agent who specializes in knowing when people are lying. We loved the first episode--it has a kind of Mentalist vibe to it--and can't wait to watch more! It's a FOX show that ran for three seasons and is available on Amazon or free through IMDB (use the Amazon link to see the free option).



The Stranger is a new British show on Netflix about a stranger who comes to a town and stirs up trouble by revealing people's secrets. It looks like a good, suspenseful thriller, which we always enjoy, so we'll give it a try.



For a completely different tone, all four of us have been talking about wanting to try the much-publicized new Netflix show, Space Force starring Steve Carrell. This is a half-hour comedy (which is now incredibly ironic) that might be a bit too goofy for my husband and I, but we'll give it a try! The cast is top-notch.



We have been loving CBS All Access and are watching lots of great shows on it (including The Good Fight, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and all our favorite NCIS shows). We were reluctant to sign up for another streaming service, but it's been well worth the $5 a month. Another show we'd like to try on the service is the reboot of The Twilight Zone, with Jordan Peale as the narrator/host. Its second season starts this Thursday. I've heard from reviews that it's a bit uneven but that some episodes are excellent, so that sounds worth a try, since we are both big fans of the original! I think it looks pretty good, with some great casting.



What are YOU watching this summer? And what streaming shows should we try?

(Besides the shows/links included here, check out the TV Reviews tab for lots of options to try!)

Monday, June 22, 2020

It's Monday 6/22! What Are You Reading?

Happy Official Second Day of Summer!! Time just keeps flying by, doesn't it? Or is it just me?

Not much to report from last week because I was in BAD shape for 5 of the 7 days. My chronic immune disorder is complicated, but I think I found the source of my downturn the past few months--an old virus that reactivated again. So, I started treated it with antivirals two weeks ago. The problem is that it is common to get worse before you get better. It's not a side effect so much as a sign that the meds are working, which is good, of course, except for when it goes on and on. So, after spending most of last week lying flat on the couch every day, I took a break from the antivirals, and now, three days in, I am feeling better today finally. I'll give it another day and then restart them at a much lower dose (fingers crossed).

Before that bad relapse last week, my husband and I did hit a significant milestone in this strange new world. We ate OUT! Gasp! A favorite coffee shop nearby that has fabulous food (just voted #1 in Delaware for breakfast) had some outdoor tables set up, nicely spaced well apart from each other. It was wonderful to enjoy a restaurant meal again, and it was a beautiful day. And my breakfast--Crab Hash with Eggs--was outstanding!

Eating OUT again!!
We also enjoyed a nice Father's Day yesterday with my husband. We finally all got to visit his 95-year-old father, who is not doing at all well with the isolation, by gathering (well-distanced) on the front porch of his apartment building. We brought him his favorite meal (Big Mac and vanilla shake), got him talking about fishing, and gave him a pile of presents, and he was in good spirits and more mentally "with it" by the time we left. Then, we headed home for my husband's celebration--Popeye's for dinner, more presents, and some fun time watching old home DVDs of one of our best vacations ever, a long road trip out to New Mexico. Great memories!

Visiting with Grandad on Father's Day
It was a tough day for me, though, because I miss my own Dad so very much. In the morning, I watched the DVD I made for his memorial service (particularly the Dad and Grandpa slideshows) and absolutely bawled my eyes out. Calling his wife--my step-mom--made me feel a little better. We miss him every day.

I miss my dad every day, but especially on Father's Day.
Last week was a good reading week, with so much necessary downtime for me, and we are all enjoying Big Book Summer! Here's what we've been reading this week:

I finished a selection for Booktopia 2020 (which was cancelled but they are scheduling virtual author events now--click on Events to join the fun!). Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht is the second book in a series I started earlier this year with Who Is Vera Kelly? The title character is a young woman in the 1960's who was working as a CIA spy in the first book and has now retired (in her mid-20's). She is also a lesbian, which was quite a difficult situation back then. She's keeping a lot of secrets. In this new novel, Vera gets fired from her job (on suspicion of having a girlfriend) and decides to set up her own PI business. She is bored with the string of cases following cheating spouses, but then something interesting crosses her desk. A husband and wife from Dominican Republic are searching for their great-nephew who was brought to New York for safety after the coup but then disappeared. The case is straight-forward at first but then Vera must bring out some of her spy skills (and her passport), as things get more complicated. I loved this book, even more than the first, and am glad I read it, even though I missed the author event last week.

Now, I have returned to Big Books and to a book I started last summer, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I struggled with this classic last summer, even though I had wanted to read it for years. It has an odd tone that takes some getting used to, with a mix of humor and horrifying scenes of war. The novel takes place during WWII on the fictional island of Pianoso in the Mediterranean. The central conflict in the novel is that one crazy colonel keeps raising the required number of missions for the Army Air Force squadron. Every time one of the men gets close to meeting the requirements and going home, the colonel raises the number of required missions again. The main character, Yossarian, tries to get sent home on the basis of being crazy, but Catch-22 states that any man who says he is crazy and doesn't want to fly any more missions is proving that he's sane because no sane man would want to fly more dangerous missions. Last summer, I had trouble adjusting to the dark humor and unevenness--you can be laughing at something absurd on one page and then on the next, a dozen men die in combat--but I am doing better with the novel this year. I realize that's really the point of it: for the reader to feel unsettled and see (often exaggerated as satire) all of the absurdities inherent in war. I'm well into it now and wanting to keep reading. Sometimes, you need to read a book at the right time.

I am still listening to the audiobook (also a Big Book), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. You've probably heard about this one, since it is getting a LOT of attention right now. It's the prequel to The Hunger Games, and it begins at the start of the 10th annual Hunger Games, while the war is still a recent memory. The story focuses on Coriolanus Snow, a teen-aged boy, who readers of the trilogy know will eventually become President of Panem. Here, though, he is a self-conscious boy from a great family that has fallen on very hard times. He's trying to hide the fact that the remaining members of his family--him, his cousin, Tigris, and their grandmother--are barely surviving, eating cabbage and lima beans and unable to keep their home if the rumored property tax is truly put into place. He feels like he has one chance to prove himself: as a mentor to one of the contestants from the districts. But he is humiliated when instead of being assigned to mentor a boy from one of the top districts, he is assigned to a girl from District 12, a girl who creates quite a stir on Reaping Day. As Coriolanus gets to know her better, his role in her life becomes more and more complicated. I am loving this book, and as always, Collins has provided such thought-provoking, morally complex subject matter.

My husband, Ken, is still reading another Big Book from the collection we inherited from my dad: Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz. It is about a man named Spencer who is both physically and emotionally scarred. He's usually a loner, but when he meets a woman named Valerie in a bar, they make a connection. When he goes to visit Valerie, she has disappeared, and then her house explodes while he is there. Spencer barely escapes and is now on the run, wondering what on earth he has stumbled onto and what happened to Valerie. Ken says that it is a gripping thriller (though he gets annoyed by the way Koontz throws around long and obscure words just for fun!), and so far, it seems to be a straightforward suspense novel--no signs yet of Koontz's frequent paranormal twists. He's enjoying it.

Our son, 25, has been plowing through one book after another in Brock E. Deskins' series, The Sorcerer's Path. He read the first four books in the series a couple of weeks ago, and last week moved onto books 5 through 8! He finished The Sorcerer's Scourge, The Sorcerer's Torment, The Sorcerer's Return last week, and he is now reading book 8, The Sorcerer's Destiny. Clearly, he is loving this series! It's about a young boy from a wealthy family who's left on his own and must survive in the streets, among thieves, thugs, and murderers. He not only wants to survive but to avenge the wrongs done to him and his family. This series also revolves around some sort of mysterious magical power. He's enjoying the series (obviously!) and says he and his college roommate discovered this author years ago, and he's enjoyed reading his books ever since.


Last week's blog posts:
My Summary of Books Read in May - an excellent reading month for me

Fiction Review: Faithful Place by Tana French - my first Big Book was an amazing one!

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?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Fiction Review: Faithful Place

After reading--and loving--the first two books in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, In the Woods and The Likeness, and recently watching the TV show based on those two books, Dublin Murders, I was more than ready to read book 3 in the series, Faithful Place. It was the perfect pick for my first book for my annual Big Book Summer Reading Challenge. Somehow, French just keeps outdoing herself, with each book better than the one before! Faithful Place grabbed me and never let me go, with its combination of intense suspense, mystery, family drama, and in-depth characters.

This series does not have to be read in order, but those who've read book one and especially book two, will remember Frank Mackey as the brash, risk-taking, obnoxious detective in charge of the Dublin Undercover Squad. Here, though, we see an entirely different side to Frank--many sides, in fact. Frank is estranged from most of his family of origin--his alcoholic and violent father; his crazy, often-screaming mother; and three of his siblings--all except for his youngest sister, Jackie. So when Jackie calls one day and urges Frank to come home immediately, he throws away decades of separation and returns to his family's cramped home on Faithful Place, where a stunning discovery has been made. When Frank was nineteen, he planned to run away with his girlfriend, Rosie, to London, to escape his family and start a new life with her. Rosie never showed up that night, though, and for twenty-two years, Frank had assumed she left him and went to London by herself. He never went home again, and neither did she. But now, her old suitcase has been discovered in an abandoned house, and it looks like she never even left the neighborhood. This discovery turns Frank's life upside down, as everything he based his life on is proven false. He reluctantly rejoins his very dysfunctional family, as the police investigate Rosie's disappearance. Being Frank, he also launches his own covert investigation, relying on childhood connections, as he unwillingly gets pulled back into the vortex of Mackey family life, while trying to protect his own cherished young daughter from his family's darkness.

Like all of French's novels, this story has so many layers of intrigue. Readers get to know the real Frank Mackey for the first time: who he was as a kid, where he came from, and his tender relationship with his daughter, which is completely counter to his public persona. This is no typical mystery novel, as the characters and story are filled with emotional depth, making you truly care what happens and grieve when things go wrong. On the other hand, it is an excellent mystery/suspense story, with all kinds of surprising twists that kept me reading much too late every night. It is entirely gripping, an engrossing story that grabbed me and never let me go. Even once its secrets were revealed, I hated to say good-bye to the characters. I can't wait to read the next Tana French novel!

400 pages, Penguin Books


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, read by Tim Gerard Reynolds in a wonderful Irish accent, and/or download it from Audible.

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


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

Books Read in May

Purple irises in bloom
It took me a while to catch up on reviews, but looking back, May was a great reading month! Here's what I finished last month:
  • Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (MA/ME) - adult fiction
  • Bent Heavens by Daniel Krauss (IA) - teen/YA fiction on audio
  • Lakewood by Megan Giddings (MI) - adult fiction on audio



I finished seven books in total in May, and it was an all fiction month! Between the pandemic and not feeling well most of the time, I needed to just escape into fictional worlds during my reading time. These represented quite a variety of different kinds of novels, though, from family drama to thriller to sci fi to nature classic. I read two teen/YA novels, one for middle-graders, and the rest were adult fiction. And I listened to two of my books on audio. For pure pleasure, my favorite book read last month was The Last One by Alexandra Oliva, a fast-paced thriller about a reality survival show gone wrong--pure escapism, just what I needed!

Progress in 2020 Reading Challenges:
You can see all of the reading challenges I am participating in and full lists of the books read for each at the challenges link. I have some fun ones going this year! Here's how May stacked up:



Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2020 - I read 5 books from my own shelves last month! The pandemic has been great for reducing my TBR shelves.  
2020 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - May was Author Introduction, so Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos fits (first book I've read by the author), plus bonus points as it's been on my shelf for about 8 years!
Back to the Classics 2020 - I read a classic, bringing my grand total for 2020 to ... two! I read The Call of the Wild by Jack London (published in 1903) and counted it in the challenge as "A classic with nature in the title."
PopSugar Reading Challenge - this is a unique one! I fit five of my seven books into categories in May, filling in 31 categories so far this year--it's getting more challenging with fewer categories left but still a lot of fun:
  1. The first book you touch on a shelf with your eyes closed - Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
  2. A book featuring one of the deadly sins - Bent Heavens by Daniel Krauss (wrath)
  3. A book by a WOC -  Lakewood by Megan Giddings 
  4. A book published the month of your birthday (July) - The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
  5. A book with a great first line - Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos
2020 Nonfiction Reader's Challenge - No nonfiction in May.
2020 Diversity Reading Challenge - Three of my books were diverse, though none fit this month's category (East Asian/Southeast Asian/Pacific Islander).
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - No new countries last month - the only book that took place outside the U.S. was (partly) The Call of the Wild, but I already had Canada listed.
2020 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added four new states: Maine, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Alaska.
I also kicked off my own annual challenge, 2020 Big Book Summer Challenge.
And finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Stop by to print out this month's Bingo card and play along. In May, I filled 19 spaces on my bingo card:



Spaces Filled:
Imagine Me Gone - independent publisher, more than 1 POV
Bent Heavens - More than one person on cover, audiobook, sci fi
Lakewood - free book, mother, book club read, new release
The Last One - Orange on the cover, thriller/suspense
Out of Reach - not in a series, contemporary
The Call of the Wild - squad/team, made into a movie, read a physical book
The Way to Stay in Destiny - overcoming adversity, shelf love
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in May?

Monday, June 15, 2020

It's Monday 6/15! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another super-busy week. One son had his weekend plans cancelled and was home all the week, and the other one went to see his girlfriend in another state. Now, the traveling one is coming home today, and the other one is leaving for a week! We need to install a revolving door. Between trying to figure out who will be home for dinner (an ongoing challenge) so I can cook something everyone present will like and worrying about my 95-year-old father-in-law who is going downhill fast from being so isolated, it's been a family-full week.

My husband and I did take a "day off" on Saturday. We are missing our camping trips and travels, so we set aside the to-do lists for a day and just relaxed. We enjoyed a lovely hike in a new-to-us preserve just 10 min away--we've only lived here for 30 years, so it's understandable that we didn't know about it! ha ha It's a beautiful place, filled with sunny meadows and cool forests with tall trees, and some small streams crisscrossing through it.
A lovely walk in the woods
And in the afternoon, I spent some time reading in a lounge chair out on our screened porch. The weather was perfect this weekend, and taking time out to just relax and read was heavenly! I read every day before my nap and before bed, but it's rare that I take time out in the middle of the day to enjoy a book.

Reading on the screened porch on a perfect day!
We are all in the midst of enjoying Big Book Summer. Here's what we've been reading this past week:

I finished my second Big Book and my first-ever Liane Moriarty novel, Truly Madly Guilty, and it was so good. It's about two lifelong best friends, Erika and Clementine, who have a complicated relationship. It becomes even more complicated after a backyard barbecue at the home of neighbors of Erika and her husband. The neighbors, Vid and Tiffany, are larger-than-life, wealthy, and a lot of fun, but something happened that day that changed the lives of all six people. Clementine and her husband, Sam, are barely speaking to each other, and everyone is upset but not talking about it. What on earth happened at that barbecue?? The foreshadowing and suspense are so intense that I hated to put the book down! And when I finally read the big reveal, I was so stunned that I stopped reading to page back through the earlier parts of the novel for clues (there were none). Now, I finally understand why everyone loves this author! I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will definitely be reading more by Moriarty.


Now, I am taking a break from Big Books (at least in print) to read a selection for Booktopia 2020 (which was cancelled but they are scheduling virtual author events now--click on Events to join the fun!). Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht is the second book in a series I started earlier this year with Who Is Vera Kelly? The title character is a young woman in the 1960's who was working as a CIA spy in the first book and has now retired (in her mid-20's). She is also a lesbian, which was quite a difficult situation back then. She's keeping a lot of secrets. In this new novel, Vera gets fired from her job (on suspicion of having a girlfriend) and decides to set up her own PI business. She is bored with the string of cases involving following cheating spouses, but then something interesting crosses her desk. A husband and wife from Dominican Republic are searching for their great-nephew who was brought to New York for safety after the coup but then disappeared. The case is straight-forward at first but then Vera must bring out some of her spy skills, as things get more complicated. I am loving this book, even more than the first.


I finished my first audiobook for #BigBookSummer, a novel I've been wanting to read since its release in January: A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen. I absolutely loved his time-travel novel, Here and Now and Then, last year, with its sci fi plot and in-depth characters.  His second novel is similar, only the "sci fi" plot this time deals with a global pandemic. Yeah. It's not feeling quite so futuristic now! The novel begins six years after a pandemic, which was far deadlier than COVID-19, leaving the remaining population in quarantine communities and the infrastructure in tatters. Now, six years later, life is returning to a new normal. The main characters all live in the Metro area that used to be San Francisco: an IT guy working for a news organization who has a young daughter, a wedding/event planner who also works on the side as a "reunion agent," and a woman who was the world's hottest teen pop star when the pandemic hit who just wants to live a quiet life and stay far away from her controlling father/manager. The focus here is on people, relationships, and family, and I enjoyed getting to know the characters as they each strive to build a new life, while the threat of a new outbreak emerges. I just keep thinking about the author writing such a prescient novel!

This morning, I started a new audiobook (also a Big Book), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. You've probably heard about this one, since it is getting a LOT of attention right now. It's the prequel to The Hunger Games, and it begins at the start of the 10th annual Hunger Games, while the war is still a recent memory. The story focuses on Coriolanus Snow, a teen-aged boy, who readers of the trilogy know will eventually become President of Panem. Here, though, he is a self-conscious boy from a great family that has fallen on very hard times. He's trying to hide the fact that the remaining members of his family--him, his cousin, Tigris, and their grandmother--are barely surviving, eating cabbage and lima beans and unable to keep their home if the rumored property tax is truly put into place. He feels like he has one chance to prove himself: as a mentor to one of the contestants from the Districts. But he is humiliated when instead of being assigned to mentor a boy from one of the top Districts, like 1 or 2, he is assigned to a girl from District 12, a girl who creates quite a stir on Reaping Day. I've just started it, but it's great so far!

My husband, Ken (who officially signed up for the Big Book Summer Challenge once I got him on Goodreads), chose his first Big Book from our bookcase of novels we inherited from my dad (you can see it in this video - the first of my Mini Bookcase Tours). Most of it is filled with his collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz hardcovers, so Ken chose a Stephen King book he hadn't read yet, Hearts of Atlantis. This book is an unusual one: a collection of two novellas and three short stories, connected to each other by recurring characters and taking place in chronological order. That format was a bit confusing to my husband at first, since he was expecting a novel, but he ended up enjoying it very much Anything Stephen King writes is engrossing. Besides, the first part of the book features a young boy, and King writes kids so well; he just perfectly captures what childhood feels like. Ken finished it this weekend and enjoyed it very much. It's back on the shelf, waiting for me!

Next, Ken chose another Big Book from the collection left by my dad: Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz. He just started it, so we don't know much about it yet. The description says it is about a man named Spencer who is both physically and emotionally scarred. He's usually a loner, but when he meets a woman named Valerie in a bar, they make a connection. When he goes to visit Valerie, she has disappeared, and then her house explodes while he is there. Spencer barely escapes and is now on the run, wondering what on earth he has stumbled onto and what happened to Valerie. Sounds like a gripping thriller, though since it is Koontz, I am betting there is some glimmer of the supernatural involved, too.

Our son, 25, has been plowing through one book after another in Brock E. Deskins' series, The Sorcerer's Path. He read books one, two, and three two weeks ago--The Sorcerer's Ascension, The Sorcerer's Torment, and The Sorcerer's Legacy--and then finished reading book 4, The Sorcerer's Vengeance last week. Now, he has moved onto book 5, The Sorcerer's Scourge. He's loving this series! It's about a young boy from a wealthy family who's left on his own and must survive in the streets, among thieves, thugs, and murderers. He not only wants to survive but to avenge the wrongs done to him and his family. This series also revolves around some sort of mysterious magical power. He's enjoying the series (obviously!) and says he and his college roommate discovered this author years ago, and he's enjoyed reading his books ever since. My son hopes to one day write his own fantasy series!


Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: The Good Place - we are loving this popular series - why'd we wait to long to try it?

Fiction Review: The Call of the Wild by Jack London - loved this classic wilderness story

Middle-Grade Review: The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood - warm, fun novel about family, friends, and figuring out who you are.

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?