Monday, March 30, 2020

Movie Monday: We Own the Night

Saturday night, my husband and I decided to have a wild night out. Just kidding, of course! We stayed in and got wild by watching a movie on TV and eating Paleo brownie sundaes. Do we know how to party or what? We were looking for a good mystery or thriller, so I was just looking up random movie titles on Amazon and Netflix from our "want-to-watch" list of almost 400 films! We ended up with a crime thriller from 2007, We Own the Night, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. It was dark and suspenseful, with excellent acting.

Wahlberg plays Joseph Grusinsky, an NYPD officer in the 1980's who has just been promoted to Captain of the Narcotics Division. His father is NYPD Deputy Chief Burt Grusinsky, played by Robert Duvall, who congratulates him onstage at a big celebration. Joe's brother, Bobby, played by Joaquin Phoenix, took an entirely different path in life and now manages a successful night club, La Caribe. He uses an assumed name, Bobby Green, so no one knows that he's related to the NYPD's first family. Bobby does love his family, though, and he shows up for Joe's promotion party, bringing his girlfriend, Amada Juarez (played by Eva Mendes), to meet his family for the first time. The nightclub Bobby runs is owned by Marat Muzhayev, played by Moni Moshonov, who treats Bobby like a son and welcomes him into his family, where Bobby eats meals and plays with Marat's grandkids. Joe and his dad try to warn Bobby that his club is at the center of a huge drug ring they are trying to bust, and one of his top customers is running it. Bobby's not involved in the drug trade, though he does hang out with the guy in the middle of it, and he's stunned when his club is raided a few days later. Joe and his dad want Bobby to help inform on the drug ring, and at first, Bobby says no, until events escalate and he sees that his family is in danger from the Russian mafia. Then, all three Grusinsky men end up in the midst of a nightmarish drug war, up against powerful criminals, in a life or death battle.

Although the plot here is a little bit complicated, we had no trouble following it and were soon caught up in the suspenseful action. Bobby is a bit misguided, but you can see that he's a good guy, just having fun and living a life of freedom and parties. That all comes to an abrupt end when he realizes that his family is in danger; his loyalties are never in question. Phoenix brings his characteristic intensity to this role so that you can really feel Bobby's apathy, reluctance to get involved, and his love for both Amada and his family. The plot is filled with twists and turns that take you by surprise, and a growing sense of tension that grips you from beginning to end, all with a great 80's soundtrack in the background. True, this film is a bit dark, though it's not, as my husband first feared, one of those movies where everyone dies at the end! It's an action-packed crime thriller with surprising emotional depth and outstanding acting from an all-star cast.

We Own the Night is now available on IMDb TV, which we watched through Amazon (for free, with brief, limited ads).


It's Monday 3/30! What Are You Reading?

How is everyone doing with this new world we are living in from our homes? We are just fine here. My own life isn't all that much different because with my chronic illness, I have often endured long periods of time when I can't leave the house. The big difference is that my husband and son are here all the time, but so far, we aren't driving each other too crazy! And it's actually a nice break to have no medical appointments to rush to for myself, my son, and my father-in-law. I've been venturing out to the grocery store (carefully!) about once a week or so to grab some essentials, walking in the neighborhood with my husband most days, and even got to see a friend last week when she joined us for our walk (from 6 feet away).
In other news, my book, Finding a New Normal: Living Your Best Life with Chronic Illness, is finally available in paperback! All of my struggles with formatting, cover design, and Amazon's exacting specifications paid off, and the print version was finally out last week (the e-book has been available on a bunch of different platforms for the past month). Ironically, with all the delays, much of my book on chronic illness is now also applicable to pretty much everyone, since we are all dealing with restrictions, isolation, and struggling to stay connected. A big thanks to fellow book blogger Bonnie who included my book on her post about positives during the crisis. Check out her wonderful blog!

During this time of crisis, as always, our books bring us comfort and joy. Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

I finished reading a nonfiction book for my neighborhood book group, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher, even though we won't be able to meet tomorrow (it was to be a dinner out to celebrate our 175th book!). Pipher is best-known for her ground-breaking book on adolescent girls, Raising Ophelia. As the subtitle of this book explains, it is all about women and aging. It covers grief and loss, staying connected and nurturing community, finding small joys in a life that may be more restricted than before, and more. My first impression was that it is very much like the book I just wrote and published! Just substitute "aging" for "living with chronic illness." So, of course, I agree with much of what she writes about, since I wrote a lot of the same stuff. That, plus my urge to read fiction now, made me a bit impatient with the book, if I'm being honest, though I did mark a lot of passages to add to my Quote Journal, so clearly, I found plenty of value in it, too. I waffled over whether to finish it this week, but I am glad that I did.

Now, I am indulging my need for something light and fun. I chose what is probably the lightest book on my entire TBR bookcase, For Once In My Life by Colleen Coleman, a British romcom. I was very surprised when my husband gave it to me for my birthday last year, since it is so different from what I normally read, but this seems like the perfect time for it. Lily is a young woman who was left at the altar when her soon-to-be-husband revealed he was in love with her best friend (while an entire church waited for them to exchange vows), and she loved him, too. Flash-forward three years later, and Lily is clearly still damaged from the experience, though she is happy working as a journalist for the local newspaper and living in her cozy little cottage. Upper management visits from the head office and threatens to shut down the paper unless there is a huge turn-around in ad sales and readership. Lily is now at the helm as Editor-in-Chief, working with a "transitional consultant" sent by management. I was pleased that the focus of the story is on Lily taking charge and diving into her new role (though clearly there is a new romance budding on the horizon), and I am enjoying it so far.

On audio, it has become very challenging to find time to listen to audiobooks with my husband and son home 24/7! I finally finished listening to a  Booktopia 2020 selection, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata. This is an unusual novel that features a realistic story and a book-within-a-book that is science fiction. It begins with a Dominican immigrant, a young woman, who settles in New Orleans with her pirate husband in the early years of the 20th century. They have a son named Maxwell, and she writes a sci fi novel called Lost City, about alternative timelines. Before her death, she and her son burn the only copy of her sequel, A Model Earth, which she just finished. Then the action shifts to 2005. Saul, a Jewish immigrant, discovers Adana's second novel--supposedly destroyed--after his grandfather's death, in an envelope addressed to Maxwell. The book leads Saul and a friend to New Orleans to try to find Maxwell, just after Hurricane Katrina. I enjoyed listening to this convoluted story, filled with history and multi-generational family sagas, with a unique and lyrical writing style, and I loved the New Orleans setting.

Next, for obvious reasons, I chose a much shorter, middle-grade novel on audio, Notorious by Gordon Korman. I enjoyed Korman's Masterminds series, and this one is completely different but also enjoyable so far. Keenan normally lives an exciting, international life moving from one country to another with his mother, who teaches in international schools. But he caught TB (seriously!) and was sent to his father's home on Centerlight Island to recuperate. Centerlight is located right on the US/Canadian border so the island is split (and not in a straight line) in every way. Keenan knows no one there and finds the slow pace very different from his normal life, but he makes a new friend, a girl named Zarabeth (ZeeBee, for short), whose dad works for the Canadian Border Patrol. The island has a rich criminal history as a key part of a Prohibition smuggling route. ZeeBee asks Keenan to help her solve a mystery; she believes that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered (and considers her new dog, Barney 2, a poor substitute). The two kids set out to solve the mystery of Barney's death, while also diving into the island's gangster past. Lots of fun so far!

My husband, Ken, is still reading a novel from an old favorite series of ours, Wild Kat by Karen Kijewski. Back in the 80's and 90's, my husband and I both loved this series about a female PI named Kat Colorado. In fact, these books (and also Sue Grafton's alphabet series) were our go-to's for backpacking trips. We'd slip a lightweight paperback in the pack and take turns reading aloud to each other at night in our tent...good memories!! So, when we spotted this one in a used bookstore last year, we were very excited to revisit Kat and her escapades. My husband is loving it so far and appreciating its quick pace and well-written but not overly complicated plot. It is just what he needed right now. If you enjoy mysteries and somehow missed the Kat Colorado series back then, we definitely recommend it!

Finally stuck at home and unable to work or drive back and forth to his girlfriend in New York, our son, 25, is settling back into his normal habit of reading like crazy! He finished The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, book 1 in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, one of the books he bought recently with a Christmas gift card. Sounds like this one features dark sorcery, an elf-like race, royals and servants, a deadly riddle, and plenty of swords--all right up his alley! He enjoyed it very much and pointed out that it is not only a long book with many pages but a BIG book with long pages! But it was the sort of epic fantasy he loves, and he is looking forward to reading more of the series.

In the meantime, though, he returned to an old favorite series, The Riyria Chronicles by Michael Sullivan. He previously read book 1, The Crown Tower, so last week he read book 2, The Rose and the Thorn, which was a Christmas gift from us last year. He was explaining to me that the books aren't necessarily in order because the first (and second, maybe?) are sort of prequels. In any case, he loves this author and this series, and he finished this one quickly! I'm sure the others are on his TBR list.

Now, he is reading Master, book 5 in the Sanctuary series by Robert J. Crane. We gave him book 1, Defender, for Christmas 2018, and he loved the series so much that he quickly read books 2, 3, and 4, also. So, this past Christmas, we gave him book 5. The series is epic fantasy about a world called Arkaria and features dragons, titans, goblins, and more. He loves the series, and is thoroughly enjoying this next book right now. Staying homebound is giving him some much-needed downtime to take care of his health and finally get to some of these tomes he's been wanting to read!



Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Serenity - a twisty escapism film starring Matthew McConaughey

My Book: Out in Paperback!

TV Tuesday: Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist - uplifting, colorful, musical fun - just what you need right now!

Nonfiction Review: Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard - thoughtful, insightful collection of personal essays

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, March 26, 2020

Nonfiction Review: Black Is the Body

I recently read a collection of essays titled Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard, a selection for Booktopia 2020 (a wonderful book event now sadly cancelled, though a Livestream event is planned). I am disappointed that I won't be able to meet Emily in May now because her personal essays are insightful, thoughtful, and entertaining.

The author has led an interesting life, growing up African American in the South, going to an Ivy League college and moving to the very white state of Vermont, marrying a white man, and adopting two little girls from Ethiopia. Bernard's interconnected personal essays cover a wide range of topics from her stunning recounting of being stabbed during a violent crime to her experiences teaching African American literature to a mostly white student body to what it's like having white friends to the ordeals of adopting their daughters. Throughout the essays, she weaves in pieces of her history, her family, and her own thoughts on these topics, describing her own unique point of view. Most intriguingly, Bernard is direct and honest in her writing, addressing topics that are often not discussed openly, especially among mixed groups. She tackles racism head-on, including her own sometimes confusing or ambiguous feelings. As the subtitle suggests, she also digs into her mother's and grandmother's experiences in a segregated South and most interestingly, her daughters' unique perspectives in growing up as Africans who became American citizens and live among mostly people who look very different from them.

The result is an immersive and engrossing life story told through a series of vignettes. Bernard's thoughtful musings on race in America invite the reader to also think carefully and openly about a topic we are too often told to be blind to. She is opening up her life to readers and welcoming them to consider these topics and issues with her. She worries that perhaps she thinks too much about race, though she is surrounded by its effects every day. Her writing style is engaging and open, sharing amusing stories as well as her deepest thoughts and intimate experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thought-provoking and unique look into both one interesting life and our society as a whole.

218 pages, Vintage Books


Listen to a sampleof the audiobook here, read by the author, and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Black Is the Body from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
 
You can also buy through indie bookstores using Bookshop.

Or you can order Black Is the Body from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

TV Tuesday: Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist

I've been watching a new NBC show, Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist, that is silly, surreal, and perfect when you need some uplifting, colorful, musical fun (in other words, right now).

The premise of this new show is decidedly odd. Zoe, played by Jane Levy (who we loved in Suburgatory and What/If) is a young millennial working for a hot video game company. She's a brilliant programmer but, as is common in that industry, the only female in a sea of male colleagues, though she does have a female boss, Joan, played by Lauren Graham (of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame). One day, there is an earthquake (this is California) while Zoe is in an MRI listening to her iPod. Afterwards, she can hear the inner thoughts of people around her--strangers as well as friends and family--expressed through song. I told you it was weird! So, as you'll see in the trailer clip below, she hears a stranger singing "All By Myself," a group of lonely coffee shop visitors do a group song and dance to "I Want to Dance with Somebody," and her supposedly platonic best friend at work singing "Sucker" to her to express his love. No one else can hear these impromptu concerts, so she thinks she is losing her mind (as anyone would). She confides in her ultra-confident and stylish neighbor, Mo (Alex Newell, who played Wade/"Unique" in Glee), who encourages her to accept this unique talent and make use of it. It definitely comes in handy with her parents, played by Mary Steenburgen and Peter Gallagher, since her father is paralyzed and unable to communicate and her mother is secretly depressed from the 24/7 caretaking.

OK, let's just admit it - this is a bizarre premise! Nevertheless, I am thoroughly enjoying the music and dancing throughout the show and even appreciating its emotional depth. It might seem trivial and silly at first, but when Zoe is able to understand her father for the first time since he became paralyzed, her weird talent suddenly seems to have real and important uses. It's a touching episode when Zoe can help the rest of her family understand her dad's feelings. And, the music and dancing scenes remind me of how much I am still missing Glee! While there are serious moments with Zoe's family and a colleague who recently lost his own father, much of the show is colorful, fun, and uplifting, filled with impromptu musical numbers. Its seemingly silly premise actually makes it the perfect show for this moment in time, when we could all use some moments of joy.

Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist is an NBC show currently airing on Sundays at 8 pm, so episodes are available for free On Demand or on the NBC website. It is also available on Hulu with a subscription or on Amazon, for $1.99 an episode or $14.99 for the entire season. It looks like seven episodes have aired so far, with twelve planned for the first season.


My Book: Out in Paperback!

FINALLY! 
 
The paperback version of my book is now available from Amazon, after a long and bumpy journey (let's just say it was a learning experience!). It is also still available as an e-book on all platforms
 
And a favor? I REALLY need ratings & reviews, so if you read my book and get something out of it, please leave ratings and reviews on whatever platforms you use (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Goodreads, etc) - even just a few words will help! 
 
Thank you, and I hope everyone is coping well with our New Normal, which is ironically the title of my book! I wrote it for those with chronic illness but it is suddenly applicable to everyone coping with isolation, anxiety, grief, living a separate life, and looking for small joys each day.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Movie Monday: Serenity

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I enjoyed streaming a movie, Serenity (2019), starring Matthew McConaughey, which is the perfect escapism film, featuring suspense, a great cast, and an intriguing plot in a beautiful setting.

McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a fisherman living on a small, remote tropical island. He earns a living from both commercial fishing and taking tourists out on fishing charters on his boat, Serenity. Dill lives a quiet, secluded, routine life, going out on the boat all day, returning to his boxcar home overlooking the water at night, and sometimes stopping by Constance's (played by Diane Lane) for company. There is a strong current of mystery and barely-concealed tension below his quiet exterior, though, and Dill is completely obsessed with a giant tuna out in the deeper waters that always gets away at the last moment. His first mate, Duke (played by Djimon Hounsou), tries to keep him in line, but sometimes Dill's fixation gets the best of him. His quiet routine is shattered one day when his ex-wife, Karen (played by Anne Hathaway), shows up in town. She left him for a wealthy man who turned out to be abusive to both her and to Dill and her son, and she wants Dill to take the horrible guy out on a fishing charter and send him overboard for the sharks to deal with. Dill says no at first but is tortured by thoughts of his sweet son being hurt by this brutal man. Will he do what Karen wants?

You know McConaughey plays the strong, silent type perfectly, and he is wonderful in this part as the tightly-controlled-but-clearly-hiding-secrets Dill. The town and island where he lives seem idyllic, but are they also hiding secrets? Of course, the biggest question of all in the movie is whether Dill will do what Karen wants and commit murder. Duke encourages him to do the right thing, but Dill's son is in danger, and it is clear that he cares very much for the boy. This twisty, taut movie is completely compelling with a uniquely engaging setting and tone. There are plenty of surprises in store that you will never see coming (we didn't), but we loved its original premise. It's a very satisfying movie that will leave you thinking about it afterward.

Serenity is currently streaming free on Amazon Prime and is also available on Youtube and Google Play.


It's Monday 3/23! What Are You Reading?

So, we are living in a different world now! Many states have locked-down or issued shelter-in-place orders (or the same with different labels), and many more are sure to follow. Our own state of Delaware has been gradually closing things down, and a full "stay at home" order, with only essential businesses open, officially starts tomorrow morning. Our situation has been fluid! We sort of started staying at home last Saturday, but I had to take my son to one last out-of-state medical appointment last week (the office was great & being very careful to protect patients and staff) and stock up on groceries (I had avoided last weekend's panic-buying crowds). So, I have been home since Friday now, though my husband needed to go visit his 94-year-old father for an emergency this weekend (but a non-medical one). My husband, our son, and I are all home now for the foreseeable future. We got a kick out of an article in our local paper on "100 things to do during self-quarantine" because boredom is not a problem here! My husband is working from home and on the phone constantly. This is pretty much life as normal for me, except that I have to cook for three people three times a day, so I am actually pretty worn out this morning. And the news and social media have been way too distracting. I promise to get back to visiting blogs this week!

We got the official word last week that Booktopia 2020 is cancelled. We all knew it was coming, but it was still disappointing--not only to miss the wonderful annual event but also to miss seeing all of the great friends who return to it every year! They are putting together some sort of Livestream replacement, so I am still reading some Booktopia selections.
The third one was just right!

I do have some good news, though! The third proof of my book was delivered yesterday and was finally good! Hurray! Like Goldilocks, the first spine was too narrow, the second was too wide, and the third was just right. This is a huge deal for me, after struggling with formatting and publishing the paperback for well over a month now. I will post here when the paperback is officially released (in a day or two), and the e-book has been available on all platforms for a while now. And now everyone has plenty of time to read, right?

Speaking of reading, we are enjoying our books. Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

With all that's going on in the world and after reading a thought-provoking memoir, I was in the mood for something lighter and quick, so I dove into my TBR shelf of mostly very old middle-grade and YA books! I read OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu (published back in 2013), a novel I have wanted to read for ... well ... seven years. It's about Bea, a teen with just-diagnosed OCD who doesn't want to admit this is her correct diagnosis nor that it's getting worse. She meets a boy named Beck at a school dance, and he turns out to be in her new group therapy (not a big coincidence when you read how they met!). Beck is also struggling with OCD, also newly diagnosed. Their compulsions are very different, but they understand each other in ways that no one else can. As their relationship develops, Bea's OCD continues to worsen, though she tries to hide the worst of it from everyone, including Beck. I loved this novel! It's so much more than a quirky teen romance, and I learned a lot about what it is like to live with OCD (spoiler: it's private torture).

Next, though I was still yearning for fiction, I started a nonfiction book for my neighborhood book group, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher, even though we clearly won't be able to meet next week. Pipher is best-known for her ground-breaking book on adolescent girls, Raising Ophelia. I am about halfway through this one that, as the subtitle explains, is all about women and aging. It covers grief and loss, staying connected and nurturing community, finding small joys in a life that may be more restricted than before, and more. My first impression was that it is very much like the book I just wrote and published! Just substitute "aging" for "living with chronic illness." So, of course, I agree with much of what she writes about, since I wrote a lot of the same stuff. That, plus my urge to read fiction now, has made me a bit impatient with the book, if I'm being honest, though I have marked a lot of passages to add to my Quote Journal, so clearly, I am finding a lot of value in it, too. Now that I know book group will be postponed (I was trying to set up a virtual meeting but more seem in favor of postponing), I may set it aside. We'll see - I'm a rule-follower who likes to finish what I start! I still feel guilty for setting aside Catch-22 last summer.

On audio, I am listening to a Booktopia selection, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata. This is an unusual novel that features a realistic story and a book-within-a-book that is science fiction. It begins with a Dominican immigrant, a young woman, who settles in New Orleans with her pirate husband in the early years of the 20th century. They have a son named Maxwell, and she writes a sci fi novel called Lost City. Before her death, she and her son burn the only copy of her sequel, A Model Earth, which she just finished. Then the action shifts to 2005. Saul, a Jewish immigrant, discovers Adana's second novel--supposedly destroyed--after his grandfather's death, in an envelope addressed to Maxwell. The book leads Saul and a friend to New Orleans to try to find Maxwell, just after Hurricane Katrina. I am enjoying this novel with a unique and lyrical writing style and loving the New Orleans setting.

My husband, Ken, finished Shell Game by Sara Paretsky, book 19 in the popular V.I. Warshawski series, featuring a female detective (Kathleen Turner played her in a movie adaptation in 1991). We don't think either of us has read a novel in this series before, though who knows? This one was a super-early review copy I received back in 2018--have I mentioned how overflowing our TBR bookcase is? With all the stress lately in our family, Ken wanted something fast-paced and escapism-focused, so he grabbed this one when he saw a blurb by Lee Child (his favorite author) on the front. This version isn't even bound like most ARCs; my husband says he felt like he was reading a movie script! He enjoyed it and said it did its job, providing some fun, mindless escape, though he did say it was a complex story.


Still in the mood for fast-paced action, Ken has now turned to an old favorite of ours, Wild Kat, by Karen Kijewski. Back in the 80's and 90's, my husband and I both loved this series about a female PI named Kat Colorado. In fact, these books (and also Sue Grafton's alphabet series) were our go-to's for backpacking trips. We'd slip a lightweight paperback in the pack and take turns reading aloud to each other at night in out tent...good memories!! So, when we spotted this one in a used bookstore last year, we were very excited to revisit Kat and her escapades. My husband is loving it so far and appreciating its quick pace and well-written but not overly complicated plot. Just what he needed right now. If you enjoy mysteries and somehow missed the Kat Colorado series back then, we definitely recommend it!

Our son, 25, is very close to finishing The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, book 1 in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, one of the books he bought recently with a Christmas gift card. Sounds like this one features dark sorcery, an elf-like race, royals and servants, a deadly riddle, and plenty of swords--all right up his alley! I can't remember, but I don't think he's read this author before. He has been enjoying it very much, but life has been hectic for him lately, so it is taking him longer than usual to finish it. As he pointed out, it is not only a long book with many pages but a BIG book with long pages! Maybe these next weeks will give him some downtime (which he needs anyway for his health) and more reading time.


Blog posts from last week:
TV Tuesday: Spring 2020 TV Preview - shows we will be watching this spring

Fiction Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard - young people working at the secretive Oak Ridge facility in TN during WWII

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?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fiction Review: The Atomic City Girls

I recently listened to the audiobook of The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard, a novel about the real-life pop-up town of Oak Ridge, TN, during WWII and the young people who worked there, helping to manufacture (often unwittingly) materials for the atomic bomb. It examines the larger, fascinating time and place through the eyes of a group of interesting characters whose lives are woven together.

June Walker is just eighteen years old when she moves to the newly-built town of Oak Ridge, where her older sister is already working. June is a local girl, and, in fact, her grandfather lived on the land where Oak Ridge is located, until the government moved him out two years earlier. Like many of the young women employed there, she lives in a dorm room with a roommate and works all day adjusting dials according to instructions without knowing what she is actually doing or what the bigger project is. During orientation, the government emphasized the need for tight security, and June isn't even allowed to mention her job or anything about the town in her letters home to her parents. Sam Cantor, a thirty-year old Jewish physicist originally from New York, is in a very different position from June. He was hired from his job teaching at Berkeley to help provide direct assistance to the heart of the project, enriching uranium. He knows all the details of what they are working on and what the final goal is, and ethically, he becomes more and more distressed over their mission the closer they get to achieving it. Joe is an older African-American man, working in construction at Oak Ridge. He had to leave his wife and children behind to take the job, but the pay was too good to turn down. His younger friend, Ralph, is almost like an adopted son to Joe and came with him to Oak Ridge. Joe gets more worried as Ralph becomes involved with a group protesting the poor treatment of African-Americans at Oak Ridge. While it is true, for example, that their segregated housing is just shacks that are freezing in the winter, Joe worries for Ralph's safety.

Each character's story is told in alternating chapters, though the three main characters cross paths (more and more significantly as the novel continues). The book begins with June's arrival at Oak Ridge in November 1944, when the hastily-built town is still fairly new. Each character's individual story is interesting, and the links between them become more and more intriguing until the climax. The larger account of the war and the building of the atomic bomb is told through the more intimate thoughts, actions, and discussions of the characters. I was thoroughly engrossed in the audiobook, set in such a fascinating place during that pivotal moment in history. It's a point of view that is not often heard, from the people, most of whom had no idea what the place was for, needed to keep Oak Ridge running (and the same goes for Los Alamos, NM), and I found it compelling. Although I enjoyed the audiobook, I see that the print book includes real photos of Oak Ridge and its employees (check out the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon), so it might be worthwhile to see the book in print, too. While I enjoyed this fictional perspective and learned a lot, for those who want to know more, a nonfiction book on the subject was written a few years earlier: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan.

384 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks
HarperAudio


Listen to a sampleof the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.

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

Or you can order The Atomic City Girls from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

TV Tuesday: Spring 2020 Preview

A lot of the shows we watch on cable are wrapping up from their fall/winter seasons in the next few weeks, so I am planning ahead for the spring TV season. I'm not seeing an awful lot that is new (at least on the services we have), but we do have some old favorites (links are to my reviews) coming back and a few new shows to try:

Old Favorites Returning

The Rookie (ABC), one of our favorite TV shows, just returned for its second season on February 23, and it is just as good as the first season so far! We love the cast, including Nathan Fillion as LAPD rookie John Nolan, and the perfect mix of action, suspense, drama, and humor.

Good Girls (NBC) is another of our all-time top shows, and it just returned for a third season on February 16. It's got an outstanding cast of kick-ass moms who turn to a life of crime, and this new season is so far just as twisty as the first two, with that perfect blend of suspense, drama and humor.

The Blacklist (NBC) (Huh, it seems I have never reviewed this one!) returns for the second half of its seventh season on March 20 (this Friday). We still enjoy this action-packed thriller starring James Spader as a master criminal working with the FBI.

Killing Eve  (AMC) comes back for season 3 on April 26. This award-winning show is fabulous, starring Sandra Oh as a British agent obsessed with a female serial killer (played by Jodie Comer), who is equally obsessed with her. Chilling, creepy, and compelling.

Ozark (Netflix) returns for its third season. This show, starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as parents unwillingly caught up in a life of crime, is SO good!! Great cast, great suspense, and super twisty.

 

New Shows To Try

Dispatches from Elsewhere (AMC) - this brand-new cable show starring Sally Field and Jason Segel (who also wrote and directs it) is a hard one to describe. It features a group of people caught up in a surreal game that opens them up to new possibilities in life. It started March 1, and we've only watched one episode so far. I'm intrigued; my husband's not so sure!



Quiz (AMC) - this British show is coming to AMC on May 25. It's based on the true story of a guy who cheated on the British Who Wants to be a Millionaire show (and apparently, got caught!). Could be interesting.



SnowPiercer (TNT) - Starting on May 31, this post-apocalyptic thriller is about a train full of survivors (apparently divided among strict class lines) in a below-freezing world. Looks intriguing, action-packed, and suspenseful.



The Good Fight (CBS All Access) - Not a new show, but we just recently signed up for this streaming service, and we loved The Good Wife, so we may give this a try.

Altered Carbon (Netflix) - Just back for its second season, we watched a few episodes of the first season last year but never finished it. Our son is enjoying it, so we may give it another try. We'll have to start back at the beginning since it is pretty complicated!


What shows are you watching this spring? We would love any recommendations!

Monday, March 16, 2020

It's Monday 3/16! What Are You Reading?

Well, the world has certainly changed since last week's update! We are now self-isolating at home and are limiting my 94-year-old father-in-law's contact to just my husband (he is in independent living nearby). Our state of Delaware only has seven cases of COVID-19 so far, but they set up drive-through testing this weekend, so that number is expected to rise. Schools are closed for two weeks (at least), the large corporation my husband works for closed all offices, and University of Delaware (where our son is a senior) moved spring break up and just today extended it to two weeks. When students "come back" from break, it will be to 100% online classes. Of course there are bigger problems, but I do feel bad that my son is missing out on his last semester of college experience. If you think your nation or community is over-reacting with closures and self-isolation, read this stunning article from an Italian reporter, published in the Boston Globe, about what's happening in Italy right now because they didn't do enough at the beginning of the outbreak. It's pretty sobering.
Spine is 2 mm too narrow, then ...
In other news, my book woes continue. My cover designer finally made the changes I needed (spine was 2 mm too narrow), and I uploaded it again to Amazon successfully. I ordered another (what I was hoping would be final) proof copy, paid extra for shipping, eagerly ripped open the package yesterday, and ... now the spine is 2 mm too wide! sigh... Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. I have requested another change from the cover designer, but she's been getting slower and slower to respond. Then, I will have to wait (and pay) for another proof copy to arrive. So, I am hoping the paperback is finally available by next week?? All this waiting has been really frustrating and nerve-wracking - the e-book was published over a month ago, and I figured the paperback would be available within a week! Believe me, I know there are much bigger problems in the world right now, but I am anxious to finally resolve these issues and get it out in the world where it can help people.
... and now the spine is 2 mm too wide!
At least, all this time spent at home will mean more reading time for everyone! And blogging is a great at-home activity, too. Here's what we have all been reading this week:

I finished my second Booktopia 2020 selection (this will be a continuing theme for the next two months), Black Is the Body: Stories from my Grandmother's Time, my Mother's Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard. This is a collection of essays by a college professor and author who has written several nonfiction books. She is a black woman, living in Vermont (i.e. a very white state), married to a white man, and mother to two beautiful little Ethiopian girls they adopted. She also teaches courses in African American literature  and race relations to an almost-entirely white student body. As the title indicates, the essays are all about her experiences (and those of the generations before her) of race, covering everything from being a stabbing victim, to having white friends, to her girls' growing awareness and experiences with race (which are quite different from her own childhood in the South), and more. I really enjoyed this thoughtful book. She is an excellent writer, a storyteller, and has a good sense of humor. She examines difficult topics, that are often not talked about, in an accessible and entertaining way.

With all that's going on in the world and after reading a thought-provoking memoir, I was in the mood for something lighter and quick, so I dove into my TBR shelf of mostly very old middle-grade and YA books! I chose OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu (published back in 2013!), a novel I have wanted to read for ... well ... seven years. It's about Bea, a teen with just-diagnosed OCD who doesn't want to admit this is her correct diagnosis nor that it's getting worse. She meets a boy named Beck at a school dance, and he turns out to be in her new group therapy (not a big coincidence when you read how they met!). Beck is also struggling with OCD, also newly diagnosed. Their compulsions are very different, but they understand each other in ways that no one else can. As their relationship develops, Bea's OCD continues to worsen, though she tries to hide the worst of it from everyone, including Beck. I am loving this novel so far! It's so much more than a quirky teen romance, and I am learning a lot about what it is like to live with OCD (spoiler: it's private torture).

On audio, I finished listening to The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard, a novel about the young people working at Oak Ridge in Tennessee during WWII. Oak Ridge was a hastily-built town to support top secret research and production of radioactive materials for the atomic bomb, part of the Manhattan Project. It's a fascinating inside look into a very secret place and time, from a variety of different perspectives, including June, a local farm girl, adjusting dials all day without knowing exactly what she is working on; Sam, a PhD physics professor from Berkeley brought in to work on the heart of the operation; and Joe, a black man who had to leave his family behind to work construction at the new facility in the deeply segregated South. The story extends through the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, delving into the effect of that on the people involved in creating those bombs. It was a very engaging story with interesting characters. It digs into the details of the characters and their relationships and experiences, as a thoughtful way of examining the larger picture of the Manhattan Project and Oak Ridge's role in the war.

Now, I am listening to another Booktopia selection, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata. This is an unusual novel that features a book-within-a-book and elements of science fiction. It begins with a Dominican immigrant, a young woman, who settles in New Orleans with her pirate husband. They have a son named Maxwell, and she writes a sci fi novel called Lost City. Before her death, she and her son burn the only copy of her sequel, A Model Earth, which she just finished. That's as far as I've gotten so far, but the blurb says that her second novel--supposedly destroyed--shows up in Chicago decades later, found in the home of Saul, a Jewish immigrant, after his death. The book leads Saul's grandson to New Orleans to try to find Maxwell, during Hurricane Katrina. I am enjoying this novel with a unique writing style so far and loving the New Orleans setting.

My husband, Ken, is still reading Shell Game by Sara Paretsky, book 19 in the popular V.I. Warshawski series, featuring a female detective (Kathleen Turner played her in a movie adaptation in 1991). We don't think either of us has read a novel in this series before, though who knows? This one was a super-early review copy I received back in 2018--have I mentioned how overflowing our TBR bookcase is? With all the stress lately in our family, Ken wanted something fast-paced and escapism-focused, so he grabbed this one when he saw a blurb by Lee Child (his favorite author) on the front. This version isn't even bound like most ARCs; my husband says he feels like he's reading a movie script! He's enjoying it so far, and I think it is doing its job, providing some fun, mindless escape.

Our son, 25, is still reading The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, book 1 in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, one of the books he bought recently with a Christmas gift card. Sounds like this one features dark sorcery, an elf-like race, royals and servants, a deadly riddle, and plenty of swords--all right up his alley! I can't remember, but I don't think he's read this author before. He has been enjoying it very much, but life has been hectic for him lately, so it is taking him longer than usual to finish it. Maybe these next few weeks will give him some downtime (which he needs anyway for his health) and more reading time.


Blog posts from last week:
Movie Monday: The Call of the Wild - wilderness adventure starring Harrison Ford

TV Tuesday: Star Trek: Picard - we are loving this show!

Fiction Review: Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht - female spy in 1966 Argentina

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?

Friday, March 13, 2020

Fiction Review: Who Is Vera Kelly?

I have started reading for Booktopia 2020, and my first book for the event was actually a prequel, Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht. She will be attending Booktopia for her second book, Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery (that's next on my reading list!). This novel is an unusual spy story, about a young woman in 1966 in Argentina.

Part of what makes this an unusual spy novel is that it begins when the spy is an ordinary teenager in 1957, living in Chevy Chase, MD, with her mother, who is both often absent and abusive when she is present. Vera attempts suicide and so is sent to therapy with the counselor at her private school. Things go downhill quickly after that. After a short chapter in 1957, the next chapter jumps to 1966 in Buenos Aires, where Vera is a young woman working for the CIA. She is undercover as a college student, looking into reports that the KGB has been recruiting Marxist students to join them. Vera has come to Argentina equipped with a suitcase containing very expensive, state-of-the-art surveillance equipment. While she works to infiltrate the left-leaning student groups, she has also hired someone to plant listening devices in the offices of high-level politicians, as there is fear of a coup brewing in the country. Vera splits her time between pretending to be a shy but carefree college student with Marxist values and hiding out in a rented space across the street from the government buildings, painstakingly transcribing  phone calls and conversations as she listens in. Alternate chapters go back to her childhood, following her path from 1957, until the two stories gradually come together and readers discover how she came to be a CIA operative in the first place.

This unique book combines an intriguing coming-of-age story with a spy novel, resulting in an engrossing tale of a young woman's journey from childhood to spy. The timing and setting of the novel and its female spy lead make it even more original. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Vera and learning about 1960's spycraft through her eyes. I wouldn't call it a thriller exactly--there is less action and a slightly slower pace than traditional spy thrillers--but it is an engaging story with suspense that gradually builds, both in wondering how Vera became a spy and especially after things begin to fall apart in Buenos Aires. Knecht has created a unique literary heroine and described her place in 1966 Argentina so that you feel like you are there with her. I was absorbed in the story and couldn't wait to find out Vera's secrets and what was going to happen to her. And now I have the sequel to look forward to!

266 pages, Tin House 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 sampleof the audio book here and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Who Is Vera Kelly? from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Who Is Vera Kelly? from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

TV Tuesday: Star Trek: Picard

We finally gave in and subscribed to CBS All Access last month, using an Amazon gift card (you can sign up through Amazon). My son and I have a long-time lunch tradition of watching NCIS and NCIS New Orleans, going back to his high school years, 10 years ago! Alas, we got to the point where the rest of the seasons of NCIS (and all seasons of NCIS New Orleans) were no longer free on streaming, and I figured we were spending more money buying individual seasons of NCIS New Orleans. So, with this new service to explore with its own list of original shows, my husband and I have been watching Star Trek: Picard. This is like coming home for us, as Star Trek: The Next Generation (on which Picard is based) began in 1987, the same year we met, and we watched the show together (and loved it) for all seven seasons. This new show brings back not only Picard but some cameos from other TNG alums, in an entirely new story.

Jean-Luc Picard, played fabulously by Sir Patrick Stewart, was captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D on the show Star Trek: The Next Generation (taking place 100 years after the original series, with Captain Kirk). As the new Picard opens, we see Jean-Luc, ever the gentleman, retired at the end of the 24th century, in his gorgeous vineyard in France. He's been retired for 14 years, but one day he gets a strange visitor who brings the past back to him. A young woman named Dahj shows up, asking for his help, and Jean-Luc realizes she has an important connection to someone important to him from his Enterprise days. Surprising events and sudden dangers cause Picard to flee the peace of his vineyard, on a personal mission to find someone important to Dahj (and now, to him). He teams up with an old colleague, Raffi (played by Michelle Hurd), and they hire a rogue pilot named Cristobal, played by Santiago Cabrera. Their new crew is completed with Dr. Agnes Jurati, played by Alison Pill, a scientist who has something to do with Dahj and would like to find the same person that Picard is looking for. Off they go, where no man has gone before ... no, no, no - not this time! As you can imagine, things don't go smoothly on this quest with this ragtag (but entertaining) crew.

We are enjoying Picard so far. It has very much the same tone and feel as The Next Generation, with action, adventure, outstanding visuals, great characters, and a sense of humor to make it all the more entertaining. As old fans of the original, it is great fun to see old TNG characters make cameo appearances (though you don't have to have watched the original to enjoy this show--it's an entirely new storyline) and to hang out with the wonderful Jean-Luc again. The plot is twisty and engaging so far, also tying into old aspects of TNG in fun ways but with an entirely new story. We are very much enjoying The New Adventures of Old Picard!

We've watched 6 episodes so far of the 8-episode first season. There is also a second season, which we are already looking forward to. As a CBS Original, it is only available on the CBS All-Access streaming service, though you can watch for a week with a free trial (this one is easily bingeable in a week). After that, rates start at $5.99 per month. Note that Star Trek: The Next Generation is included with Amazon Prime, so if you missed it in the 80's/90's (or want to relive it!), you can use the link to watch.