Monday, May 18, 2020

It's Monday 5/18! What Are You Reading?

It was another week of ups and downs. My chronic illness flare-up continues, and I had about 4 days in a row of feeling pretty crummy and being unable to do much. I am feeling better about this recent mysterious downturn, though, because my specialist in NY agreed to run some labwork to try to get to the bottom of it (mainly infectious stuff, including COVID-19). Since I have an immune disorder, a relapse like this is often caused by some sort of infectious trigger. Anyway, I have my lab slip now, so I feel better knowing I might have some answers and potential treatment soon (to be clear, I don't have symptoms of COVID-19--I just want to know if I was exposed to it in case that's the cause of my immune relapse).

Anyway, the high point of the week was celebrating my father-in-law's 95th birthday! He hadn't left his apartment (independent living so not locked-down) in over two months, so he was thrilled to see us all again (he's only been seeing my husband). We were very careful and kept our distance, seating him at the head of the dining room table, and the rest of us at the other end (and our college son even further away in the living room!). He got to enjoy his favorite steak dinner, a special drink my husband made him, cake, and a pile of presents. Unfortunately, his building decided just that day to change their policy so that now he has to quarantine for 14 days and can't even leave his apartment. He wasn't going out anyway, but he needs to be able to walk a bit (he has severe spinal stenosis), so he's struggling now.

A socially-distant birthday dinner (see our other son way in the back?)
The other high point was a very quiet weekend with just my husband and me. Since I wasn't feeling well, we chilled out with lots of TV, including binging Dublin Murders, which is based on Tana French's novels--great show! I will review it tomorrow.

Watch for the kick-off to my annual Big Book Summer Challenge this Friday! This is a lot of fun every year, and you can make the challenge fit your own interests and needs. All you have to do is read at least one book of 400 pages or longer sometime between the end of May and the beginning of summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day in the U.S.) You can read the details on last year's 2019 Big Book Summer post (and watch for the 2020 one on Friday afternoon). I always use this challenge as a way to tackle some of the bigger books on my TBR shelves, and my husband and I already set aside our piles this weekend! Whether you join every year or are new to the challenge, I hope you'll join the fun!

Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

I finished The Last One by Alexandra Oliva, a thriller about a survival reality TV show gone wrong. A woman nicknamed Zoo by the show's producers is competing with eleven other contestants for a million dollars. They are told this show will do things that have never been done before and that they may not see anyone else for days at a time while surviving on their own out in the woods. It starts out predictably enough, with some team challenges and solo challenges, lots of crew in the shadows, and a couple of people dropping out early. But several days into a solo challenge, Zoo notices strange things: towns and neighborhoods completely devoid of people, a notice of a deadly pandemic (no, I didn't realize this when I started the book!), and even dead bodies. She just assumes that it is all a part of the elaborate charade (and that the show must have a huge budget), but in truth, while she was hiking through the woods, almost everyone really died of this pandemic. When will she finally realize this is real? What happened to the other contestants? I gave this novel to my husband as a gift, and I loved it! It was just what I needed, with an original story and fictional world so engrossing that I stayed up much too late at night reading it.

Next, sticking with quick reads, I chose a YA novel, Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos. It was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2012 ... and that's how long it's been sitting on my TBR shelves! It's about a seventeen-year-old girl named Rachel whose brother Micah is addicted to meth. The siblings have always been close, since they are just 11 months apart in age, but Rachel felt helpless as she watched Micah slip further and further away. After high school graduation, he really disappeared, leaving in the middle of the night. Rachel gets a lead on where he might be, in a nearby city, so she asks his bandmate and best friend, Tyler, to come with her while she searches for Micah. Most of the book takes place over one very long day (though there are many flashbacks) while Rachel and Tyler search for him and begin to bond. The subject matter was pretty dark, but it was a beautifully written book about how addiction affects family and friends and how one person began to heal.

Now, I am reading a classic I have been meaning to get to, The Call of the Wild by Jack London. I remember reading this wilderness adventure back in Junior High/middle school and enjoying it, but it's been a loooong time! My husband and I went to see the movie in the theater, just before everything shut down in early March (you can read my review at the link).  If you're not familiar with the story, it's about a dog named Buck who is living a happy and easy life in California in the 1890's as the top dog in Judge Miller's house. Then he is captured and sold (multiple times), beginning a long journey up north, where the Gold Rush in the Yukon has made strong sled dogs a hot commodity. Buck suffers a great deal of abuse from both humans and dogs but soon learns the ways of a sled dog ... and meets some good people, too. Eventually, he meets a man named John, just when the two of them most need each other, and they help each other heal. I am thoroughly enjoying the short novel so far; London is a wonderful writer, capturing Buck's experiences from a dog's perspective.

On audio, I am still listening to Lakewood by Megan Giddings, one of the selections for Booktopia 2020 (which was cancelled but they are scheduling virtual author events now - click on Events to join the fun!). This is an unusual novel plot so far. A young woman named Lena has just lost her beloved grandmother who raised her. Though she is still in college, responsibility for Lena's mother, Desiree, with her many health problems, now falls to Lena. When she stumbles across a potential job as a highly paid medical research subject, she jumps at the chance to earn so much money and ease her family's problems. Within a few days, though, Lena starts to realize this is a very strange arrangement. She's given a fake job and is required to lie to her family and friends about it, and some of the experiments are not just strange but frightening. It's an intriguing (and scary) story so far, and I am interested to see where it goes. I'm not making much progress; with my husband home 24/7, my audio listening time is greatly decreased!

My husband, Ken,  started a new thriller (which, ironically, is a Big Book!), Neon Prey by John Sandford. I gave him this paperback in his Easter basket ... I had to choose from the 10 books for sale in our local drugstore! I remember giving my dad some of Sandford's Prey series, but I don't think Ken has read one before. The series is about Lucas Davenport, who seems to be (from the blurbs) a member of the police force who is brilliant and tends to work on his own. In this particular novel (number 29 in the series), Lucas is chasing after a serial killer in Louisiana who has been killing--and getting away with it--for years. Sounds like a gripping thriller!

Our son, 25, returned to a favorite author, with a spin-off series from one of his old favorites. He's reading Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima, book 1 of the Shattered Realms series, which he described to me as a companion to The Seven Realms series, which he read years ago and loved. This newer fantasy series is set in the same world but a generation later, so in that way, it continues the stories begun in The Seven Realms and gives readers a look at what comes next (and what avid reader doesn't want that from a favorite series?). Amazon describes it as "a breathtaking story of dark magic, chilling threats, and two unforgettable characters walking a knife-sharp line between life and death." Sounds good!

Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: The Good Fight - outstanding--and funny!--spin-off of The Good Wife

Nonfiction Review: Greek to Me by Mary Norris - travel memoir filled with history & mythology

2 Graphic Novels and a Graphic Memoir - 3 reviews of great graphic novels/memoir for middle-grade, teen, and adult

My Summary of Books Read in April - an outstanding reading month for me!
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?


  1. I hope they can figure out if there's a trigger for your recent flare-up, Sue. I just hate to know you've been feeling so badly. :( And I'm so sorry to hear about your father-in-law's tight quarantine (especially when he needs to get out and walk). That is really rough! I was just considering reading Call of the Wild a couple days ago. My husband took one of my sons to see the movie back before the "stay at home" order began, but the rest of us haven't yet seen it. And now you've got me starting to think about Big Book Summer Challenge, again. I think this will be my 3rd summer to participate and I definitely have a few books on my list that would qualify (and that would be nice to cross off).

    1. Thank you for your kind thoughts, Shaye. I am fine, really. So many people with my disease are so worse off, some completely bedridden. I have been fortunate over the years to find treatments that help. I normally function pretty well (with lots of sleep and an afternoon nap!), though, so this sudden downturn (we call them crashes for good reason!) is frustrating. I have a science background and like to look at things analytically, so some clear answers would be nice! ha ha But I do recognize how lucky I am. It's why I spend a lot of time and energy trying to help others.

      Anyway, so glad you will join us for Big Book Summer again! Yay! I think we all need something fun to look forward to right now :)

      The Call of the Wild is brutal at times - an honest portrayal of the Yukon during the gold rush and the harsh environment - but I am really enjoying it overall. The movie was quite Disnified! (but still great)

  2. Do hope you are feeling better, it is so challenging to live with chronic illness - good though you don't have covid and you know it! Your father-in-law looks great and lovely dinner for him. Bummer about the place putting him in lockdown for 14 days after it though.

    1. Thanks, Kathryn! We got permission for him to at least walk the halls on his floor (with his mask on!). since it is really bad for him to be so sedentary. So, that's a win ... and he's half-done with his quarantine now!

  3. The Call Of The Wild was one of my favorite books as a kid. Happy birthday to your father-in-law. I hope you feel better soon. Have a good week!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. I’m glad you were able to spend an important birthday with your FIL.
    I hope you feel better soon!

  5. I am so glad you got to celebrate his 95th in person; I feel a bit starved for in-person contact beyond my immediate family.

    1. Yeah, I hear you, Helen! He was SOOO happy to be here and see us :) Our college son moves home on May 31, so things will get a bit more crowded here!

  6. I saw the first third of the Call of the WIld movie in the theater and then had to go rescue a kid who got sick at school (wow, how things have changed!). I loved the book but I haven't reread it for a while. I wonder if there's a good audio?

    I hope you find out what caused the flare up so you can relax a little. It's a scary time. And Happy Birthday to your FIL! I hope he finds a way to walk while under quarantine.

    1. Aw, sorry you missed the rest of the movie! It was very good. I see one audio version narrated by Jeff Daniels - I bet that is pretty good!

      Thanks for the kind wishes. We did get permission for my FIL to walk the halls on his own floor!

  7. Hope you get everything sorted out with your health Sue. I already have my 2020 big book list ready to go. It has 24 books on it so I doubt I will get to them all, but I'm ready to start Cold Falling White by Gabrielle S. Prendergast (576 pages) ASAP. I have one other book on the go and then I'll start it first thing Friday!

    1. Can't wait to see your Big Book list of possibilities! So glad you'll be joining the fun again! Cold Falling White sounds like a great start!