Monday, February 22, 2021

It's Monday 2/22! What Are You Reading?


I'm late on my Monday post today, but for a good reason! I was occupied all morning with preparing for and then having a phone consultation with my Lyme specialist this morning (very glad they gave me the option for a phone visit with snow coming down AGAIN here today). She ran loads of lab tests at my last visit, so we reviewed the results. All kinds of immune problems showed up (the result of both Lyme and my immune disorder, ME/CFS), plus a bunch of reactivated viruses. You might think that's bad news, but I love knowing more and having some options for treatment! Gives me hope 😀. Just in starting to implement the new treatments she suggested last month, I am already feeling much better, after a really horrible past year.

My big news last week was that I started up my YouTube channel! I've been working on it for several weeks behind the scenes--learning how to edit videos, make graphics, etc.--and I finally launched it Friday evening. So far, there are two book-related videos there (did you know #Booktube is a thing?), plus an interview about my book. I plan to post bookish videos regularly, with things like #FridayReads videos (my first is up now), end-of-month summaries, and more. This week, look for my #BookTubeNewbie video! So please visit my channel and take a moment to like, subscribe, and comment to tell me what you think. And let me know what other kinds of videos you'd like to see!

So, that's why my reviews and blog visits got short-changed last week. I'm going to have to figure out how to manage the extra time required to maintain the channel without dropping other stuff!

Here's what we've all been reading this past week, in between shoveling snow:

I finished reading a YA novel I've been meaning to read for years, Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (it has a heart on the cover, so it seemed like a good choice for Valentine's Day). He's a very well-known and acclaimed YA author that I've never read before. The novel is about a seventeen-year-old named Ben Carver who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire in a very reticent family: they love each other but they don't talk about their feelings. So Ben feels he has no one to confide in about how confused he's feeling lately. Last semester, he really connected with a guy named Rafe at his boarding school (Ben is there on a scholarship). Their deep friendship turned into more, but Ben felt betrayed when he learned that Rafe had been openly gay at his old school, something he never shared with Ben. Ben is certain that was a one time thing and he is not gay. Besides, he just met this wonderful girl named Hannah, whom he really likes ... and is very attracted to. Ben is very likeable, and I enjoyed the novel, which delves into issues of sexual orientation, labels, and identity.You can listen to me describe more about the novel on my first #FridayReads video.

I also finished reading a YA graphic novel that I kept forgetting to mention in my Monday posts, A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong. The story follows the friendship of two girls in California, Ren and Luna. They met when they were middle-school age and were inseparable friends for one wonderful summer. Then, Luna abruptly moved back to Oahu, and Ren never heard from her again. Now, as juniors in high school, Luna is back, but Ren is still deeply hurt that she never returned her calls. Meanwhile, Ren is dealing with serious issues in her family and worsening grades at school. She's great at basketball, though, so when a teacher forms a girls' basketball team (with a lot of pushback and derision from the boys' coach), both girls agree to play. They and three other girls from diverse backgrounds come together in this ragtag team. They're terrible at first, but they train and work hard and push themselves to make the team better. Along the way, they learn about friendship, teamwork, and trust. It's a great story with a unique, colorful, immersive look to the illustrations.

Now, I have started on my neighborhood book group's next selection, The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne. I have been hearing great things about this novel for years, and I loved Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, so I was thrilled when the group chose this one from my several suggestions. It's an epic novel, covering the life of one man in Ireland, starting in the 1940's, before his birth, and moving through the decades to the present. I'm still at the very beginning, when his mother, a teen girl from a small town in County Cork is publicly shamed by the local parish priest for her pregnancy (as you might guess, it was not consensual but she was blamed) and then thrown out. She gets on a bus to Dublin, makes a new friend, and settles into the unfamiliar city with a new job while she waits for the baby to come. It's great already, and the main character's only just now been born!


On audio, I am still listening to The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, an author I always enjoy. She is a Native American author who writes novels about Native American people, families, and their lives. In this case, her latest novel is based in history and the life of her own grandfather. Did you know that in 1953 Congress passed a resolution to disband and abolish all tribes, take all land from Native Americans and "relocate" them to urban areas? I didn't, and the historical backdrop here is stunning and horrifying. But, as always, Erdrich focuses in on one Indian community, a group of families, and what happens to them because of that push from Congress. Her focus is on one older male character (based on her grandfather), who takes charge of giving the local tribes a voice, and on one young Indian woman. I also love that Erdrich always reads her own audiobooks, so the accent and cadence of her speech is authentic (this novel is about the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, of which she is part). So, far, it is immersive and engrossing, as are all of her novels. You can hear my description of this wonderful novel in my first #FridayReads video.

My husband, Ken, is reading one of his Christmas gifts, taking a break from his usual thrillers to read Erik Larson's latest nonfiction book, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. As the subtitle indicates, this book is focused on the year-long bombing campaign that Hitler waged on London during WWII, with a focus on Churchill's leadership of the British people during this horrific period. He says it's very good and has begun reading me interesting tidbits (always a good sign with nonfiction). Did you know that Churchill had a black cat named Nelson? He's trying not to read me too much of it, though, because he knows I'll be reading it myself. Ken is enjoying it so far and already learning a lot.

Our 26-year-old son re-read Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell so that he could read book 2 of the Spellslinger series, Shadowblack, which he also finished. The series is about a mage named Kellen who loses his magic and goes on a quest to reclaim it. In the second book, he is forced to live as an outlaw. The description says this series is "bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic." No wonder our son likes it!

Now, he has moved back to another favorite series, The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett. He absolutely loved the first two books in this series, The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, and now he is enjoying book 3, The Daylight War. The series is about a world where frightening demons rule the night, and humans try to stay safe inside magical wards, though their protection is fragile. Three of those humans leave the safety of the wards to uncover the secrets of the past and try to take back their world. He's loving it so far!

 

Blog posts last week:

Movie Monday: Grandma - a warm, funny movie starring Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner

Fiction Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde - a classic play filled with fun word play and farce

And be sure to check out my new YouTube Channel!

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?

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Fiction Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

One of the classics I asked for at Christmas was The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde because I've never read anything by Wilde before. When I received the book, I was surprised to see that it's a play (forgive me, I went to a science/engineering university!). Fortunately, my version of the book included some interesting and informative front matter that helped to explain the history and importance of this famous play. I enjoyed reading that and the play itself, which is a farcical comedy.

The play is about two different men, each of whom makes up fake friends/family as an excuse to travel and escape their ordinary lives. So, John (Jack) Worthing leaves his estate in the country and his ward, Cecily, to visit his pretend outrageous brother named Earnest who lives in London. Jack then pretends to be Ernest while in the city, and comes home to tell wild stories about the wicked Ernest. Meanwhile, Algernon, a friend of Jack's who lives in London, often leaves the city to go to the country to visit his "sick friend, Bunbury." He has even made up a name for these frequent jaunts of his, "Bunburying." Everyone thinks he is such a compassionate, selfless man to spend so much time with a sick friend, while he does whatever he wants and roams the countryside from one home to the next. Things begin to get more complicated when Jack falls in love with Algie's cousin, Gwendolen, and wants to marry her. She only knows him as Ernest, however, and even says at one point that she could never marry anyone not named Ernest, since the name matches the disposition. Soon after, Algie visits Jack's country estate (after learning the truth of his facade) and falls in love with Cecily, while himself pretending to be Ernest! As you can imagine, hijinks ensue, as both men have used the same false name and now want to marry.

The play was described by a critic of the time (1895) as "a trivial comedy for serious people," and that is still an apt description! It's a silly but smart farce filled with puns, quotable lines, mistaken identities, and other fun. In fact, you may recognize some of its more famous lines, like when Gwendolen's aunt chides orphaned Jack with: "To have lost one parent is a misfortune, to have lost both looks like carelessness." It's a light, funny, frothy little play with its humor based largely in word play and ridiculous circumstances. I wish I had the opportunity to see it live on stage, but reading it was a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.

65 pages, Bibliophile Pro

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 buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local:  
  

 

Or you can order The Importance of Being Earnest from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Movie Monday: Grandma

I spent some time searching for a good movie for us to watch with our fancy take-out for Valentine's Day last night. The thing is that my husband's not a fan of romances or rom-coms. I thought we could use some laughs (it was a particularly difficult week with his 95-year-old dad), and I finally settled on Grandma, a movie from 2015 with a great cast.

Julia Garner, recently of Ozark fame as Ruth, plays Sage, an older teen girl who is pregnant and wants to get an abortion so she can still go to college. She's smart and kind and sweet, but she doesn't have the $600 it will cost and her loser ex-boyfriend won't help. She goes to her grandmother, Elle, played by Lily Tomlin, to ask for her help, but Elle doesn't have any money right now, either. The two of them set off on a day-long quest to raise the funds in an antique, barely-working car that belonged to Elle's partner, Violet, who died a few years ago after 30 years together. Elle is clearly still grieving, as the movie opens with her breaking up with a new (young) girlfriend, played by Judy Greer. Grandma and Sage go from one of Elle's friends to the next (and to see the loser ex-boyfriend), to see who could lend them some money, and along the way, the viewer gets to know more about Elle's past, Elle's and Violet's wonderful love, and Elle's loving relationship with her granddaughter. Elle is gruff and prickly to most people, but she clearly cares very much for Sage, though she is honest with her, too. Sage doesn't feel like she can confide in her mother, played perfectly by Marcia Gay Harden, who is estranged from her mother.

There are a dozen or so supporting cast members here who are all great, but the spotlight is on Tomlin and Garner, both outstanding and award-winning actresses. And it's Lily Tomlin, so there is plenty of humor and laugh-out-loud moments throughout the movie. But, of course, the subject matter is quite serious and never taken lightly (Elle and Sage talk about the options and consequences). There is such warmth to the relationship between this younger and older woman. It's clear that even with Elle's grumpy and sarcastic demeanor, she has a special place in her heart for her granddaughter. We both enjoyed this warm-hearted, funny, heart-breaking movie starring two outstanding actresses.

Grandma was released in 2015 and is available on a wide variety of platforms to rent. It is available on Starz and on Hulu Premium (I didn't know there was such a thing nor that our Hulu isn't premium!). We rented it for $3.99 on Amazon, which I decided was pretty cheap compared to other Valentine's Days when we spent $30 at a movie theater!

It's Monday 2/15! What Are You Reading?


Happy Valentine's Day! And Happy Mardi Gras! It's always a bit weird when those two holidays fall on the same weekend at our house. We used to live in New Orleans, so Mardi Gras is a major holiday here. Normally, we have a party with our closest friends, and I cook our favorite Louisiana dishes, and we all (including our sons and their friends) have a great time together. 

 


Of course, it's different this year, but we are still finding ways to celebrate! Instead of our party, we had a Mini Mardi Gras over Zoom with two couples we've been friends with for 30 years and hadn't seen in many months. We decorated and dressed in purple, green, and gold (with beads, of course), and my husband enjoyed an Abita beer (awesome Louisiana beer) and I had my diet Barq's root beer (no alcohol when you have Lyme). And I made our favorite comfort food, red beans and rice, plus some shrimp and a King Cake from a local bakery! On Mardi Gras day (Tuesday), we will have our annual Popeye's dinner with our closest friends who used to live in New Orleans when we did ... only this year, on Zoom! Should be fun, though, and our grown sons will be joining in, too! One of our friends already made a huge bread pudding with whiskey sauce and dropped it off yesterday. If you are stuck in the winter doldrums and would also like a reason to celebrate today and tomorrow, check out my Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home post on my chronic illness blog, with loads of ideas for foods (including my own recipes), movies, TV, and of course, books!


We also celebrated Valentine's Day this weekend, with delicious take-out from a local restaurant and a movie at home (review coming!). And, given the timing, after we exchanged our usual Valentine cards and goodies at breakfast, we indulged in some King Cake with our coffee!


Finally, I had a lot of fun creating new book lists on BookShop last week. Have you heard of BookShop yet? It's an awesome new book website where you can purchase books online, and your purchase benefits indie bookstores! You can choose your favorite indie bookstore to get credit for your purchase or they will split the proceeds between all indie bookstores. This means that I can buy online even from my tiny local bookstore that doesn't have its own book sale website. You get the convenience of shopping online while supporting indies: a win-win! As a BookShop affiliate, I also get a tiny percent of your purchase when you access the site through my links (in the sidebar and at the bottom of every book review), which helps me to offset the cost and work I put into this blog. So, check out my page at BookShop and the lists I have made so far (Books I've Reviewed, a bunch of Best of 2020 lists, and a 15 Great Books by Black Authors list, so far), and let me know what other lists you'd like to see!

And, onto the books! Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

My book group's February selection was The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, a nonfiction book that I finished this weekend. Scientists agree there have been 5 mass extinctions since life began on Earth, based on the fossil record. Many also agree that we are now in the midst of a sixth. I was worried this book might be dry, but ... wow. It is very well-written, with the author integrating her own experiences in researching extinction into the book. It's engrossing, fascinating ... and yes, terrifying, too. Chapter 1 is about huge numbers and entire species of amphibians disappearing all over the world; I had no idea this was going on! In chapter 2, she goes much further back in time to the mastadon and reviews the history of how humans first began to identify bizarre-looking fossils and finally came around to the idea that extinction was a thing. She combines history, science, and some scary looks into the future. Everyone in my book group loved the book (lots of 8's, 9's, and 10's for ratings), and we had a great discussion on Zoom. Highly recommended.

Next, in honor of Valentine's Day, I looked for a book that deals with love! I don't read many romances and don't have any on my TBR shelves, but I found a YA novel I've been meaning to read for years, Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (it has a heart on the cover!). He's a very well-known and acclaimed YA author that I've never read before. The novel is about a seventeen-year-old named Ben Carver who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire in a very reticent family: they love each other but they don't talk about their feelings. So Ben feels he has no one to confide in about how confused he's feeling lately. Last semester, he really connected with a guy named Rafe at his boarding school (Ben is there on a scholarship). Their deep friendship turned into more, but Ben felt betrayed when he learned that Rafe had been openly gay at his old school, something he never shared with Ben. Ben is certain that was a one time thing and he is not gay. Besides, he just met this wonderful girl named Hannah, whom he really likes ... and is very attracted to. It's a great story so far, Ben is very likeable, and I'm enjoying it. A nice break after reading all that depressing stuff about extinction!


On audio, I am still listening to The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, an author I always enjoy. She is a Native American author who writes novels about Native American people, families, and their lives. In this case, her latest novel is based in history and the life of her own grandfather. Did you know that in 1953 Congress passed a resolution to disband and abolish all tribes, take all land from Native Americans and "relocate" them to urban areas? I didn't, and the historical backdrop here is stunning and horrifying. But, as always, Erdrich focuses in on one Indian community, a group of families, and what happens to them because of that push from Congress. Her focus is one one older male character (based on her grandfather) who takes charge of giving the local tribes a voice. I also love that Erdrich always reads her own audiobooks, so the accent and cadence of her speech is authentic (this novel is about the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, of which she is part). So, far, it is immersive and engrossing, as are all of her novels.

 

My husband, Ken, is reading one of his Christmas gifts, taking a break from his usual thrillers to read Erik Larson's latest nonfiction book, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. As the subtitle indicates, this book is focused on the year-long bombing campaign that Hitler waged on London during WWII, with a focus on Churchill's leadership of the British people during this horrific period. He seems engrossed in it already and has begun reading me interesting tidbits (always a good sign with nonfiction). Did you know that Churchill had a black cat named Nelson? He's trying not to read me too much of it, though, because he knows I'll be reading it myself. Ken is enjoying it so far and already learning a lot.

Our 26-year-old son re-read Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell so that he could read book 2 of the Spellslinger series, Shadowblack. The series is about a mage named Kellen who loses his magic and goes on a quest to reclaim it. In the second book, he is forced to live as an outlaw. The description says this series is "bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic." No wonder our son likes it!

 

 

 

Blog posts last week:

TV Tuesday: Halt and Catch Fire - Engrossing drama with great characters, about the computer revolution of the 80's and 90's

Teen/YA Review: Furious Thing by Jenny Downham - Excellent, complex story about family

Fiction Review: The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz - Funny, suspenseful novel about a family of PI's

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, February 12, 2021

Fiction Review: The Spellman Files

In need of a lighter read this winter after finishing Beartown by Fredrik Backman (an excellent novel but very dark), I reached way back into the depths of my TBR bookcase for a paperback I've been meaning to read for years, The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. It was just as fun and funny as I'd heard over the years, and I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel in a series about a family of private investigators.

Twenty-eight-year-old Izzy Spellman is the narrator of the story. She has an older brother named David, a much younger teen sister named Rae, and an eccentric uncle named Ray. She lives on the third floor of her parents' house, a situation which is often too close for comfort. The entire family (except David, who works as a lawyer) works for Spellman Investigations as PI's. Well, Rae is still in school and is not yet an official PI, but she is well on her way and enjoys "recreational surveillance" in her spare time. Izzy has a checkered past, but she has shaped up in recent years and is trying to be an adult. She has trouble maintaining a romantic relationship, though, partly because of her family and partly because guys don't seem to like it when their girlfriends stake them out and run a credit check. Which is why when she meets a handsome, kind dentist named Daniel (definitely not her usual type), she decides to lie about what she does for a living. This will, of course, eventually blow up in her face. Meanwhile, she is working on a cold case and receiving threats to stop investigating. Now, Daniel's mad at her, her parents are following her nonstop in a maddening way, she can't quite crack her case, and she is at the breaking point. But then Rae goes missing, and the whole family must set aside their differences and come together to try to find their youngest member.

As expected, this humorous detective novel is just pure fun! Izzy has a noncconformist streak, recklessness, and sarcastic sense of humor that reminded me a bit of Stephanie Plum (from the Janet Evanovich books). The entire family is eccentric, as are some of their cases. It's also a mystery/suspense novel, with several cases coming and going during the course of the novel, in addition to the cold case Izzy ends up working on, so there is plenty here to keep your attention and keep the pages turning. Alongside the humor and suspense, though, there is some real warmth among the Spellman family members, even if they drive each other crazy sometimes. I enjoyed the time I spent with the Spellmans and would love to read more of the series.

358 pages, Simon & Schuster

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 buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!    
  

 

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

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Teen/YA Review: Furious Thing

I just finished listening to a YA novel on audio called Furious Thing by Jenny Downham. I loved her earlier novel, Unbecoming, so much that I chose it as my Best Teen/YA Book Read in 2016. Like that earlier novel, Furious Thing is a family drama, dealing with relationships between children and adults in a family.


Lexi is 15 years old and is constantly told that she misbehaves and has a bad temper. She is filled with anger that often comes out at the worst times. She believes that everything in her family would be OK, if only she could change herself so that her stepfather would like her, her mother would love her like she used to, and maybe she'd even have friends. It's clear that her 6-year-old sister, Iris, doesn't have the same problems she does; everyone adores Iris, who behaves perfectly. The only person Lexi can talk to is her stepbrother, Kass, but now he's off at university. Lexi works hard to transform herself, pushing her anger down deep. Yeah, you know how well that's going to work! She's constantly in trouble, both at home and at school, and she mostly feels helpless to stop it. Even when she tries hard to be better, eventually, the anger bubbles to the surface.

I had to stop myself from describing more about the novel because there is just so much here, but to tell you too much would spoil the story and give away what's coming later. Downham has a talent for writing strong, well-developed characters and for digging deep into issues affecting many people, and this novel is no exception. There is so much more to it than first meets the eye. It's not just about Lexi but about complex family dynamics, blended families, and the effects that parents have on children (and vice-versa). Even the book's title has a more complex meaning than first thought. I was slightly impatient with the story at first, until I realized that appearances were only the tip of the iceberg and there was plenty of depth here. I enjoyed listening to the novel on audio and was rooting for Lexi through all of her challenges! The ending was not fairy-tale perfect but satisfying.

384 pages, David Fickling Books

Scholastic Audio

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

 

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

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

 

You can buy the book through Bookshop.org, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

    

 

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

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

TV Tuesday: Halt and Catch Fire

Looking for something to watch on Netflix? My husband and I just finished the four-season TV show Halt and Catch Fire that originally aired on AMC from 2014-17, and it was excellent. I'd heard years ago that it was really well-done, and we finally got around to watching it and really enjoyed it. 

Halt and Catch Fire is a drama set in the computer industry, covering about ten years from 1983 through the early 90's, from the development of the first IBM clones to the birth of the internet and search engines. If that sounds boring, it's not! The show is really about the people, a small group that started out together in Texas and ended up in California, and the characters are at the heart of the show. Gordon Clark, played by Scoot McNairy, works as an engineer for an electronics company in Texas called Cardiff. His wife, Donna, is played by Kerry Bishé and works for Texas Instruments as a software engineer. They have two little girls and dream of starting their own business together someday. When Joe MacMillan, played by Lee Pace, a tall, confident man, leaves IBM to come to Cardiff, he shakes things up in a big way. He has big dreams of leaving behind his father's company (IBM) to create computer products that can compete with them, insisting that personal computing is the future. Cardiff manager Tom Bosworth, played by Toby Huss, also hires a young, inexperienced but brilliant programmer named Cameron Howe, played by Mackenzie Davis, to round out the team. And they're off! This ragtag team in this Texas company sets out to set the world on fire with the first IBM clone, to break up that company's monopoly on the business, ... and then to develop the world's first portable computer, which seems like a crazy idea at the time. From there, the series follows this core group through about a decade, during which time both the computing world and the people in it change dramatically. There are new ideas, company start-ups, partnerships, and plenty of both wins and losses.

It's hard to accurately describe this excellent show because while the plot is interesting, the people are at the heart of it. The actors are all outstanding in their roles, and their characters have real depth and go through all kinds of highs and lows, both personally and professionally. They are each very flawed, real-feeling people who gradually become a team and need each other. Meanwhile, it's fascinating to peek inside the history (fictionalized) of how we went from hulking single machines on desks to a world where everyone is connected by small devices to the rest of the world instantly. Even the Clark kids, who go from little girls to independent teens during the course of the story, are excellent actors and fully fleshed-out characters. It's a fascinating and engrossing show, and we were sad when we realized we were watching the final episode. Definitely worth your time.


Halt and Catch Fire originally aired on AMC and is now available on Netflix. It is also available for streaming on Amazon, starting at $1.99 an episode or $16.99 for the first season (all seasons available). And it is available on DVD - season one is $11.99 (all seasons are on DVD, but, alas, I don't see any box sets of the entire series).

 

Monday, February 08, 2021

It's Monday 2/8! What Are You Reading?


How is everyone on this Monday morning? It's very cold here, and we got more snow here this weekend, but at least the sun is shining. According to the forecast, this is the last we'll see of sunshine for the next week!

We had a fun weekend, though I didn't get much done. That's OK; sometimes you need to just relax and have some fun. My health is much improved on some new treatments (and more to come), pretty much back to my "normal" baseline with chronic illness which suddenly feels--after a terrible past year--pretty darn good! So, we took a short hike on Saturday on some local trails we'd never been on before. I'm in a local Women's Hikers group on Facebook that a friend started, and I'm amazed by all the great places to hike so close to us that we've never even heard of before (we've lived here for 30 years)! 

 

It was also "warm" enough (above 40 F!) to have an outdoor visit with my father-in-law, who is 95. We were all bundled up, but we had a bit of sunshine, and he so enjoys getting out and doing this. My husband sees him every day, but his dad is really getting sick of being stuck inside and not being able to come to our house. He gets his second shot next week - yay!

 

And, of course, we topped off our weekend with the Superbowl. If you don't live in the U.S., you might not be aware of how big a deal this is here! Neither my husband nor I much cared who won last night, but it's fun to get into the group celebration spirit. We made our favorite snacks for dinner, enjoyed the ads, and chatted with friends on Facebook about the whole thing. My personal favorite ads were two in the beginning for Most Entertaining--Sesame Street for DoorDash (one of my all-time favorite SS songs!) and the Scott's one which was filled with hilarious celebrity cameos, including John Travolta doing the dance from the prom scene in Grease with his daughter (I had to rewatch it on Youtube to catch everything)--and for powerful emotion, the one with Bruce Springsteen in Kansas about meeting in the middle. The game? eh.

 

In fact, we turned the game off a few minutes early and went upstairs to read! Here's what we've all been reading this week:

I finished and thoroughly enjoyed The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz, one of the older books on my TBR bookcase. It was published in 2007, and I've been wanting to read it for well over a decade! The Spellman family runs a P.I. business, with mom, dad, older sister, Izzy, and younger sister, Rae, all involved (brother David is a lawyer). The novel is written from Izzy's point of view, with a heaping dose of humor in among the cases and investigations. Izzy has a lot of issues, though she's no longer quite the mess she was when she was younger. Still, most of her relationships are very short-lived (for some reason, men don't like their girlfriends to stake them out and run credit checks on them), until she meets one guy she really likes. In fact, she likes him enough that she lies to him about what she does for a living. Of course, this approach will eventually blow up in Izzy's face, and at that point, she decides to leave Spellman Investigations, though her parents want her to work on one last case. This fun, fast-paced, witty novel was just what I needed! It's the start of a series.

Waiting for my book group book to come in at the library, I squeezed in a very short book, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. It's actually a play, and my first Wilde read. My husband gave it to me for Christmas. The play was described by a critic of the time (1895) as "a trivial comedy for serious people," and that is still an apt description! It's a silly but smart farce filled with puns, quotable lines, mistaken identities, and other fun. The basic plot is about two different men, each of whom makes up fake friends/family as an excuse to travel and escape their ordinary lives. So, John leaves his estate in the country to visit his pretend wild brother named Earnest who lives in London (and then pretends to be Earnest while in the city), while Algernon often leaves the city to go to the country to visit his "sick friend," Bunbury. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue, especially when each of the men falls in love while using the false name Earnest! It was a lot of fun and lots of laughs.

I finally gave up on waiting for the library (my requested book has shown "in transit" for over two weeks now, and our state is only 150 miles long!) and bought the e-book so I could read before book group on Thursday. This month's selection is The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, a nonfiction book. Scientists agree there have been 5 mass extinctions since life began on Earth, based on the fossil record. Many also agree that we are now entering into a sixth. I was worried this book might be dry, but ... wow. I am only on chapter 2 of 13, and it is already fascinating ... and yes, terrifying, too. Chapter 1 is about huge numbers and entire species of amphibians disappearing all over the world; I had no idea this was going on! In chapter 2, she is going much further back in time to the mastadon and reviewing the history of how humans first began to identify bizarre-looking fossils and finally came around to the idea that extinction was a thing.

I finished listening to a YA novel on audio called Furious Thing by Jenny Downham. I loved her earlier novel, Unbecoming, so much that I chose it as my Best Teen/YA Book Read in 2016. Lexi is 15 and is constantly told that she misbehaves and has a bad temper. She is filled with anger that often comes out at the worst times. If only she could change herself so that her stepfather would like her, her mother would love her like she used to, and maybe she'd even have friends. The only person she can talk to is her stepbrother, but now he's off at school. Lexi works hard to transform herself, pushing her anger down deep. Yeah, you know how well that's going to work! Downham has a talent for writing strong, well-developed characters and for digging deep into issues affecting many people, and this novel is no exception. There is so much more to it than first meets the eye. It was very good, with an excellent ending.

Now, I am listening to The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, an author I always enjoy. She is a Native American author who writes novels about Native American people, families, and their lives. In this case, her latest novel is based in history and the life of her own grandfather. Did you know that in 1953 Congress passed a resolution to disband and abolish all tribes, take all land from Native Americans and "relocate" them to urban areas? I didn't, and the historical backdrop here is stunning and horrifying. But, as always, Erdrich focuses in on one Indian community, a group of families, and what happened to them at that time because of that push from Congress. I also love that Erdrich always reads her own audiobooks, so the accent and cadence of her speech is authentic (this novel is about the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, of which she is part). So, far, it is immersive and engrossing.

My husband, Ken, is reading one of his Christmas gifts, taking a break from his usual thrillers to read Erik Larson's latest nonfiction book, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. As the subtitle indicates, this book is focused on the year-long bombing campaign that Hitler waged on London during WWII, with a focus on Churchill's leadership of the British people during this horrific period. He seems engrossed in it already and has begun reading me interesting tidbits (always a good sign with nonfiction). Did you know that Churchill had a black cat named Nelson? Ken is enjoying it so far and already learning a lot.

 

Our son, 26, took his dad's advice and read a book he lent to him when he was home recently: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin, a prequel to the A Game of Thrones series. This one book compiles the first three prequel novellas that Martin wrote, which take place a century before the events in A Song of Ice and Fire, the first book in A Game of Thrones series. It's about a young, inexperienced knight named Ser Duncan (Dunk, for short), and his small squire, a boy named Egg. My husband and son both love The Game of Thrones (books and TV series!), and he is enjoying the book like his dad did.  

Next, our son re-read Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell so that he could read book 2 of the Spellslinger series, Shadowblack. The series is about a mage named Kellen who loses his magic and goes on a quest to reclaim it. In the second book, he is forced to live as an outlaw. The description says this series is "bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic." No wonder our son likes it!

 

 

Blog posts from last week:

Movie Monday: Blow the Man Down - amusing movie about the dark underbelly of a quiet Maine fishing village

Fiction Review: Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson - fun, quirky collection of short stories with some fantasy woven into real-life stories

Middle-Grade Review: A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor - a warm and funny story of love, loss, and finding your place in the world.

Summary of Books Read in January - my reading year is off to a great start!

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, February 05, 2021

Books Read in January


Happy New Year! I started my year off right with some excellent books! Here's what I read in January:

The River by Peter Heller (Canada) - adult fiction 

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor (CT) - middle-grade fiction on audio

 

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky - nonfiction

Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson (UK) - adult fiction short stories

 

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (Sweden) - adult fiction

 


So, I finished five books in January. It was mostly a fiction month, but I included some inspirational self-help nonfiction to kick the new year off right! Four were adult books, and one (the only audio) was for middle-graders. I enjoyed all of these, and they were all so very different! Tough choice to choose a favorite, but I think Not the End of the World wins by a nose. I don't often read short stories, but Atkinson's writing is just so clever, engrossing, and funny that I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. You can read all of my reviews at the links above. After my December catch-up, I am so happy to be back on track with my blog now and writing reviews soon after finishing each book, instead of a month later!

Progress in 2021 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 above. I have some fun ones going this year!


Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2021 - I read just two books from my own shelves (I also own Make Time, but I bought it in January so it doesn't count as TBR).
2021 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - January was Once Upon a Time, and Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson was a short story collection with elements of fantasy and mythology.
Back to the Classics 2021 - No classics in January (but I'm reading one now!)

2021 AtoZ Reading Challenge - My first time doing this challenge, and since it's January, all 5 books fit into different letters of the alphabet. I also got the January mini-challenge: a book purchased in 2020 (The River by Peter Heller).

PopSugar Reading Challenge 2021 - this is a unique one, with 50 quirky categories. Here are the ones I checked off this month (it's easy at the beginning!):
  1. Book you've seen on someone else's bookshelf: Beartown by Fredrik Backman
  2. A genre hybrid: Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
  3. Book set mostly or entirely outdoors: The River by Peter Heller
  4. Book about fresh starts: A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor
  5. Book by a blogger, vlogger, or other online personality: Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge - Just one of my books in January was nonfiction,
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, and it counted for the Self-Help category.
Diversity Reading Challenge 2021 - Two of my books in January were diverse, but I did not hit the January mini-challenge.
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I traveled to Canada, the UK, and Sweden in my books last month.
2021 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added just one state, CT.

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 January, I filled 18 spaces on my bingo card:

 


Spaces Filled:

The River - shelf love, thrilling

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs - not in a series, secrets, free book, moons on the cover, audio book

Not the End of the World - dystopia or post-apocalyoptic

Make Time - read a physical book, new to you author, nonfiction

Beartown - book club read, over 400 pages, blue on cover, diet or exercise, library book, multi-POV

Free Space

What was YOUR favorite book read in January?