Wednesday, September 22, 2021

2021 Big Book Summer Wrap-Up


The 2021 Big Book Summer Challenge officially wrapped up on September 6 (Labor Day in the U.S.), ending its 9th year! I host this challenge every summer and always enjoy participating in it myself. You can read all the details at the challenge page linked above, but the basic idea is to read books of 400 pages or longer during the summer - just one or a few or as many as you want! What I really love about this challenge is that it gives me the extra incentive I need to finally tackle some of the longer books I've put off reading. I always end up reading some really amazing books, and I make a (small) dent in my overflowing TBR bookcase, too.

My plans for Big Book Summer

We'll start with my own Big Book Summer, and then I'll wrap up the whole challenge, too. As usual, I picked out a stack of Big Books from my shelves back in May, which you can see here and at the link. I didn't get through all of these, added some others, and also added a bunch of Big Book audios! Here's a full list of the Big Books I finished this summer--I think, perhaps, my best year ever! My reviews are at the links:

As you can see, most of my Big Books came in at under 500 pages, which is why I fit in so many (that, plus listening to half of them on audio). My Biggest book, Anna Karenina, took me a full month to finish! It was a fun Big Book Summer, and I enjoyed all of these.

That was my Big Book Summer, but lots of other people participated in the challenge, too! We had a total of 53 participants. Of those, 19 people participated through their blogs and YouTube channels, 32 readers participated through the Goodreads group, and 2 more signed up by leaving comments on the sign-up page. You can visit the Goodreads group to read some great discussions on everyone's Big Books this summer.

And, the winner of the annual Big Book Summer Giveaway is ...

Deb, from Chicago, who participated through the Goodreads group!

Deb will be receiving a gift certificate from Bookshop.org, a great website where you can buy books conveniently online while supporting indie bookstores.

Congratulations, Deb!!

And a Big Book Congratulations to everyone who participated in the challenge this year! Whether your goal was to read one Big Book or as many as possible, I hope you had fun reading and sharing your reading adventures through the challenge. If you missed it this year, you can sign up for Big Book Summer 2022 next May!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

TV Tuesday: Dickinson

I got a nasty stomach virus last week and spent several days on the couch. I did get some extra reading done, but sometimes, my brain felt like jelly, and I just needed to relax with some bingeable TV. Dickinson turned out to be just the thing! This smart, funny, slightly modernized version of Emily Dickinson's life is still keeping me entertained.

Acclaimed, Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld stars as poet Emily Dickinson. As in real life, Emily and her family live in Amherst, MA, and are well-off and prominent in their local community. Her father, played by Toby Huss, is involved in local politics, and her mother, played by the brilliant Jane Krakowski, takes great pride in her role as homemaker, even though they are wealthy enough to afford servants. The family is completed by Emily's brother, Austin (played by Adrian Enscoe), and her younger sister, Lavinia (played by Anna Barishnikov). Austin is dating Emily's best friend, Sue, played by Ella Hunt, to whom Emily is very close (as in real life). Emily lived during the mid-1800's, so the show is set during that period, with appropriate clothing, styles, housing, etc. However, and this is hard to explain, the show adds small elements of modern time here and there in a very fun, effective way. For instance, sometimes a character, in the midst of a period-appropriate conversation will use some bit of modern slang, as when they are all engrossed in Charles Dickens' Bleak House (which was released as a serial) and one says to another, "Hey, no spoilers!" In the midst of a period dance scene, you might suddenly see some modern moves. The soundtrack is sometimes modern as well. The story uses Emily's brief poems as a framework for each episode, showing circumstances that may have led to her penning the lines. Emily struggles against current expectations for women (to marry, for instance), and though her father adores her and encourages her "hobby" of writing poetry, he forbids her to publish, saying it is not proper for a young woman.

I had heard rave reviews of this show, but as is sometimes the case, it took me a while to try it myself. As soon as I did, though, I loved it! When I heard about it, I thought the insertion of bits of modern culture sounded strange, but it works really well and is so much fun! Steinfeld is delightful as Emily, and it's great to root for her to beat back the contemporary ideals of her time and be true to herself. The plot is intriguing, including not only Emily and her family, but the other young people in town and even a potential romantic interest for Emily. Besides the drama, the show is very funny and highly entertaining. I love the creativity of the writers, in fitting the action of the episodes to Emily's brief poems; the episodes often end with her written words flowing across the screen and being recited. Somehow, the show's creators have taken all of these elements, including an outstanding cast, and woven them together into a wonderful, cohesive whole that I am thoroughly enjoying.

Dickinson is an Apple TV show, so it is exclusively available on that platform. I know--another streaming service? But our free year recently expired, and we chose to keep paying ($5 per month) for Apple TV because its shows that we've tried have all been enjoyable and of very high-quality. If you have Apple TV or are considering it, check out my reviews of Home Before Dark, a crime show featuring a 9-year-old girl detective, based on a real-life story, and For All Mankind, an alternate history of the space race where the Russians got to the moon first, changing the history of NASA (and everything else). It's one of the best TV shows we've ever watched. We are also loving Ted Lasso, have just started Truth Be Told, about a true crime podcaster, and just started season 2 of The Morning Show, but I haven't reviewed those yet.

Dickinson has two seasons currently available on Apple TV, with a third on the way!

Monday, September 20, 2021

It's Monday 9/20! What Are You Reading?


Monday again already? And late Monday afternoon already? Sigh ... it was another crazy busy week, though not nearly as difficult! No moves or viruses. I was mostly just busy with family stuff--visiting my father-in-law in his new apartment at assisted living, meals with our younger son and his girlfriend, a picnic in the park with my father-in-law (and finishing his unpacking), and finally, our older son and his girlfriend arriving yesterday for a several-day visit. And today, my son and I drove out to Amish country in Lancaster County, PA, for his double medical appointments. It's always a tiring day for me, but it was all good news today! He's in the best shape of the past 15 years and has been managing a 30-hour-a-week summer internship. It really feels like a miracle to us to see him doing so well; he's had multiple chronic illnesses since age 10. So, no complaints: just thrilled he is thriving and happy to see him so well and happy!

Son and I in 2006 - on top of the world!

But all of that does mean that I felt short of my blogging goals last week and completely ran out of time this weekend to get around for the rest of the blog visits I'd planned! This week, I promise.

I did manage my video wrap-up of my own #BigBookSummer Challenge last week, where I give a brief recap/review of each of the 12 Big Books I read and listened to this summer - my best Big Book Summer ever! The full wrap-up here on the blog is coming this week; I have already started it, tallied up all the participants in the challenge this year (51), and did the drawing for the Big Book Summer Giveaway, so come back later this week for that! And I did my usual quick #FridayReads video, about what I am currently reading.

I can barely see over my stack of Big Books!

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

I finished reading The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd in time for my book group discussion on Wednesday. I will admit that this is one of those books I really didn't want to read, even though plenty of people have told me how great it is, but as usual, I was wrong! That's the great thing about book groups--they get you to read books you might never have picked up on your own. It's the fictional story of Ana, a young woman who marries Jesus (yes, that Jesus). At the start of the novel, Ana is 14 years old, but she is already an admirable character to root for. She's incredibly smart (and educated, in spite of the times) and has an indomitable spirit. Her wealthy father has betrothed her to a cruel older widower, in order to raise his own status, and, despite Ana's vehement refusal, it seems she has no choice. She has just met Jesus for the first time in the market when her father announces her betrothal. From there, Ana's story moves to unexpected places, with many surprising twists in her life, as she tries to stay out of trouble while respecting her true calling, as a writer (which was, of course, forbidden for women). I should have known what a great writer Kidd is from The Secret Life of Bees, and this book earned an average rating of 8.0 from our group, which is one of our highest ever! Ana's story was completely immersive, and it was fascinating to read the details of life in the first century. We had plenty to talk about, including the role of women through the ages.

Next, I was free to move onto the R.I.P. Challenge for fall (still need to post about that, too--link is to my post from 2020), my favorite reading season! I began grabbing relevant books from our To-Be-Read Bookcase and soon had a huge stack. My husband mostly reads mysteries and thrillers, so there is always a large backlog of good books for fall waiting for me. I decided to start with The Lying Game  by Ruth Ware, as she's a favorite author of ours whose novels are always dark and creepy. This is one that my husband has read already that I hadn't gotten to yet. The set-up is pretty simple: four women were best friends at a boarding school, and now, as adults 17 years later, one of them calls the others back to their school's town (where she still lives) for a crisis. From the start, the reader knows that something happened all those years ago that abruptly ended their time at school together but not the details. The three women immediately drop everything in their adult lives to return to their friend, and tension grows as they all return to town and attend a very unpleasant school reunion. I'm about halfway in now, and it seems like all of the secrets have been revealed, but my husband assures me there are some twists still to come! So far, it is gripping and fast-paced, just what I love about my R.I.P. books in the fall.

On audio, I am also listening to a R.I.P. Challenge book, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty. This is a YA fantasy mystery, and I don't normally read much fantasy. As I explained in my Friday Reads video, I'm not a huge fan of fantasy set in a completely made-up world, though I sometimes enjoy a real-world setting with some fantastical/magical elements. This novel is working well for me! There are two parallel storylines, set in two worlds. In the real world, in modern Cambridge, England, a group of young teens are homeschooled together and are friends. One of them is Madeleine, who lives with her mother. They used to live a life of luxury, traveling all over the world, but then Madeleine's father left. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Cello, a young teen boy named Elliot is determined to find his own father, who went missing, along with the Physics teacher, the same night Elliot found his uncle dead. Most people believe his dad killed his uncle and ran away with the teacher or that some sort of creatures called Purples got them, but Elliot won't give up searching for him. A sort of crack appears between the two worlds, and Madeleine and Elliot begin communicating. Intriguing, right? I'm really enjoying it and getting close to the end.

My husband, Ken, is now reading one of my own top picks from 2021 Big Book Summer, Blackout by Connie Willis, a favorite author for both of us. This novel is part of her outstanding Oxford Time Travel series, where Oxford grad students in the History department in the near future (2060) travel back in time to observe historical events first-hand as part of their studies. In this case, multiple students are all studying WWII in England. So, one woman is in rural England, helping with the evacuation of children from London, while another is posing as a shop girl at the start of the Blitz in London, to observe how ordinary people reacted. One of their fellow students is posing as an American reporter and has traveled to Dover at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation to observe how ordinary people became heroes by volunteering themselves and their boats to bring soldiers back to England to safety. This time, though, with so many people traveling back to similar times/places, things begin to go wrong with the time travel technology, and they may not be able to get home. As with her other novels in this series (our favorite so far was Doomsday Book), she combines historical fiction with time travel for a very suspenseful, compelling story. He's loving it so far, as I knew he would!

Our son, 27, is home for a few days, and I am enjoying catching up with him, including abut what we've been reading! He loves epic fantasy, and his job this summer included some downtime, in between periods of activity, when he could read, which was good for his health and his reading life! He's been working his way through the Sorcery Ascendance series by Mitchell Hogan. He first re-read books 1 and 2,  A Crucible of Souls and Blood of Innocents, which he last read seven years ago in his early college years. He loved the series back then and is enjoying it again now. Those re-reads were to prepare for reading the third and final book of the trilogy, A Shattered Empire, which his girlfriend gave him for his birthday and which he is currently reading. He loves to tear through these big fantasy novels--it's always Big Book Summer for him!

 

Last week's blog post:

Fiction Review: A Better Man by Louise Penny - part of the Inspector Gamache series

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?

 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Fiction Review: A Better Man

My final audiobook for the #BigBookSummer Challenge was A Better Man by Louise Penny. Since I finished it at the end of the challenge in September, it was a cross-over book and also counts as my first book for the fall R.I.P. Challenge #RIPxvi (which includes darker stuff like mysteries, thrillers, etc.). It was a somewhat odd choice for me because it is #15 in the Inspector Gamache series ... and I had only previously read the first book, Still Life! Regardless of the gap, I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty mystery and had no trouble jumping right into the story.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is faced with a double problem: rivers in the region are about to overflow their banks in catastrophic flooding at the same time that a woman is reported missing. All of the considerable forces of the Sûreté (plus other departments like engineering and the Mounties) are entirely focused on how to prevent the worst damage to local homes and businesses: do they open the dams, wait for them to open on their own, try to divert some water, etc.? The missing woman, an abused wife who is pregnant, is a family friend of one of the Sûreté officers, and her disappearance is gnawing at Gamache. He leads his own investigation to hopefully find her safe before her angry husband finds her or the floods harm her. As usual, the rural town of Three Pines is woven into the plot, along with its quirky townspeople. Apparently, Gamache and his wife moved there at some point in the last 14 books! The flooding would directly impact Three Pines, and the rural area the woman disappeared from is nearby. Can Gamache and his team find the missing woman before tragedy hits? And how catastrophic will the flooding be? This time, they must solve an intricate mystery in the middle of a natural disaster.

I was fully immersed in this suspenseful story right from the first chapters! Even though I had missed 14 books in between, the author did a good job of catching me up, without piling on unnecessary information. It's probably better to read the series in order so you understand all the nuances, but it is possible to jump in, like I did. Robert Bathurst did an excellent job narrating the audio, making me feel like I was right in the middle of the story. As usual, Penny is an outstanding writer who makes you care about the characters: the main characters and the supporting ones, too. It's a gripping mystery, with plenty of twists; I guessed the ending/culprit at least a half dozen times (and was wrong every time!) before the answers were finally revealed. This unpredictable, suspenseful mystery set in Quebec kept me riveted to my iPod and was a great start to the R.I.P. challenge!

464 pages, Minotaur Books

Macmillan 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.

 

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, where you can hear the narrator and the author's sense of humor, 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 A Better Man from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, September 13, 2021

It's Monday 9/13! What Are You Reading?


Huh? It's Monday? What happened to the weekend? It's been a bit of a rough ride here!

I got hit with a nasty stomach virus Friday night that knocked me out for the weekend. We were at a friend's house (outdoors, apart, each eating our own takeout, thankfully!) enjoying dinner and a campfire, and I couldn't figure out why I felt so wiped out all of a sudden. We went home (they are used to the whims of my chronic illness) and then the awful nausea hit, aches all over, and well, I'll spare you the details! Suffice it to say that I pretty much lost my weekend ... though I did read more than usual and indulged in some bingeable TV (loving Dickinson so far!).

My husband left for a business trip this morning - his first in two years! - so we were very careful this weekend. He spent much of his weekend wiping down surfaces with disinfecting wipes, checking on his dad, and doing long-neglected yardwork.

Oh, yeah, that was the positive part of last week--the reason why my husband had time for yardwork. We finally got his dad moved to Assisted Living! He's 96 and has needed help for over a year, but we weren't going to move him to where we couldn't visit. 


 

 His new place is great. His apartment looks very much like his old one in Independent Living, and both staff and residents all seem wonderful - kind and friendly. The first few days were rough for him, a difficult transition, but he seems to be settling in now. He is at least beginning to understand that those annoying people who keep checking on him are actually there to help and he should let them help! So, Wednesday (moving day) was a very long day, and then I was there for three hours on Thursday (I figure I picked up the stomach virus there!).


All of that is my way of explaining why I didn't get to visit many blogs last week! I usually catch up on the weekend, but I was pretty out of it and offline mostly. I did balance the laptop on pillows on the couch yesterday to visit some #BigBookSummer reviews and wrap-ups! Congratulations to everyone who participated!

Even before I got sick, it was pretty crazy of me to think I could manage as many blog posts and videos as I'd planned during moving week! I did get my weekly Friday Reads video recorded on Friday and posted (a quick overview of what I'm currently reading). And I recorded my own #BigBookSummer Wrap-Up but haven't edited it yet. So that and the summary here on the blog (along with the wrap-up of the whole challenge for everyone!) is coming this week.

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

I am still reading The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, the selection for my book group this week. I will admit that this is one of those books I really didn't want to read, even though plenty of people have told me how great it is, but as usual, I was wrong! That's the great thing about book groups - they get you to read books you might never have picked up on your own. It's the fictional story of Ana, a young woman who marries Jesus (yes, that Jesus). At the start of the novel, Ana is 14 years old, but she is already an admirable character to root for. She's incredibly smart (and educated, in spite of the times) and has an indomitable spirit. Her wealthy father has betrothed her to a cruel older widower, in order to raise his own status, and, despite Ana's vehement refusal, it seems she has no choice. She has just met Jesus for the first time in the market when her father announces her betrothal. From there, Ana's story moves to unexpected places, with many surprising twists in her life, as she tries to stay out of trouble while respecting her true calling, as a writer (which was, of course, forbidden for women). It's been a good novel to lose myself in while sick this weekend, and I should have known what a great writer Kidd is from The Secret Life of Bees. I'm totally immersed in Ana's story, and it's fascinating to read the details of life in the first century.

I chose my next audio for the R.I.P. Challenge (still need to post about that, too! Link is to my post from 2020), A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty. This is a YA fantasy, and I don't normally read much fantasy. As I explained in my Friday Reads video, I'm not a huge fan of fantasy set in a completely made-up world, though I sometimes enjoy a real-world setting with some fantastical/magical elements. This novel is working for me! There are two parallel storylines, set in two worlds. In the real world, in modern Cambridge, England, a group of young teens are homeschooled together and are friends. One of them is Madeleine, who lives with her mother. They used to live a life of luxury, traveling all over the world, but then Madeleine's father left. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Cello, a young teen boy named Elliot is determined to find his own father, who went missing, along with the Physics teacher, the same night Elliot found his uncle dead. Most people believe his dad killed his uncle and ran away with the teacher or that some sort of creatures called Purples got them, but Elliot won't give up searching for him. A sort of crack appears between the two worlds, and Madeleine and Elliot begin communicating. And that's as far as I've gotten so far! Intriguing, right? I'm enjoying it.

My husband, Ken, is now reading one of my own top picks from 2021 Big Book Summer, Blackout by Connie Willis, a favorite author for both of us. This novel is part of her outstanding Oxford Time Travel series, where Oxford grad students in the History department in the near future (2060) travel back in time to observe historical events first-hand as part of their studies. In this case, multiple students are all studying WWII in England. So, one woman is in rural England, helping with the evacuation of children from London, while another is posing as a shop girl at the start of the Blitz in London, to observe how ordinary people reacted. One of their fellow students is posing as an American reporter and has traveled to Dover at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation to observe how ordinary people became heroes by volunteering themselves and their boats to bring soldiers back to England to safety. This time, though, with so many people traveling back to similar times/places, things begin to go wrong with the time travel technology, and they may not be able to get home. As with her other novels in this series (our favorite so far was Doomsday Book), she combines historical fiction with time travel for a very suspenseful, compelling story. He's loving it so far, as I knew he would!


Our son, 27, always enjoys epic fantasy, and he had some time off from work last week. He's been enjoying re-reading the first two books of the Sorcery Ascendance series by Mitchell Hogan to prepare for reading the third and final book of the trilogy, A Shattered Empire, which his girlfriend gave him for his birthday. He finished book 1, A Crucible of Souls, and is now re-reading Blood of Innocents, book 2. He loves to tear through these big fantasy novels--it's always Big Book Summer for him!

 

Last week's blog posts:

Graphic Novel Review: Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang - outstanding graphic novel for teens and adults, about a winning high school basketball team and the people behind it.

Fiction Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - Finally finished a classic Russian novel!

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

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

What are you and your family reading this week?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Fiction Review: Anna Karenina

With two days to spare, I finished my biggest book of the #BigBookSummer Challenge! It took me a month, but I finished reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Believe it or not, this was my first-ever classic Russian novel! We didn't read any in school. I enjoyed it!

 

The novel is set in 19th-century Russia and the title refers to Anna, a charismatic woman of the aristocratic class who is married and has a son. While visiting her brother in Moscow, she meets Count Vronsky, and the two are instantly attracted to each other and eventually begin to have an affair, making Anna's life very difficult. Divorce is almost impossible (and her husband won’t grant it without taking their son from her), so Anna is stuck in a sort of limbo. It's interesting that the title features Anna's name because there are a lot of characters, and the story follows others, too, completely apart from Anna (though they all know each other and are interrelated in many ways). My favorite characters were Levin and Kitty. Levin is a gentleman farmer who loves the land, nature, and is passionate about farming. He has some rather revolutionary ideas about how to work with the peasants who work his land so is often at odds with others of his class. The narrative moves back and forth between the stories of many different characters, though Anna and Levin are the primary ones. There is plenty of detail of life in 19th century Russia for the aristocratic class and discussions of the politics, economics, and culture of the times.

 

I was pleasantly surprised to find it easy to read with short chapters, no archaic language, and a lot going on. Some of the political and philosophical passages ran a bit long—it seems aristocrats enjoyed having long, convoluted intellectual discussions—but it was actually a pretty fast read considering its size. There were a lot of plot lines and characters, which kept the novel fresh and interesting. The Russian names can get to be a bit much, with each person often having three names, plus a title and a nickname! So, on the first page, we meet Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky who is often called Stiva (Anna’s brother), but I mostly got used to that and usually knew who the author was referring to! It was fascinating to read what life was like in that time and place. It's basically a Russian soap opera, following births, deaths, marriages, and affairs, though with plenty of thoughtful and insightful passages woven in. I enjoyed it and am glad to have finally read it.

 

864 pages, Penguin Classics


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.


Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

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 Anna Karenina from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Graphic Novel Review: Dragon Hoops

I finished one of my last books for the 2021 #BigBookSummer Challenge this past weekend, Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, an acclaimed graphic novel that I’ve wanted to read for a while and spotted at my library last week. It’s a nonfiction book that won the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature, but I thought the book was of interest to adults as well as teens.

 

It's an interesting book because the author himself is in it. In fact, it's a book about writing this book, so it is very meta. That acts as the framework for the story, while the focus is on the basketball team at the high school where Yang teaches. He is admittedly not a sports person, but he became curious about the school-wide attention on the school's winning basketball team, from students, teachers, parents, and alumni. He interviews the coaches and players in depth, begins attending games, and even researches the history of the game and writes/draws about it all. He  delves into the players’ family and ethnic backgrounds and issues of racism toward the multi-cultural team as he follows their progress to the California State Championship.

 

Dragon Hoops sample page
Dragon Hoops sample page


 
 

Like the author, I am also not a big sports fan and know very little about basketball, but I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel. It's really about the people involved and how the sport affects their lives. I enjoyed learning about the history of basketball (and he includes the history of women’s basketball, too), and his in-depth characterizations of the players on this team made me care about them and root for them. Yang’s drawings are detailed and realistic and helped to pull me into the story. And he has a sense of humor, which I always appreciate! I learned a lot and was entertained by this unique book, and I want to read more from Yang.

446 pages, First Second

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

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 Dragon Hoops from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, September 06, 2021

It's Monday 9/6! What Are You Reading?


Happy Labor Day, if you're in the U.S! 

But more importantly, no matter where you are: 

Happy Official End of 2021 Big Book Summer Challenge

Today is the last day, so finish reading those last Big Books today. I finished my last 3 Big Books on Saturday (one in print, one on audio, and a graphic novel), but then I picked up my book group selection from the library and saw it was over 400 pages!

So, if you have been participating in the challenge, you can wrap up your own Big Book Summer in several ways. If you have a blog or YouTube channel, write a wrap-up post/record a video or just mention what you read for the challenge within another post or video. If you don't have a blog/channel, you can post your Big Book wrap-up in the Big Book Summer Goodreads group--lots of people have been doing that this weekend, and it's fun to see what everyone read this summer! No pressure. Since you set your own goals, you might have finished one Big Book or two or a whole stack of them, and you have until the end of September to post/record a wrap-up. If you do post reviews or wrap-ups, be sure to include the link(s) in the 2nd list on the challenge page so that others can see them!

I still have to review those last three books, so I will be doing that this week and posting a Big Book Summer wrap-up both here on the blog and on my YouTube channel.

And, since it is already September 6, it's now time for the annual fall R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge! I'm a bit behind since Labor Day was so late this year, but I will write/record posts about that soon, too. I love this time of year, both for the wonderful weather and for this reading challenge! So, I will mostly be reading darker stuff, like mysteries, thrillers, ghost stories, dystopian novels, etc. in September and October. You can check out my R.I.P. post from 2020 for an idea of what it's all about. I need to go through my shelves and pick out some books! Like last year, the R.I.P. challenge does not require sign-ups; just tag @PerilReaders and use #ripxvi and #perilreaders on social media. More details here.


Here at home, it's the same old, same old. We are still hustling around to get my 96-year-old father-in-law ready for his move from Independent Living to Assisted Living. We spent our holiday weekend packing his stuff up. Moving Day is Wednesday! We are hoping life with settle down a bit after that, now that he'll have help whenever he needs it, and we will have a bit more freedom. We are hoping to finally get out to camp and also take a short local trip at the end of the month for our anniversary. And I have really been missing my friends!

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

I did it (with two days to spare)! It took me a month, but I finished Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. My copy is "only" about 600 pages, but they are very big, densely-printed pages. Most versions show almost 900 pages. Believe it or not, this was my first-ever classic Russian novel! Really! We didn't read any in school. It's set in 19th-century Russia about Anna, a charismatic woman of the aristocratic class who is married and has a son. While visiting her brother in Moscow, she meets Count Vronsky, and the two are instantly attracted to each other and eventually begin to have an affair, making Anna's life very difficult. I've found it easy to read (no archaic language), with short chapters and a lot going on. Some of the political and philosophical passages ran a bit long (it seems aristocrats enjoyed having long, convoluted intellectual discussions), but it was actually a pretty fast read considering its size. It's interesting that the title features Anna's name because there are a lot of characters, and the story follows others, too, completely apart from Anna (though they all know each other). My favorites were Levin and Kitty. It's fascinating to read what life was like in that time and place. It's basically a Russian soap opera! I'm glad to have read it.

I also finished another Big Book this weekend, Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, an acclaimed graphic novel that I could read in short 5-minute periods in between Anna Karenina. It's an interesting book because the author himself is in it. In fact, it's a book about writing this book, so it is very meta. Well, that works as the framework for the story, while the focus is on the basketball team at the high school where Yang teaches. He is admittedly not a sports person, but he becomes curious about the focus on his school's winning basketball team, so he interviews the coach and players, begins attending games, and even researches the history of the game. Like the author, I am also not a big sports fan and know very little about basketball, but I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel. It's really about the people involved and how the sport affects their lives. I want to read more from Yang.

And, I also finished another Big Book this weekend, A Better Man by Louise Penny, on audio. I chose this audio book because it qualifies as a Big Book, to close out my summer reading challenge, and it also kicked off my annual fall reading challenge, the R.I.P. Challenge! The timing worked perfectly. However, this is sort of an odd choice for me because the only other Louise Penny novel I have read was book 1 in this series, Still Life, and this novel is book 17. I missed a little bit in between! But I enjoyed that first book and have been wanting to read another. In this one, during catastrophic spring flooding in Quebec, a woman has gone missing, and the local police don't seem to be taking it seriously, so Inspector Gamache and his team get involved, at the urging of an officer who knows the woman and her father. It was no problem to pick up the storyline, even after missing 16 books, and Penny is an excellent writer. I was fully immersed in the story right from the beginning and enjoyed the mystery and suspense. I'm definitely ready for the R.I.P. Challenge!

As I mentioned above, ironically, now that Big Book Summer is over, I discovered that my next book group selection is also a Big Book! My neighborhood book group is reading The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. I will admit that this is one of those books I really didn't want to read, even though plenty of people have told me how great it is, but I am enjoying it so far. It's the fictional story of Ana, a young woman who marries Jesus (yes, that Jesus). I'm still just at the beginning, where Ana is 14 years old, but she is already an admirable character to root for. She's incredibly smart (and educated, in spite of the times) and has an indomitable spirit. Her father has betrothed her to an older widower, but her rebellion against her father doesn't work. She just met Jesus for the first time in the market. So, I have no idea where this story is going or how Ana will get out of this terrible promised marriage, but I am already enjoying the story and the character, and it's fascinating to read the details of life in the first century.

My husband, Ken, finished reading his library book, Red Hands by Christopher Golden. Neither of us have read this author before, but this seems to be book 3 in the Ben Walker series, about a "weird science expert." It begins with a terrifying opening scene, on the 4th of July, where one guy drives into a crowd at a parade, then stumbles out of his car. Every person the man touches dies within seconds. Soon, a woman named Maeve also develops "the killing touch," which seems to be highly contagious, and she escapes into the wilderness to try to keep from killing anyone inadvertently. That's where Ben Walker, with the weird science expertise, steps in. This sounds like an intriguing twist on the classic thriller formula, with the main character not the typical cop, detective, or coroner, and with a touch of science fiction woven in. Ken enjoyed it, and it was certainly a quick read for him. His first R.I.P. book, too, though most of what he reads fits in that category!

Now, Ken has moved onto one of my own top reads from Big Book Summer 2021, Blackout by Connie Willis, a favorite author for both of us. This novel is part of her outstanding Oxford Time Travel series, where Oxford grad students in the History department in the near future (2060) travel back in time to observe historical events first-hand as part of their studies. In this case, multiple students are all studying WWII in England. So, one woman is in rural England, helping with the evacuation of children from London, while another is posing as a shop girl at the start of the Blitz in London, to observe how ordinary people reacted. One of their fellow students is posing as an American reporter and has traveled to Dover at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation to observe how ordinary people became heroes by volunteering themselves and their boats to bring soldiers back to England to safety. This time, though, with so many people traveling back to similar times/places, things begin to go wrong with the time travel technology, and they may not be able to get home. As with her other novels in this series (our favorite so far was Doomsday Book), she combines historical fiction with time travel for a very suspenseful, compelling story. 

I'm not entirely sure what our son, 27, is reading right now. He's been busy with work this week, so we've only texted briefly. But he does have downtime when he can read at work, so I suspect he has been tearing through books as usual! Last week, he was re-reading A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan, book one of the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence. His girlfriend gave him the third and final book of the trilogy, A Shattered Empire, for his birthday, so he is first re-reading books one and two (as he does!) before moving onto the last one. If I had to guess, I bet he is into re-reading book 2 by now!

 

 

Blog posts last week:

Teen Graphic Novel Review: The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag - warm, fun fantasy that deals with real-life issues

 My Summary of Books Read in August - Big Book Summer kept my numbers low, but I read some great books last month!

And new videos on my YouTube channel:

Deja Vu Re-Read Book Tag - this is a fun one, all about which books I re-read and why, with lots of show 'n tell!

August Reading Wrap-Up - a quick review of the four books I finished last month

Friday Reads 9-3-21 - my weekly update on what I'm currently reading - in this case, my last 3 Big Books!

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?