Monday, February 28, 2022

It's Monday 2/28! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date

It's very late on Monday already, and I am pretty exhausted after a whirlwind week and a very long day.

Mostly, we are still focused on my father-in-law, who is declining in a local nursing home. We visit every day and spend a lot of time managing his care and trying to get what he needs (challenging in a busy care home still under-staffed from COVID). This past weekend, my husband and younger son spent all day moving Grandad's stuff out of his assisted living apartment, which was very sad. Our basement now looks like a storage facility, with all of our son's stuff (he's between apartments) and all of my father-in-law's stuff, too. Look for us on an upcoming episode of Hoarders!

The highlight of the week, even though we were all exhausted, was our tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras on Saturday evening. I cooked a huge pot of jambalaya Saturday, then traded some for the delicious bread pudding our friends made (we all used to live in New Orleans). Normally, we'd have a big party Saturday night before Mardi Gras, but for the second time, we did a Zoom celebration instead. We gathered virtually with our closest friends, including several that used to live in New Orleans when we did. We haven't seen any of them in a long time, so it was great to catch up! I didn't take any photos, but I'll include some food photos from previous years.


Bread Pudding and King Cake

If YOU want to celebrate Mardi Gras (tomorrow, March 1, is Mardi Gras Day), check out my tips, Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home!, which includes lists of great movies, TV shows, and books set in Louisiana, plus foods to cook or buy and even some travel tips if you're planning a trip down South. We will be at our oldest friends' house tomorrow (the ones who made the bread pudding) for our annual Mardi Gras Popeye's dinner (yes, Popeye's is authentic!).

Somehow, I managed to upload two new videos last week:

All About Me Tag - a fun new get-to-know-me video

Friday Reads 2-25-22 - my weekly update on what I'm reading

Here's what we are all reading this week:

After finishing Kindred by Octavia Butler (amazing!!), I moved onto another book group pick, The Editor by Steven Rowley. This is a fun story about a first-time author in the 1990's whose book is acquired by a publisher. James goes to his first meeting at the publisher's only to discover that his new editor is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis! The book has fun with that premise (she was an editor in the 90's), but it also has plenty of emotional depth. James' novel is autobiographical, about a difficult relationship between a mother and son. His mother is none too happy about it, and James has a lot of stuff to work through before the novel has a satisfactory ending.


I fit in one last audio book for Black History Month, Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Dandicat, a middle-grade book set in Haiti and New York. Celiane (about 13 years old) lives with her mother and older brother in a remote village in the mountains of Haiti, while her father lives in New York, where he can earn money to send home. During a visit to Port-au-Prince, Celiane and her mother are both injured in a bombing due to politic unrest, and their U.S. visas are finally approved. The first half of the autobiographical novel takes place in Haiti and the second half in Brooklyn, as Celiane and her family adjust to life as U.S. immigrants. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this engrossing story with a unique setting.


For my husband, Ken's, next book, he chose A Blizzard of Polar Bears by Alice Henderson (it seemed like an apt choice for February). He really enjoyed A Solitude of Wolverines by the author last year, so I gave him this second novel for Christmas. Both books feature Alex Carter, a wildlife biologist who studies endangered species, and this second installment takes her to the Canadian Arctic. I want to read these, too!


Our son, 27, has been reading up a storm! He finally finished Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook, a volume that contains the first several books in the series (which he really enjoyed). 


Next, he tackled the Spellslinger series, a favorite. He re-read book 2, Shadowblack, so that he could move onto book 3, Charmcaster, which I gave him for his birthday last year. He was telling me all about this series in the car today and loves it, as it includes magic and also has a great sense of humor, including a magical squirrel-cat who acts as the main character's partner! It was another book blogger, Beth Fish Reads, who first told me about this fun series!


And now, our son has returned to another favorite series, The Magic of Recluce,. He's reading book 4, The Order War, which we gave him for Christmas. There are 22 books in this epic fantasy series, so it should keep him busy for a while!

Blog posts last week:

Fiction Review: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead - 

Memoir Review: Black Boy by Richard Wright - 

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home! - books, TV, movies, and foods to celebrate this week!

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, February 26, 2022

Celebrate Mardi Gras!

It's Mardi Gras weekend! We used to live in New Orleans, so this is a major holiday at out house, as you may have heard in my recent video, Celebrate Everything, Big and Small. We usually celebrate on Saturday and again on Tuesday. Before the pandemic, we had an annual party with a few friends (many of whom also lived in New Orleans when we did) on Saturday. Tonight it will be a smaller Zoom gathering, but I have a pot of jambalaya cooking on the stove, a fresh King Cake from a local bakery on the counter, plus we'll pick up some steamed shrimp and trade some jambalaya for bread pudding with some friends! Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, we will finish off the season with our annual tradition of Popeye's at a friend's house (yes, Popeye's is authentic Louisiana food!).

Want to join the fun? Here is a collection of ways to celebrate Mardi Gras, New Orleans, and Louisiana today...including food, recipes, travel tips, movies & TV shows, and, of course, some great books! You can also check out my column in Shelf Awareness from last year that features books about and set in New Orleans, Armchair Travel: Destination New Orleans.
Great Adult Books Set In/About Louisiana (additional titles in my article linked above):
Middle-Grade and Teen/YA Books Set In/About Louisiana:
  • Ruined by Paula Morris - a teen/YA mystery/ghost story set in New Orleans (the perfect setting for a ghost story!)
  • The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman - a compelling middle-grade historical fiction adventure (with a touch of time travel), where a girl from 1960 travels back to 1860 Louisiana
  • Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick - a middle-grade novel about Hurricane Katrina - powerful and gripping
  • Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys - most people are familiar with her two YA novels set during WWII (Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea), but this historical novel is set in New Orleans in 1950

Movies & TV Shows
  • Chef  - a wonderful, uplifting movie about a family food truck that travels from Miami to LA, with a stop in New Orleans, of course! My favorite movie of the year in 2015.
  • NCIS: New Orleans - though it's a crime show, it includes many scenes of New Orleans, mention of local restaurants and landmarks, and other local tidbits, plus some great local music. They usually do a Mardi Gras episode once a season, for extra fun. It's streaming on Paramount Plus (which used to be CBS All Access).
  • Treme - we LOVED this HBO show, which we were somehow able to watch on cable at one point. You can see it now streaming on HBO Max or Hulu.
  • You can also check out some classic movies and modern classics with New Orleans settings, like A Streetcar Named Desire and The Big Easy.
  • Or tune in to watch parades and other scenes in New Orleans streaming live (or if you missed the parades, some great video clips) at
One of the locals in Louisiana
All this talk of Louisiana making you want to visit? I have written articles about visiting New Orleans  and Exploring Cajun Country - check them out and start planning your trip (plenty of food recommendations in both!). I'm certainly ready to go back!


Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
Notice that many of the books and movies about Louisiana are focused on FOOD? Yes, Louisiana - and especially New Orleans - is known for its amazing, unique food. This blog post on how to celebrate Mardi Gras includes my own recipes for some classic Louisiana dishes, plus food you can grab locally today and webcams where you can vicariously experience Mardi Gras - there are plenty of suggestions in this post that you can still manage to do between now and Tuesday. Or save it for later if you like - we eat this food all year round. 

NOTE that Zapp's potato chips - which you absolutely MUST try) have been bought out by PA-chip maker Utz, so you don't have to get them by mail-order anymore. We can now find them in local stores like Wawa here in Delaware....though we still ordered a carton of assorted flavors for Mardi Gras! (Cajun Crawtator and Cajun Dill are the best.)


Me & my sons, about 10 years ago


Friday, February 25, 2022

Memoir Review: Black Boy

When I decided to focus my February reading on Black History Month, I searched through my huge backlog of audio books and found the perfect fit. Black Boy by Richard Wright is a memoir that was originally published in 1945, about a boy's difficult childhood and adolescence in rural Mississippi and his early adulthood in Chicago, all in the first part of the 20th century. It's an engrossing, fascinating (and at times, horrifying) account of a young life that was defined by constant struggle and the author's striving for more for himself, his family, and other Blacks.

Richard begins the memoir with his earliest memories, as a four-year-old boy in Natchez, Mississippi, living with his parents and brother. His father soon leaves, which starts an endless struggle for his mother to try to care for her young sons while also supporting the family financially. Richard is an early reader and an eager student, but he begins trying to earn money to help his family as soon as he is able, first running errands and doing odd jobs, even hanging around the local bar to earn a penny or nickel from patrons (and having his first alcohol when he was much too young). He drops out of school after eighth grade so he can help to support his family. They move around the area, as they struggle to make ends meet, sometimes having to move in with family or living in ever-smaller, shabbier apartments. Richard's grandmother has a decent house, and they live there for while, but she is a religious fundamentalist with extremely rigid ideas about how Richard should behave, and life there is intolerable for both Richard and his mother (though they have to tolerate it for a while). As he gets older and begins reading more and becoming more aware of the world around him, Richard begins to notice the horrible inequities in the South between Blacks and whites. As an intelligent and increasingly well-read young man, he can't understand why things are this way or why his people put up with such abhorrent treatment. Eventually, Richard escapes north to Chicago and is later able to move his mother and brother up there with him, though life isn't much easier. Richard is stunned to meet white people (often Jews or other immigrants who are outsiders themselves) who treat him kindly and fairly, though much of society is still stacked against people of color, even in the exalted North. He is attracted to the Communist Party for its rhetoric on equality and the presence of other well-read Blacks, but he is soon disillusioned by their in-fighting and other issues.

Richard's life story is a compelling one, both as an intriguing coming-of-age story and as a fascinating glimpse into the Jim Crow South and the challenges faced by Blacks in the early 1900's. I found it all the more powerful listening to the first-person narration on audio. Having been published first in 1945, the narrator is of course not the author, but Peter Francis James does a wonderful job of completely inhabiting the voice of the boy and man so that you feel like he is telling his story directly to you (audio sample here). While much of the discrimination and outright abuse faced by Richard and his family are greatly disturbing, there are moments of humor woven in, too, as Richard recalls his naivete as a child. The first half of the book, in Mississippi, was a little more interesting to me than the later sections, where Richard gets involved in Communism, but I was still riveted by his powerful, engaging story from beginning to end.

Vintage Classics


This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

Back to the Classics Challenge: a nonfiction classic

Nonfiction Challenge (#3) - in category of Social History

Diversity Challenge

Literary Escapes Challenge - Mississippi

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, from the beginning of the memoir when Richard is a very young boy, read beautifully by Peter Francis James, and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, 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 Black Boy from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Fiction Review: Harlem Shuffle

When I decided to read for Black History Month, the first book I picked up was Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, a Christmas gift from my husband. I was blown away by Whitehead's Underground Railroad (my review at the link) and couldn't wait to read his latest release, set in early 1960's Harlem.

Ray Carney has come a long way from his difficult childhood with an alcoholic, renowned criminal father. Ray runs an upstanding business, a furniture store on 125th Street in Harlem, with his name on the window in gold lettering, and is married to Elizabeth, whose parents live on the aptly-named Striver's Row. They look down on Ray and their small apartment across from the subway tracks, but Ray dreams of a nice apartment on Riverside Drive with a view of the park. In 1959, they have a little girl named May, and Elizabeth is pregnant with their second baby. Ray's business does pretty well, but he is constantly feeling the pressure of paying all of his bills, keeping the business in the black with so many people paying by installment plan, and wanting a better life for Elizabeth and his children. He grew up like a brother with his cousin, Freddie, since his father often disappeared for long stretches, and he'd stay with his aunt. He and Freddie are still close, though Freddie followed Ray's dad's example and makes his living as a criminal. It's mostly petty stuff, though, and if he occasionally offers Ray a few "gently used TV's" to resell in his store, Ray accepts them to add to his legitimate secondhand inventory and looks the other way. This time, though, Freddie has fallen in with some big-time crooks, and he drags Ray into it, offering his services as the fence. The plan is to rob a luxury hotel in Harlem, and as usual, the heist doesn't go completely as planned. Things happen, and Ray suddenly finds himself under the scrutiny of the police and with a new criminal clientele that makes him nervous ... but brings in more cash. As this goes on, Ray rises in the world, as his beloved cousin gets into even more trouble. Ray is constantly pulled between his legitimate business and the criminal one, with one foot in each world.

As usual, Whitehead has an incredible talent for bringing people, places, and times to life on the page. In this case, 1960's Harlem is so vibrantly depicted and real, you can almost hear the sounds, smell the smells, and feel the fear and rage of the race riots. He delves into all aspects of the setting and the time so that you almost feel like you are there, giving equal time on the page to the criminals and the up-and-coming Black businessmen of Harlem (who are sometimes equally crooked). Ray is a complex and intriguing character, caught as he is between two worlds, yearning to earn his way in the real world and prove he is nothing like his father, while being pulled inexorably toward the criminal underworld that is so enticing for its earning potential. This novel succeeds on many levels: as a family drama, a suspenseful crime novel, a historical picture of a time of open racial conflict, and a love letter to Harlem. I thoroughly enjoyed going on this ride into the past with Ray and his family.

318 pages, Doubleday

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Diversity Challenge (and February Mini-Challenge - Black)

New York (first of many, probably!) in Literary Escapes Challenge

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, with wonderful narration by Dion Graham, and/or download it from Audible. This novel sounds great on audio!


You can buy the book through, 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 Harlem Shuffle from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, February 21, 2022

It's Monday 2/21! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date

Hope everyone is doing well on this Monday morning. Happy President's Day in the U.S.!

Just more of the same here ... my father-in-law is out of the hospital and back in the nursing home. It turned out he was mostly severely dehydrated and malnourished. Now that he's back, we fear he will go down that path again. My husband and I (and our son, when he's here) visit every day, mostly at meal times, to encourage him to eat and drink more, but they still have him on a pureed diet, which is really gross! We requested a care meeting for tomorrow with staff to help them understand his needs better. We want to get him back on real foods, back to PT, and out of bed for a while each day. It's been very frustrating to get all that across and also heartbreaking to see him declining so.

And that's really all that's going on in our lives! We are singularly focused these days on caring for him, visiting, and getting him the care he needs. My husband and son worked this weekend on starting to move all his stuff out of his assisted living apartment. Our house is now packed full with all of his stuff, plus all of our son's stuff, plus all that's accumulated in the past 27 years!

I did manage to upload one new video last week, my weekly reading update:

Friday Reads 2-18-22

And I have one other fun video that I will edit and upload early this week.

Oh, and I finished all of my January reviews. You can watch my video January Reading Wrap-Up where talk about each of the six books I read last month. Since I'm not doing monthly summaries here on the blog anymore, I thought I'd give you a quick run-down on how I did on my reading challenges last month:

Mount TBR Challenge - Only 2 of my 6 were from my own shelves - need to up my game!

Monthly Motif Challenge - January was New To You and I read Janesville by Amy Goldstein, a new-to-me author.

Back to the Classics 2022 - I got a head start with a classic in January! The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury counted for a classic short story collection.

Alphabet Soup Challenge - I filled in B, H, I, J, M, and S - all unique letters!

Nonfiction Reader Challenge - Kicked off the new year with 2 nonfiction books, in the Science and Economics categories.

Diversity Challenge - Great start! Five of my six books were diverse.

Travel the World in Books - I visited India, Ghana, UK, and ... Mars and Venus!

Literary Escapes Challenge - I got 3 M's: Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, plus Wisconsin.


Here's what we've all been reading this past week. I continued my focus on Black History Month:


I quickly finished Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock, a middle-grade novel that I really enjoyed. It's a sweet story about twelve-year-old Sarah, whose little sister was badly injured in a car accident that Sarah blames herself for. Sarah is living on her grandparents' farm while her sister's in the hospital. She has always been best friends with Ruby, a Black girl who lives next door. But, the upcoming integration of the local school has the whole town worried and even comes between Sarah and Ruby. It's a warm, moving novel that deals with some serious topics honestly; it's excellent on all counts.


And then, I finally got to read Kindred by Octavia Butler. Wow. Completely blew me away!! Twenty-six-year-old Dana, a Black woman in 1976 California, suddenly and inexplicably finds herself in 1815 North Carolina on a slave plantation. She's on a riverbank and sees a child drowning in the water, so she swims out to save him, giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the banks to revive him, before his mother sees her and begins beating on her, not understanding what she's doing. In an instant, Dana is back in 1976, wet and muddy and shaking, telling her white husband, Kevin, what just happened. Dana is transported back to the plantation many times to save the boy, Rufus, but sometimes her stays are much longer, like one lasting eight months. Experiencing the life of a slave on a plantation first-hand, through Dana's narrative, is moving, powerful, and sometimes devastating. I came to care about all of the characters and read way too late every night. I could barely set this book down--why did I wait so long to read it?


I finally finished an audiobook that fit perfectly for Black History Month, Black Boy by Richard Wright, a memoir first published in 1945. The author talks about his childhood in rural Mississippi in the Jim Crow South, about poverty, hunger, racism, abuse, and fear. The second half, after he moves to Chicago and gets involved in communism, was less engrossing for me but still interesting. The audio is excellent, and hearing the author's words from a first-person perspective is especially evocative and powerful. I need to choose my next audio!


My husband, Ken, just finished reading Countdown City by Ben Winters, book two of The Last Policeman series. I got him started on this series last year and gave him this book for Christmas. The series is about Detective Hank Palace, a committed police officer who is still doing his job, in spite of impending doom. An asteroid will hit Earth in 77 days, ending our world, but Hank is investigating the disappearance of a man (in a world where many people are disappearing now). Sounds so good! He's really enjoying this series, and I want to read it, too.


Our son, 27, is still reading Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook, book one in the series of the same name. He says it's a series he's been wanting to read for years, and he spotted it in our local second-hand bookstore last year. When he was visiting a couple of weeks ago, he explained to me that this volume actually contains the first several books in the series, so it's a whopper!


Blog posts last week:

Movie Monday: Honey Boy - highly rated, entertaining & moving portrayal of a child actor, written by and starring Shia LeBeouf and based on his life.

Fiction Review: Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh - People's lives intersect around a women's clinic, by one of my favorite authors.

Middle-Grade Review: Marshmallow and Jordan by Alina Chau - graphic novel about a disabled middle-grade girl, with gorgeous watercolor illustrations that bring Indonesia to life on the page.

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 18, 2022

Middle-Grade Review: Marshmallow and Jordan

I've been hearing good things about the middle-grade graphic novel Marshmallow and Jordan by Alina Chau, and I finally had a chance to read it for myself. I enjoyed this charming, moving story of the challenges a newly-disabled girl faces and the unlikely ally she finds to support her.

Jordan was the captain--and star--of her championship middle-school basketball team in Indonesia. Then an accident left her wheelchair-bound. She seems remarkably well-adjusted, and her kind teammates still support her, while she watches their practices and games and sometimes even helps the coach or plays from her chair during practice. But Jordan misses being a full part of the team and competing. One day on her way home from school, she finds an injured white baby elephant. I guess elephants are common in Indonesia because Jordan doesn't seem surprised but helps the baby elephant back to her home so that her mother, a veterinarian, can help the injured animal. Her parents agree to let the elephant, whom Jordan has named Marshmallow, stay at their house while its leg heals. Wanting to pay back her kindness, Marshmallow mysteriously creates a pool in the backyard one night and the next day helps Jordan learn to swim without the use of her legs. Jordan loves the newfound freedom of being able to move in the pool! After a wonderful day of playing water basketball in the pool with her friends, Jordan joins the water polo team. Since she's entirely new to the game, her teammates aren't very welcoming at first and worry she could mess up their chances to make it to the finals this year. Jordan feels left out, by both old and new teammates, but she practices hard every day after school, putting in extra hours on her own, until her strength, stamina, and skills in the water improve. A crisis at the end of the school year is resolved in a very surprising way.

Sample: Jordan with her basketball team

Sample: Jordan takes Marshmallow home

As someone who is disabled by chronic illness--and had two young sons disabled by the same illness when they were very young (one is now recovered)--I can tell you with certainty that it is very rare to see a disabled child in a book for kids and adolescents. It's even more rare to see a disabled child who is a talented athlete. But this wonderful book is about more than just Jordan's disability. It's about friendship, family, and overcoming all kinds of challenges. I like that Jordan's challenges here are both related to her disability--not being able to play her favorite sport anymore--and entirely "normal" kinds of challenges that all kids face with friendship, acceptance, and trying to learn a new skill. There is also a touch of fantasy woven throughout the story, for extra fun. The gorgeous, colorful watercolor images help to tell the story and also to literally paint a full picture of what daily life in Indonesia is like (and some extras at the back add to that). Together, the pictures and text/dialogue tell a magical story of an ordinary girl in a different culture than most readers are familiar with, facing challenges that all kids can relate to.

365 pages, First Second

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Diversity Challenge

Travel the World in Books - Indonesia 

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!


You can buy the book through, 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 Marshmallow and Jordan from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Fiction Review: Mercy Street

I have been a fan of author Jennifer Haigh for many years now. Sometime in the early 2000's, I read Baker Towers, a novel set in a 1940's Pennsylvania coal town, and I absolutely loved it. I wondered if it was a "right time-right place" sort of situation, but when I re-read it a few years later for one of my book groups, I enjoyed it just as much. Enough, in fact, to name it to my list of Top Ten Favorite Novels in 2009! Later, I read Mrs. Kimble, another Haigh novel, about the three different women who each married one man, and enjoyed that one, too. In 2011, I read Haigh's The Condition, about a family whose daughter has a genetic condition, for one of my book groups, and the next year, my neighborhood book group read Faith, set in Boston during the priest molestation scandal. So, when I saw that Jennifer Haigh had a new novel being released February 1, for the first time in several years, I jumped at the chance to review it. I listened to Mercy Street on audio and found it as immersive and engrossing as Haigh's other novels.

Mercy Street is a women's clinic, offering a wide variety of services, in Boston, and the novel follows several different characters whose lives intersect at some point, many of them related to the clinic. Claudia is a woman in her 40's who works as a counselor at the clinic. She grew up poor, in rural Maine, the only child of a mother living in a trailer who took in dozens of foster kids during Claudia's childhood. While her mother worked two jobs, Claudia ended up being the primary caregiver for most of the children, even though she was very young herself. Her background allows her to understand many of her young, poor clients' lives. Anthony grew up in the Boston area and was injured while working construction as a young adult. His head injury has had lingering effects, so he is on disability and living in his mother's basement. He spends all of his time attending daily mass at the neighborhood Catholic church and being involved with their anti-abortion efforts, which includes protesting at Mercy Street. Timmy grew up with Anthony and has known him since childhood. Now he supports himself, and his son in Florida, by dealing weed. Both Claudia and Anthony are customers of Timmy's, and they meet one day at his apartment. Victor lives in rural Pennsylvania and is a racist and an extremist, stockpiling guns and food. His reasons for being anti-abortion are very different than Anthony's: he believes that women of color are reproducing faster than white women, and therefore, any white woman who aborts her baby should be shamed and brought to justice. He meets Anthony online and asks him to set up a website with a "Hall of Shame," featuring photos of women going into clinics, including Mercy Street (even though many women are there for other reasons). Anthony is committed to the cause for moral reasons, but Victor is clearly dangerous.

The novel follows each of these characters individually, in separate chapters, as their lives unknowingly intersect and affect each other. I have given a lot of thought to why I love Haigh's novels so much and what makes them so compelling. As in Mercy Street, she mostly writes about ordinary people living ordinary lives, but she's such a talented writer that she brings those characters to life on the page. By the end of this novel, you really care about Claudia, Anthony, and Timmy (maybe not Victor!) and want to know what happens to them. Each of these characters is something of a loner, so this novel doesn't have the same focus on a single family as many of her previous novels, but you get their family backgrounds and (limited) current relationships through flashbacks and the present narrative. In writing from so many different perspectives, Haigh gives the reader insight into each of their lives, motivations, and values. The audio book was read by a single narrator, but she did a great job, and I was thoroughly immersed in the story. Of course, as in Faith, there is a controversial issue at the heart of this novel, but it's about the people, not the issue. And I think that's what makes Haigh's novels so compulsively readable and engaging: the people, who feel entirely real on the page.

352 pages, Ecco


You can watch/listen to an interview with Jennifer Haigh about Mercy Street, interviewed by author Jess Walter and hosted by Parnassus Books (which is owned by author Ann Patchett). She talks about how she got the idea for the novel, the cover, and the class issues in the novel.

This book fits in the following Reading Challenges:

M in the Alphabet Soup Challenge

Massachusetts in the Literary Escapes Challenge

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the start of the novel and one of Claudia's chapters, and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, 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 Mercy Street from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Movie Monday: Honey Boy

Sometimes I search through the Rotten Tomatoes website, checking out movie ratings for movies we see on our streaming channels. It's always disappointing when you see something that sounds good and then check to find out it had a 30% rating with critics and 20% with viewers! But one movie recently caught my eye because it had an almost-perfect score with critics and viewers alike: Honey Boy, written by and starring Shia LaBeouf (and said to be semi-autobiographical). We both enjoyed this entertaining and moving film about a dysfunctional childhood.

Young Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) stars as Otis, a twelve-year-old child actor, struggling to make it in Hollywood. He lives with his father, James, an ex-rodeo clown and recovering alcoholic, played by an almost-unrecognizable Shia LaBeouf. The two of them live in a shabby roadside motel, and their closest neighbors are a group of young prostitutes. Otis supports the two of them, which his father both relies on and resents. James is one of the most dysfunctional fathers you've ever seen on screen (which is saying something). Alternating scenes take place in the future when Otis, now 22 and played by Lucas Hedges, has become a Hollywood action star, living a life filled with alcohol, drugs, and women. Driving drunk one night, he gets in a terrible accident and is sent to rehab. There, his therapist, played by the great Laura San Giacomo, tells him he displays all the signs of PTSD, though he insists he's never suffered trauma. Little by little in rehab, he begins to open up and remember his childhood, which is shown to viewers in alternating scenes. 

This is a powerful way to tell the story of a traumatic, difficult childhood, by simultaneously showing his childhood as it happens and also the effects of that childhood on his adult self. The movie was nominated for and won numerous awards, especially for the writing by Shia LaBeouf, directing by first-time director Alma Har'el, and the incredible performance by young Noah Jupe, as a child who desperately needs a parent--and love--and is growing up too fast out of necessity. It's a powerful, moving film, but it's also entertaining. While the viewer grieves for the lost childhood of young Otis, we are also given reason to hope for a better future for grown-up Otis. One can only imagine that writing this film and then playing a version of his own father must have been very emotional and therapeutic for LaBeouf. He certainly provides a very raw and honest story, powerfully told.

Honey Boy is from Amazon Studios and is available on Amazon Prime.

If you--like me--are interested in knowing more about Shia LaBeouf's feelings about bringing his strange childhood to life on the screen and playing his own Dad, check out this excellent interview with Jimmy Kimmel.