Monday, July 31, 2023

It's Monday 7/31! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date


I have a lot to catch up on today! I missed last Monday because we got home from a camping trip Monday evening last week and left again for a family wedding Friday morning. We just got home last night, and my husband and I are looking forward to some boring time at home for a few weeks! 

Last weekend, we went camping in northeastern Pennsylvania with our two grown sons and one of their girlfriends. This was the first time our sons had joined us for a camping trip since ... 2019? It's been years. Since they grew up camping (we have a pop-up trailer) and enjoyed our annual three-week-long road trips every summer, they both loved getting out there again with us. And the girlfriend enjoyed it, too, so that's a win! We really lucked out with the weather: a few days of cooler temperatures in between two long bouts of heat and humidity. A few highlights:

Enjoying a campfire with my son and his girlfriend

Family hike!

Outstanding read!

Beautiful day for kayaking on Lackawanna Lake

All together :)

This past weekend, we got in the car again for a longer trip back to my hometown (Rochester, NY) for my cousin Bob's wedding. He and his new wife are in their early 60's and this was a first wedding for both of them, so it was a very happy occasion! We stayed with my step-mom and always enjoy our time with her. The wedding and reception were held on Saturday, and we had a great time with my family. My big triumph was being able to dance a little! With my chronic illness, any kind of exercise/exertion makes me worse--and my medications are wearing off by evening--but I managed 40 minutes on the dance floor with my husband and my family, dancing to fun 60's and 70's classics. I was the only one out there wearing a mask and a heart rate monitor, and I was careful not to raise my arms, but we had a blast. I so enjoyed that  and didn't have too much payback the next day (I slept in the car)--a big victory for me! 

Playing cards with my step-mom

My husband and I

My cousin & his beautiful bride!

My family at the wedding

Oh, and we celebrated my 58th birthday while we were camping! My family spoiled me with piles of gifts, including LOTS of books! I'll be posting a Birthday Book Haul video this week.


On the Blog

I managed a few reviews, in between our travels:

Movie Monday: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny - good old-fashioned fun, with plenty of adventure, suspense, action, and humor. 

Teen/YA Review: Scythe by Neal Schusterman - another outstanding dystopian novel from this talented author - my husband is reading it now, and I can't wait to read the next two books in the trilogy!

Fiction Review: Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat - I enjoyed this beautiful novel across time and place, interweaving four stories centered on nature, from 1732 to present day.


On Video

Mid-Year Freak-Out Book Tag - a fun set of questions about what I've read so far this year

Friday Reads 7-28-23 - last week's brief discussion of what I'm currently reading 


 What We're Reading
We are still enjoying my annual Big Book Summer Challenge, and all of the books below count as Big Books for the challenge, with 400 or more pages. There's still more than a month to go in the challenge, if you want to join the fun!
For the past two weeks, I have been reading--and loving--The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I last read it in 10th grade (my 40th high school reunion is this fall, so ... yeah, a long time ago!). This book has just been blowing me away from the first chapters. Tom Joad comes home from prison to his family's small sharecropper cabin in Oklahoma to find the house empty and knocked off its foundation. The Joad family--along with hundreds of thousands of other farming families during the Dust Bowl in the 1930's--has been kicked off their land and forced to pack all of their possessions (plus twelve people!) into a homemade truck and head west. They've heard there is farm work in California, so they and the rest of the new migrant class follow the rumors. Steinbeck has written the novel so cleverly: it is both the intimate portrait of this one family, that you get to know well here, and also the story of an entire population in this place and time. It's a gripping novel, and I am loving every minute of it.

I started two new Big Book audios in the last two weeks: one for myself and one with my husband in the car. Together, we are listening to First Cut by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell, book one in a mystery/thriller series about Jessie Teska, a young medical examiner. In the prologue, Jessie is working in L.A. County and a body shows up on her table that shocks her so much, she leaves her job. A few months later, as this novel opens, Jessie has accepted a new job in San Francisco, so she can be near her brother. Among some of the more mundane cases, Jessie catches a homicide during her first week, involving drug dealers and multiple bullets. Later, a drug mule shows up on her table, and then a presumed accidental overdose case that Jessie has questions about. As the bodies pile up, and her supervisors push her to close cases, Jessie continues to investigate this increasingly dangerous set of cases. This has been a great, suspenseful audiobook for our long car trips, but we still have a few chapters left!

On my own, I have been listening to The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar, a sequel to The Space Between Us, which I read back in 2009 (review at the link) and my entire book group enjoyed. The second book picks up right where the first book left off, and the focus here is on Bhima, the servant from the first book. Bhima is no longer working for Sera but is determined to find a way to support her granddaughter, Maya, so that she can graduate from college, have a better life, and escape the slums. A new character is introduced in this novel, Parvati, an older woman who is struggling with serious medical issues and homelessness. Just as with the first book, the narrative immediately pulled me into the story, and I am completely engrossed.

My husband, Ken, finished reading A Time for Mercy by John Grisham, book 3 in the Jake Brigance series, which I gave him for Father's Day. We both loved the first two books featuring Jake, A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row, and Ken said this was another good one. I want to read it, too! Now, Ken has moved onto one of my recent reads, Scythe by Neal Scusterman (my review at the link). He and I and our son all loved Schusterman's Unwind dystology, and Scythe creates a wholly different future world, where life is ideal and humans are immortal. There is no more disease; injuries are healed by nanites in the bloodstream; even middle seats on airplanes have been abolished! But, in a world where everyone is immortal, there must be a way to control population, so certain people are chosen to be scythes who will glean (i.e. kill) enough people to balance things out and keep population steady. The focus in this first novel is on two teens chosen to be scythe apprentices. It's a suspenseful page-turner with Schusterman's usual thought-provoking insights into human nature and "perfect" societies.
Our son has been very busy with work, but reading is how he relaxes. He's still enjoying book 10, Necromancer, of the Spellmonger series by Terry Mancour.


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, July 26, 2023

Fiction Review: Everything the Light Touches

I recently finished another audiobook for my Big Book Summer Challenge, Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat. I was sold on this book when I read comparisons to Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which I loved, and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, which is still in my stack for this summer. I enjoyed this beautifully written novel that weaves four stories together from different times and places, all linked by a nature theme.

We first meet Shai, a young woman in modern-day India. She has recently lost her job and moved from Delhi back to the smaller city where she grew up. She learns from her mother that her beloved nanny, who raised her from infancy to her teen years, has taken ill, so Shai sets off on a journey to visit her. Her nanny lives in a remote village in the mountainous northeast, a place so isolated that it has no roads to it. The elderly woman is, indeed, quite ill, living in a small home with her daughter. Shai ends up staying with her for a lengthy time, helping to care for her, becoming a part of the slower, quieter life of the remote community. She also helps out in the garden, reconnecting with nature, which is very important to her own father.

In the early 1900's, a young woman named Evelyn is leaving England for a long trip on a ship to visit India. While everyone around her expects her to find a husband and settle down, Evelyn keeps her true purpose hidden. She studied botany at Cambridge and was fascinated by the writings of Goethe, who proposed a whole new way of looking at plants, as a whole, integrated natural world. Evelyn wants to go on an expedition to the northeastern mountains, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in search of what might be a mythical plant.

In the 1780's, Goethe himself is traveling from his home in Germany to Italy and immersing himself in the unique natural world he discovers there. During his years spent in Italy, he comes up with his own view of the natural world that is in contrast to the study of botany at the time, defined by Linneaus. The famous botanist made a career (and changed the study of botany) by identifying and categorizing individual plants and their components in minute detail, but Goethe sees the natural world as an integrated whole; from this trip, he will write his lesser-known work, The Metamorphosis of Plants.

And, finally, we meet Linneaus himself, on an expedition in 1732 to Lapland, in the northernmost region of Finland. Linneaus is encountering wholly unique plants that he has never seen before and applying his rules of identification and classification. This section sounds as though it may have been taken directly from Linneaus' journals.

The novel's narrative takes us through each of these four unique stories, set in different times and places and focusing on different characters ... and then back again through Goethe, Evelen, and Shai's stories. The thread connecting all of these disparate narratives is nature and different ways of seeing the world: splitting it into its component parts or seeing it as an integrated whole. The inclusion of real-life historical figures gives the narrative extra dimension and relation to the real world. Along the way, the author also addresses colonialism, class differences, environmental issues, and constant change in the world. It's a lyrical novel, with moving passages that capture the beauty of nature and its effect on each of the characters' very different lives. While its structure of interwoven stories from different times did remind me of Cloud Atlas, it also brought to mind The Overstory by Richard Powers, with its disparate characters coming together to focus on the natural world. I very much enjoyed this unique and immersive novel that was excellent on audio, with multiple narrators.

512 pages, HarperVia


This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:


Alphabet Soup Challenge - E

Diversity Challenge

Travel the World in Books - India, Italy, Finland

Big Book Summer


Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!


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


Or get this audiobook from and support local bookstores.


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!


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Teen/YA Review: Scythe

My husband, son, and I are big fans of Neal Schusterman, author of dozens of outstanding middle-grade and YA novels. Two of our favorites are the middle-grade Skinjacker trilogy (starting with Everlost), an imaginative look at the afterlife, and the YA dystopian series that starts with Unwind, which is still a family favorite, many years later. Schusterman doesn't just write fantasy and science fiction, either. Bruiser is a mostly realistic YA novel about abuse, with a bit of a supernatural twist, and Challenger Deep is a creative, powerful YA novel about mental illness, based on the author's own son's experiences with schizophrenia. So, I wanted to read Scythe even before I heard all the rave reviews. I don't know why it took me so long! It was just as good as I expected.

Scythe takes place in a far-off future, where technology has evolved to the point where there is no more suffering. The Thunderhead (which began with the present-day "cloud") has evolved into intelligent AI that oversees every aspect of life, so there is no more need for government or politics. Disease has been eradicated, and nanites in each person's bloodstream automatically heal injuries, treat pain, and even control mood to prevent anger or despair. Even middle seats on airplanes have been abolished! Sounds like a pretty great way to live, right? The only problem is that with no natural death and humans now essentially immortal, the world needed a way to control population so it wouldn't outstrip the world's resources (which are carefully apportioned by the Thunderhead so everyone gets what they need). The answer to that problem was to designate certain humans as Scythes who are tasked with gleaning (i.e. killing) a certain number of people each year to keep the world in perfect balance. Ideally, these Scythes operate under a strict moral code and are revered for their role in society, but as is always the case where humans are involved, not all Scythes follow the rules and aspire to ethical behavior.

In this world, two ordinary teens, Citra and Rowan, have recently been selected by Scythe Faraday (each Scythe chooses a historic name) to train as Scythes. Neither of them wants to dedicate their life to gleaning, but that--along with evidence of honesty and compassion--is precisely why Scythe Faraday chose them to be his apprentices. He's one of the good guys and begins to train Citra and Rowan rigorously in killing techniques, as well as old world history and philosophy and the moral code of the Scythes. Their training is interrupted, though, as some of the Scythes with more selfish motives intervene.

As in all of Schusterman's dystopian novels, he has created a thoroughly unique and fascinating future world, where you can easily see the chilling links back to our own world. His novels are always gripping and suspenseful, yet thought-provoking, and Scythe is no exception. The reader quickly comes to like Citra and Rowan--and Scythe Faraday, too--and all of the characters are interesting and three-dimensional. It's an action-packed story, full of surprising twists, that kept me turning the pages. Schusterman has done it again, with another thoughtful, high-stakes dystopian thriller. I can't wait to read book two, and I've already moved Scythe onto my husband's to-be-read pile, because I know he'll love it, too.

435 pages, Simon & Schuster

Audible Studios

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Big Book Summer 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 and/or download it from Audible.


    (as an Audible production, it seems the audio is only available through 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!

Monday, July 17, 2023

Movie Monday: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

On a very hot recent Saturday when my energy was low, my husband and I treated ourselves to a Saturday matinee at the theater. Though the seats were modern recliners, the vibe was old-school adventure with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which we enjoyed very much.

As this new (and last) Indiana Jones movie opens, we get a flashback scene from 1939, with a young Indiana Jones in top form, escaping from Nazis, fighting on top of speeding trains, and keeping a priceless artifact, Archimedes' Dial, out of the hands of the Nazis, along with his best friend and partner, Basil, played by Toby Shaw.  After that breathtaking scene of nonstop action, the movie shifts to 1969, as the fearless explorer archeologist is retiring from his job teaching at a university. It's clear that Indy has aged (and not well) and has left his glory days behind. His beloved wife, Marion, (his love interest from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark) recently filed for divorce, his students are bored, and he's spending a lot of time in his recliner, drinking too much. Then, his goddaughter shows up unexpectedly. Helena, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame, is Basil's daughter, and Indy hasn't seen her since she was a young girl. Now, she's begging for his help to find Archimedes' Dial. He's reluctant at first, until they go back to the university archives, where Indy has hidden the half of the dial he and Basil rescued in 1939, and find that a group of criminals, headed up by the very Nazi that Indy was fighting on the train 30 years ago, is leaving a trail of bodies, Indy's colleagues, in their wake. After an exciting chase through the streets during a ticker tape parade for the returning astronauts, Indy and Helena take the adventure on the road, heading through Morocco, Greece, and Italy. They are searching for the missing half of Archimedes' Dial, with the bad guys hot on their heels. 

What follows is classic Indiana Jones, with action, adventure, mysteries, secret codes, and plenty of surprising twists. Yes, it's true, Indy has aged considerably, but they work with that in the film. One of the best parts about this series (in my opinion) has always been its sense of humor, and that is shining bright here. Besides, Indy has Helena by his side, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is fabulous, loaded with the confidence, charisma, and physical prowess that makes her seem a female Indiana Jones (I wonder whether she'll star in the next movie on her own). The rest of the cast is great, too, with lots of characters popping up from earlier films. Harrison Ford himself is quite impressive, as an 80-year-old man playing a 70-year-old, and the CGI that makes him 30 years younger in the opening scenes is effective. As with earlier films in the series, the action is nonstop, the settings are gorgeous, and the plot is constantly surprising. I hated to miss a moment (but it is a 2 1/2 hour movie!). We were delighted by some of the unexpected twists the movie took. I've been hearing a few negative rumblings from critics and social media that it's just not the same without Spielberg at the helm (James Mangold directs), but we loved this movie. My advice? Get a bucket of popcorn and just enjoy this nostalgic 2+ hours of pure fun. When you hear that familiar swell of music, just let yourself be swept away and enjoy the ride!

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is currently showing only in theaters. It is estimated that it will begin streaming on Disney+ around mid-August.

See where it's playing near you:

Go Fandango!

It's Monday 7/17! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date


My week alone was lovely! As always, I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd planned, but I did have a productive week and had some fun, too. Last weekend, I decluttered and organized some messy areas I'd been meaning to get to for ages. I took a walk with a local friend mid-week and enjoyed catching up with her. 

On Friday, my oldest and dearest friend, Michelle, came to visit from Ohio. We've been friends since she was 4 and I was 5, and even though we don't see each other much these days, we fell right back into our comfortable friendship. We had some nice meals, took a walk along an idyllic creek (like the ones we used to play in), and talked nonstop!! 

Playing Dress-up circa 1971

White Clay Creek


We watched Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, a favorite book when we were kids and a movie that recreated our '70's childhood. We also played games, which was fun because we were the Game Queens as kids, playing 27 games of Clue in a row or a Monopoly game that lasted for five days. Nothing that extreme this time, but my husband isn't a fan of games, so I enjoyed having someone to play with! She left yesterday, and I rested and recovered. My husband arrives back home this afternoon. He had a great time golfing with his best friends from high school in their hometown in Oklahoma.

Yahtzee for old times' sake!


On the Blog

Middle-Grade Review: The Strangers (Book 1 of Greystone Secrets) by Margaret Peterson Haddix - twisty sci fi mystery/thriller featuring three siblings who discover they have dopplegangers

 2023 Reading Challenges Update:

Since we are just past the midway point of the year (and I had time last week to update my challenges page!), here's my progress on my reading challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge - My goal is 36, and I've only read 12 from my own shelves so far! (you're allowed to count e-books and audios, but I only count physical books)

Monthly Motif Challenge - I've gotten 4 of the 6 month's motifs so far (missing March and April)

Classics Challenge - my goal is to read 6 challenges, and I've read 3 so far - right on track!

Alphabet Soup Challenge -I already have 18 of 26 letters! The remaining 8 are the tough ones, though. Any recommendations of books starting with Q, X, or Z?

Nonfiction Reader Challenge - my goal is 12, and I've read 4 so far (Nonfiction November is coming up!), and I have filled in 4 of the 12 categories.

Diversity Reading Challenge - My goal is to read 45 diverse books this year, and I've read 21 so far. I also filled in all 6 Mini-Challenges for the first 6 months.

Travel the World in Books - I have read 10 books set outside the U.S. and visited 12 different countries in my books so far.

Literary Escapes Challenge - I've visited 20 of the 51 states (including DC) so far in my reading.

Big Book Summer Challenge - As of last night, I've finished 5 Big Books so far this summer (and the challenge is still open, if you want to join the fun! It runs through early September, and you only need to plan to read one book of 400 or more pages between now and then.)


On Video

June Reading Wrap-Up - reviewing the books I finished last month, plus a quick overview of the books my husband read, too! 

Friday Reads 7-14-23 - my brief recap of what I am currently reading 


 What We're Reading
Last night, I finished reading Scythe by Neal Schusterman, which was just as good as everyone said! We are huge Schusterman fans at our house. My husband, son, and I all loved his Unwind series, which is original, brilliant, and compelling, and I've been hearing great things about Scythe for years. This YA dystopian novel takes place in a future world where life is perfect: there is no disease, no government, no middle seats on airplanes. Nanites in the body immediately heal any injury or pain and even protect humans from negative emotions like despair. In order to control population in an immortal world, some people are chosen as Scythes who "glean" (i.e. kill) selected people. Two teens, Citra and Rowan, have been chosen to train as Scythe apprentices and learn all about the dark side of a perfect society. As with all of Schusterman's novels, it was gripping and thought-provoking, with a sense of humor and great characters. I will definitely be reading the rest of the trilogy!

 On audio, I have almost finished listening to Everything the Light Touches by Janice Pariat. This novel has been compared to Cloud Atlas and Cloud Cuckoo Land (also on my Big Book stack). It consists of four parts, stories of different people in different time periods, beginning in modern day India and moving back through time to Lapland in 1732. Two of the featured characters, Linnaeus and Goethe, are real-life historical figures. The connecting thread through all of the stories is the natural world, plants, botany, and human connections. It's beautifully written, engrossing, and thoughtful.
I'm guessing that my husband, Ken, didn't have much time for reading on his golf trip with his friends, but he brought A Time for Mercy by John Grisham, book 3 in his Jake Brigance series, along on his trip. We both loved the first two books, A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row featuring Jake, so this should be another good one.


After I posted last week's Monday post, my son let me know that he had, in fact, finished Shadowmage, book nine of the Spellmonger series by Terry Mancour--it was only 800 pages! Now, he's reading book 10, Necromancer. He's been tearing through this fantasy 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?