Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Fiction Review: Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions

Wow, I have read some really outstanding novels for Black History Month this year: Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe on audio, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi in print, and now Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. It is a novel told in interlocking stories, featuring four Nigerian women who meet as young girls in boarding school, following them throughout their lives.

At an all-girls boarding school in 1986, Nonso, Remi, Aisha, and Solape, all eleven years old, are assigned to the same house. The four girls become inseparable friends, until a tragedy ends their happy experiences at school. Other stories in the interwoven collection both go back in time and forward in time, filling in each of the girls' pasts and childhoods, as well as following each of them through their adult lives, as they remain friends, bonded by what they experienced together. As a child, Nonso traveled extensively around Africa with her mother, experiencing the vastly different worlds of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, as well as the stunning historical truths revealed at Cape Coast Castle in Ghana (which I'd just read about in Homegoing). After moving to the United States, Aisha attends college and then law school, and we see her in 2003, attending a friend's wedding in Poland. In 2004, Remi is living in New York, with a high-powered job at a bank. All of the women travel or move back to Nigeria at various times in their lives, always struggling to weave together family, traditions, and their modern lives. Other stories focus on or are narrated by secondary characters, like the opening story of Adaoma (1897-1931) in Nigeria  or a young man named Segun in 1991 New York, who's being hassled by the police. The focus, though, is on the friends, and the final story, set in 2050 with dystopian tones, brings them back together again.

I was entranced by this captivating set of characters and stories that was excellent on audio, narrated by Liz Femi and Korey Jackson. I ended up also borrowing the print book from the library because partway through, I realized that in struggling a bit with the unfamiliar Nigerian names, I was missing some of the connections. Being able to see the names in print helped to clarify things for me, and I began to see just how cleverly the whole story fits together. I didn't always know how a side character fit into the story until later, but this truly is a cohesive novel, though at the beginning I was listening to it more as short stories. The characters are fully-developed, and the writing is engaging. While having the print book helped, I'm glad that I listened to the audio because the narration, in the rich tones and cadence of Nigerian voices, made it even more immersive. These women face plenty of challenges throughout their lives, with sorrows and joys, but they are strong, independent women who have their families and each other to support them. This thoughtful, moving novel and its voices have really stuck with me. I think this is the author's first novel, and I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

233 pages, Amistad

HarperAudio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

 

Alphabet Soup Challenge - J

Diversity Challenge

Travel the World in Books Challenge - Nigeria

Literary Escapes Challenge - Mass.
 

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the first chapter, about Adaoma.

 

Or get this audiobook from Libro.fm and support local bookstores (audio sample here, too). This sample features an excerpt from Segun's chapter.

 

Print and e-book from Amazon.

 

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!


 
  

Monday, February 26, 2024

It's Monday 2/26! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date

 I've got a two-week catch-up today, since we were traveling last week. We flew to College Station, Texas, to attend our great-niece's wedding. We had a wonderful time, enjoyed spending time with family, and managed a couple of short hikes while there. I am so grateful to be feeling so much better this year! I even handled the long days in airports without "crashing" afterward.

We enjoyed catching up with our nephew!

Our whole family!


It warmed up for a nice walk in a local park!

Back home, last week was busy, with a doctor's appointment, lunch out with my elderly Book Buddy (a library program), and a fun game night with my closest friends--lots of laughs!

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On the Blog

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home - while the holiday is now past for this year, my updated post includes some great books to enjoy any time of year!

TV Tuesday: The Irrational - a unique crime show featuring a behavioral scientist that we're really enjoying.

Fiction Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - stunning, powerful historical novel, covering eight generations of two branches of a family, from 1700's Ghana to U.S. plantations to modern day.

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On Video

Kindness Book Tag - a fun tag video, about kindness in books ... and in life!

Texas Travel Vlog - videos and photos from our trip

Friday Reads 2-23-24 - quick weekly update on what I am currently reading 

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 What We're Reading

I had the perfect book for our trip, New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith, a suspenseful mystery (and a lightweight paperback!). This was a readalong book for the Mardi Gras Readathon on Booktube, and it was one I already owned. I first read it back in 1992, shortly after we moved from New Orleans. It's about a New Orleans policewoman named Skip Langdon, and the murder of the King of Carnival in the middle of a parade on Mardi Gras Day. You can hear more about it in my Friday Reads video. It was a twisty mystery that kept my attention on two long flights, and it's also a love letter to New Orleans, with wonderful details about the city, its culture, people, social strata, food, architecture, and more. I loved it again my second time through and would love to read more in this series (I don't know why I didn't back then).

Now, I am reading Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, a buddy read with my friend Nikki of the Red Dot Reads YouTube channel. It focuses on two families whose lives are intertwined and begins in 1973 when Francis, a recent Irish immigrant, and Brian, an Irish immigrant who's been in the U.S. longer, meet as trainees and then rookies on the NYPD. They end up buying houses next to each other in a small town outside of the city, where their children grow up together, until a tragedy changes the lives of both families. It's excellent so far, and I just found out that Keane will be one of the featured authors at Booktopia at the end of April! I can't wait to meet her and read her latest book. Nikki and I are both enjoying this one, and I'm intrigued to see what happens next.

 

On audio, I listened to Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi. This unique, captivating book is a novel told in interlocking stories, of four Nigerian girls who meet in boarding school when they are eleven years old and become lifelong friends. Through the separate stories, we learn about their family history, coming-of-age, the many changes they experience through adulthood, and even a glimpse into the future. It's beautifully written and engrossing, with the stories woven together in clever ways. The final story, set in 2050, even features a (scary) dystopian future that has its roots in our real-life present. It was outstanding on audio and kept me rapt.

 

I returned home last week to realize my book group meets on February 29, and I didn't even know what the book was! Most versions of Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall had a wait list at the library (even though it's a 2013 release), but I was able to borrow the audio CDs and transfer them to my iPod. In 1963 Mississippi, nine-year-old Starla lives with her grandmother, Mamie, who doesn't seem to like her much. When she gets in trouble on the 4th of July and fears Mamie's punishment, she decides to run away to Nashville to find her mother. Starla hasn't seen her mother since she was very young, though she sends her birthday cards and says she is going to be a famous singer. Starla starts hitchhiking and is picked up by a Black woman named Eula, and the two of them head off on a journey neither could have predicted. Since I only have a few days to finish, I listened to it a lot this weekend, and I'm really enjoying it.

 

My husband, Ken, finished Dark Ride by Lou Berney, author of November Road, which I gave him last year and he loved (it's now on my side of the TBR bookcase!). This new one is a thriller, and it sounds great. I know it's got a good sense of humor because my husband was laughing out loud while reading it! Now, he is reading a book I gave him for Christmas, Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton, a nonfiction memoir. He was reading me passages out loud (we are both huge National Park fans), but he stopped because he said I will want to read this one myself!

 

Our son, 29, finished reading The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buelhman, a gift from us! I heard about this one from Todd's Booktube, a channel that I follow by  young man who has very similar tastes in fantasy as my son. Our son said it had a unique style and voice and is very well-written--another winner! Now, he is reading Soulkeeper by David Dalglish, book one in The Keepers series, and enjoying it so far.

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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? 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Fiction Review: Homegoing

I feel like I may be the last person to finally read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I just read it for Black History Month, after receiving it for Christmas, and I can see why this book created so much buzz! This historical epic, covering eight generations of a family, from 1700's Ghana to slave plantations in the U.S. to the present day, was a stunning novel that kept me rapt.

In eighteenth-century Ghana, two half-sisters are born in different villages, each completely unaware of the other. Effia was born in the Fante realm on a night when fire raged through her village. Her mother, Baaba, never seemed to like Effia and often mistreated and beat her, though her father tried in vain to protect her. In the 1770's, a white British man named James Collins, the newly appointed governor, married Effia, and she went to live with him in Cape Coast Castle. She was well-treated by James and the other British men, lived in a beautiful home, and was soon pregnant and gave birth to a son, Quey. As time went on, she began to better understand what went on in the castle, that many of her own countrymen and women (and children) were kept in the basement dungeons and sent overseas on ships as slaves.

During the same time period, Esi was born into a small Asante village, the daughter of a Big Man (prominent in the village) and his third wife. She had a wonderful childhood, as her village grew, and she enjoyed long walks with her father, who adored her. House servants, slaves stolen from warring villages, were a simple fact of life in Esi's world, until she discovered that her own mother was a captive servant at one time in a Fante village, and she begins to truly understand what that means. As a teen, Esi is stolen by a warring tribe, and made to walk for many miles, tied to other captives, all the way to Cape Coast Castle, where she and the others are sold to the British. There, she is kept in the women's dungeon in horrific conditions. Just before being walked to a waiting ship to travel to America as a slave, Esi is raped by a British soldier.

In this way, each of the different lines of this split family, unknown to each other, begins. The novel alternates between Effia's family and Esi's family, with a long chapter focused on one person in each generation, all the way to modern times (with a helpful family tree at the beginning). Gyasi's wonderful writing weaves an intricate, complex picture of each family and each generation. When I realized the framework of the novel, I worried that it would be too disjointed, but it works. While I was always sorry to leave one person's story, the next one was just as engrossing, and there is usually information about how the previous character's story continued. Each of these characters is fully-formed, with great emotional depth, each dealing with their own unique challenges through the centuries.

The history here is fascinating, and I read the novel with my iPad by my side so that I could look up more information on the history, photos of the places described, and other facts; this book made me want to learn more. For instance, Cape Coast Castle is a real place that is still there today, and I just read a travel essay on a plane by actor Anthony Anderson, about his emotional first time touring the castle. Before reading this book, I was completely unaware that Africans were complicit in the slave trade (though, of course, it was the large sums of money Europeans were willing to pay that helped it grow). There is plenty of tragedy in this story, for both bloodlines, in Africa and in the U.S., but there are moments of joy and triumph, too, and the ending was very satisfying. This is a powerful, moving novel that will stay with me for a long time.

300 pages, Vintage Books

Random House Audio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

 

Mount TBR Challenge

Alphabet Soup Challenge - H

Diversity Challenge

Travel the World in Books Challenge - Ghana

Literary Escapes Challenge - Alabama

 

Visit my YouTube Channel for more bookish fun!

 

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. I like the sound of the narrator, Dominic Hoffman.

 

Or get this audiobook from Libro.fm and support local bookstores (the same audio sample here, too).

 

Print and e-book from Amazon.

 

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!



Tuesday, February 20, 2024

TV Tuesday: The Irrational

While most cable shows had a delayed "fall" season that is only just starting now (due to the strikes), a few new shows did start on time in the fall. Our favorite is The Irrational, a crime show with a behavioral scientist at its center.

Jesse L. Martin plays Alec Mercer, a behavioral scientist at a university in D.C. Alec teaches and has two grad students working with him: Pheobe, played by Molly Kunz, and Rizwan, played by Arash DeMaxi. His ex-wife, Marisa (played by Maahra Hill), works for the FBI, and Alec's sister, Kylie (played by Travina Springer), is a brilliant computer expert who lives with him. Marisa often asks Alec to consult on a case--and sometimes Kylie and/or the grad students get involved, too--so there is usually a new case to solve in each episode. But there is also an ongoing story thread about the terrible burn scars on Alec's face. He got those scars (and spent months in the hospital, with serious burns over much of his body) many years ago, when a bomb was set off in a church. One man was convicted of the crime, but Alec and Marisa suspect there was someone else behind it who was never caught. The bombing left Alec with emotional scars as well as physical, and Marisa and her FBI partner are still looking into the cold case.

Like any crime show, each episode involves a new case, so there is always something new and different  going on. Alec's unique talents in behavioral science provide fascinating insights into victims, witnesses, and criminals that are helpful to the FBI. In each show, though, the viewer also learns more about Alec and the bombing that so traumatized him. The secondary characters are also further explored and fleshed out. Martin is outstanding in the lead role, and his co-stars are all excellent. The writing is fresh, with a sense of humor, and the cases are interesting. There is suspense and a mystery in each new episode, plus the ongoing mystery of the bombing. My husband and I have really been enjoying this show. We'll watch the final episode of its first season tonight, and we were excited to hear that it's been renewed for a second season.

The Irrational is an NBC show, so it's available On Demand if you have cable or on NBC.com (all episodes still available free for all right now) or on Peacock. It's also available on Amazon.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home!


It's Mardi Gras Day! We used to live in New Orleans, so this is a major holiday at our house, as you may have heard in my video, Celebrate Everything, Big and Small. We usually celebrate on Saturday and again on Tuesday. Before the pandemic, we had an annual party with all the food, music, etc. on Saturday. With my immune issues, it's now a small celebration with our oldest friends, who lived in New Orleans when we did. We enjoyed takeout from a favorite local New Orleans restaurant (a husband and wife team who were both chefs in New Orleans, under two of the top chefs there!), plus lots of shrimp. Today, Mardi Gras day, we will finish off the season with our annual tradition of Popeye's at that same friends' house (yes, Popeye's is authentic Louisiana food). And, of course, we've decorated for the occasion, and I'm wearing purple, green, and gold with my beads on!

 
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. And if you prefer a video, check out my Recommendations for Mardi Gras Reathathon: Books, Movies, and TV Shows.
 
Great Adult Books Set In/About Louisiana (additional titles in my article linked above):
  • The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells, author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - I listened to Calla Lily's story on audio and laughed out loud & bawled my eyes out! It takes place in southern Louisiana, with plenty of local color.
  • Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen - I loved this memoir about the food, history, people, and unique culture of New Orleans.
  • Trail of Crumbs: Food, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim SunĂ©e - although this food-focused memoir covers everyplace from Sweden to France to Korea, the author grew up in New Orleans, where the food culture impacted the rest of her life.
  • Burn by Nevada Barr - part of her Anna Pigeon series, about a National Park ranger, this one is set in the French Quarter (where there's a National Historic Park). I haven't read it yet, but I plan to this year!
  • Mardi Gras Mourning by Julie Smith - I first read this back in the 90's and am rereading it now for the Mardi Gras Readathon on Booktube. It's a classic detective novel, set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, so the setting and atmosphere are great!
  • The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate - outstanding historical fiction set in Loiuisiana, with a dual timeline in 1863 and 1987. It made my list of Top Ten Audios in 2023
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is another excellent dual timeline historical novel, about twin sisters born in Louisiana. One moves to New Orleans and the other twin decides to "pass" as white and lives a very different life.
  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks - in this historical novel from one of my favorite authors, some of the story takes place in 1800's Louisiana.
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 videos) at www.mardigras.com.
One of the locals in Louisiana
Travel
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!

Crawfish!

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 or ordered on Amazon (Cajun Crawtator and Cajun Dill are the best flavors.)

 Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Me & my sons, about 10 years ago

Monday, February 12, 2024

It's Monday 2/12! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date

Life

I'm off to a late start this morning, as I'm guessing is much of the U.S. I am normally in bed by 9:30 (reading, of course) and lights out by 10:30, so last night's Superbowl game going into overtime was a challenge! We had a very fun weekend of celebrations--there is so much going on this week! Our oldest friends came over Saturday to celebrate Mardi Gras (part 1--we'll go to their house tomorrow). The four of us all lived in New Orleans in the 80's; it's where we all met and became friends. So Mardi Gras is a big deal! I'm still on this carnivore diet (and my husband is now mostly keto), so most of the menu items at our favorite local New Orleans restaurant (lots of rice, bread, beans) were off-limits, but our friends got their food there, as well as some gumbo sans rice for us, and we contributed lots of steamed shrimp and Andouille sausage. It was all delicious, and we had our favorite New Orleans music playing, and videos of the latest parades. Lots of reminiscing and chatting, too!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Last night, another set of friends came over for Superbowl. We hadn't seen them since last Superbowl, so we really enjoyed catching up, eating good food, enjoying the commercials ... oh, yeah, and the game, too!

Mardi Gras & Superbowl celebrations!

Friends Over for Superbowl!

In between, I helped my friend more with her move (packing china Saturday and loading another friend's car for a Goodwill run). Yesterday was one of those days where I sat down in the morning to get a couple of easy things done ... and nothing went right! Downloading airline apps for our trip to Texas this week turned into an hour on the phone with customer service. And then trying to put the new password into my Excel password file turned into another customer service odyssey with Microsoft that I only just resolved this morning.  

Helping a Friend - Dumpster's Almost Full!

Beautiful View Saturday Near Home
 
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On the Blog

Movie Monday: Stillwater - my husband and I both enjoyed this movie, starring Matt Damon, that combines family drama, mystery/thriller, romance, and travel. Very moving story.

Teen/YA Review: I Am Not Alone by Francisco X. Stork - another excellent YA novel from Stork, about living with mental illness.

Fiction Review: Last Summer on State Street by Toya Wolfe - an outstanding pick for Black History Month, a coming-of-age story about four young girls growing up in a Chicago Housing project in 1999. This one deserves more attention!

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On Video

January Reading Wrap-Up - my summary of the 6 books I read last month--novels, nonfiction, memoir, audios, graphic novel, YA.

Friday Reads 2-9-24 - my quick weekly update of what I am currently reading

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 What We're Reading

I kicked off Black History Month right, reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, the highly acclaimed novel that everyone else has read except me! I'm almost finished now, and wow, this is such a remarkable, powerful novel! It begins in Ghana in the 1700's, with two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, who have never met and live in different villages, part of two separate (warring) empires, Fante and Asante. Effia marries a white British officer and moves to Cape Coast Castle (a real place), while Esi is captured and sold into slavery. From there, this incredible story follows Effia's and Esi's bloodlines through eight generations, from Africa to a Mississippi plantation through the Civil War and Harlem's Jazz Age to modern times. It's completely engrossing, and I am learning a lot about history that I'd never heard before. It's beautifully written, a stunning, epic story.

 

I started a new audio book last week, The Invisible Girls by Sarah Lebarge, a memoir and another very powerful story. Sarah was brought up in a very restrictive, religious environment. She got a Physician's Assistant degree and was engaged to a wealthy man when her life was decimated by a very aggressive breast cancer at age 26. After multiple surgeries, a double mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and a devastating break-up, she was left scarred both physically and emotionally. She moved to Portland, OR, to start over. Riding the train one day, she met an exhausted Ghanian mother with two small children. The little girls took to her, and she spoke with the mom and ended up visiting their apartment. That kicked off a very unique relationship between Sarah and this refugee single mother of five girls. Her abusive husband had left, the system was failing them, and the family was close to starvation. What followed was life-changing for the family and for Sarah. I worried this might be a sort of "white savior" story, but it's not like that at all. It's a beautiful, moving, compelling story of found family, hope, and connection. My only problem is that I didn't have the full audio download (it was a free download from SYNC, years ago)! It just quit last night, in the middle of a sentence, and I want to read the rest of it. My library doesn't have it, the Kindle edition is $10, and I probably only have a chapter or two left to go. Any ideas?

 

My husband, Ken, finished The Secret by Lee Child and Andrew Child, book 28 of the Jack Reacher series, my husband's all-time favorite! Now, he is reading Dark Ride by Lou Berney, author of November Road, which I gave my husband last year and he loved (it's now on my side of the TBR bookcase!). This new one is a thriller, and it sounds great. I know it's got a good sense of humor because my husband has been laughing out loud while reading it!

 

Our son, 29, finished reading book 2, Blade Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, book 2 in her Realm Breaker series,, that we gave him for Christmas. Now, he's reading The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buelhman, another gift from us! I heard about this one from Todd's Booktube, a channel that I follow by  young man who has very similar tastes in fantasy as my son. He's loving it so far and says it has a unique style and voice and is very well-written--another winner!

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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?