Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fiction Review: The Audacity

Every spring, my mom and I travel to Vermont to attend Booktopia, a wonderful bookish weekend hosted by the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester that combines about 8-9 authors and 100 or so readers for book discussions, meals, games, and a lot of fun! (tickets still available; my recap/vlog from Booktopia 2023) We'll be attending Booktopia next weekend! So, every year at this time, I try to read as many books as I can that will be featured at the event. One of those is The Audacity, a unique satirical novel that I enjoyed.

Guy Sarvananthan was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated with his parents to the U.S. as a child. He went to a music conservatory for college, where he became a decent, middling composer. Victoria Stevens, a hard-driving, highly motivated woman plucked Guy out of obscurity by marrying him. She started PrevYou, a Theranos-type company that created self-serve health booths, located in cities everywhere, to collect data with the simple aim of nothing less than curing cancer. Guy now runs the philanthropic arm of her multi-billion-dollar company. He comes home from yet another charity gala one night to discover that Victoria is missing and possibly presumed dead, until he finds out from her board that the news is about to break that the company has failed at its mission and the whole thing (and Victoria) is a fraud. Knowing his wife, Guy quickly realizes she disappeared intentionally to ride out the media storm, but he's hurt and stunned that she didn't include him in her plan. Devastated and betrayed and realizing his life of luxury is about to end, Guy accepts an invitation (that was actually for Victoria) to a private island. It's an event, called The Summit, hosted by a billionaire for the world's wealthiest people (not the top 1% but the top 0.001%) to solve the world's problems! Guy has no interest in the weekend's grand aims; his goal is to try to forget what is happening (and about to happen) to him and go out with a bang.

The satire here is thick, right from the opening scene at that charity gala in New York, where the attendees are all bored with the extravagance that surrounds them  (some of those same people are invited to the island). If you saw Murder at the End of the World on Hulu, this gathering is a lot like that one, only even more decadent. I generally prefer my satire in smaller doses, like short stories or essays, but this novel grew on me. It has a lot of humor, especially in the second half. While the focus is on Guy, the betrayed spouse, Victoria gets her own chapters where her driven, productivity-obsessed approach to rebranding herself is also skewered. This novel is not for the faint of heart, and I know that at least one of my Booktopia buddies really hated it. There is a lot of hard drinking, drugs, and sex in the novel--that's pretty much Guy's goal, to just obliterate reality and block out what's happening to him. So, if that sort of thing offends you, this is probably not the book for you. But it is a very smart, clever satire, and I enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to meeting the author next week!

288 pages, Soho Press

HighBridge audio (a division of Recorded Books)

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

 

Travel the World in Books (unnamed private tropical island!)
 

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 Libro.fm and support local bookstores (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!


    
  

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

3 Great Middle-Grade Audio Books - Mini Reviews

In March, I participated in Middle-Grade March and the Fierce Reads event for International Women's Month. I listened to three excellent middle-grade novels on audio, all by women authors and featuring fierce female characters (and with great female narrators). The first was historical fiction, and the other two were modern-day realistic fiction. My brief reviews are below, and you can also check out my review of The Parachute Kids by Betty C. Tang, a middle-grade graphic novel I also read in March.

My first middle-grade audio was Iceberg by Jennifer Nielsen. I'm a longtime fan of Nielsen's middle-grade historical fiction (like Lines of Courage and A Night Divided), and as you might guess from the title, this one is about the Titanic. Twelve-year-old Hazel is on a mission to save her family after her father's death. Her mother has sent her to the docks to board the Titanic for New York, where Hazel's aunt has promised her a job in a garment factory, so she can send money home to keep her siblings from starving. But when Hazel tries to buy a ticket, she finds that all of her family's savings isn't enough for the fare for even a third-class ticket. She finds a way on board as a stowaway. Luckily, she makes some friends on board, including Charlie, a boy working as a porter, and Sylvia, a girl her age in First Class. With a dream of becoming a journalist one day, Hazel begins to hear rumors about the ship that make the reporter in her interested--and wary--so she sets out to investigate and learn more. We all know how the Titanic's story ends, so there is plenty of suspense here, as well as fascinating historical details. It was an excellent novel with a wonderful main character (and yes, don't worry--she survives).

 352 pages, Scholastic Press

Scholastic Audio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

Monthly Motif Challenge - "Thrill Me" - this was a historical thriller

Travel the World in Books - UK (and Atlantic Ocean!)

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

 

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


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!

_______________

Next, I listened to Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy, my first novel from this very popular YA author (this is her first middle-grade novel). Twelve-year-old Sweet Pea feels torn apart by her parents' divorce, despite their efforts to keep everything "normal." She splits her time between her mom's house and her dad's, which are identical homes two doors down from each other! They've divorced because her father has come out as gay. She's also still grieving the loss of her first-ever best friend, Kiera, who's found prettier, thinner, more popular girls to hang out with. Luckily, Sweet Pea has Oscar, her new best (only) friend and her cat, Cheese. Her strange elderly neighbor asks Sweet Pea to help out while she travels to stay with her ill sister, and Sweet Pea makes some pretty big mistakes but also learns and grows. I enjoyed this warm, funny novel, focusing on several common adolescent issue--like divorce, life changes, and secrets--between Sweet Pea, Kiera, and Oscar and what it means to be a friend.

288 pages, Balzer + Bray

HarperAudio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

 

Alphabet Soup Challenge - D

Diversity Challenge

Literary Escapes Challenge - Texas

 

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

 

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

 

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!

_______________

My last middle-grade audio book in March was Home Away from Home by Cynthia Lord, an author I have enjoyed in the past. Mia and her mom always visit her grandma in Maine every summer, but this year, Mia's there alone. Her mom and her boyfriend are working to sell their old house and find a new one, for "a fresh start." Mia wishes everything would stay the same, but she loves visiting her grandma in the small, seaside town. Things are different there this year, though, too. Mia meets grandma's neighbor, Cayman, who's her age and seems to have made himself at home at grandma's house! The two kids spot an unusual white bird of prey when they go to check on the baby eaglets the town is known for, and Mia launches an investigation. This was a wonderful middle-grade novel that deals with lots of typical adolescent issues, including divorce and friendship, as well as the perils of social media, with a hefty dose of nature added in (which I loved).

224 pages, Scholastic Press

Scholastic Audio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

 

Literary Escapes - Maine

 

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

 

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

 

You can buythe 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, April 15, 2024

It's Monday 4/15! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by The Book Date

Life

We just got home last night from a wonderful week-long camping vacation in Virginia! It was relaxing, fun, and a much-needed break. Our first stop with our pop-up camper was Holliday Lake State Park, which was almost empty mid-week, so we had the place to ourselves! We enjoyed a hike along the lake and some beautiful streams and got our kayaks out on the lake.

Beautiful streams on our hike

Campsite at Holliday Lake

So many redbuds in bloom in the park!

Kayaking on Holliday Lake

Dozens of turtles, covering every log!

A cormorant floats by
 

And, of course, we saw the eclipse! It wasn't total in Virginia, and clouds began rolling in at about the exact moment it started, but it was still really cool. In fact, the cloud cover allowed us to take some photos.

 

See the little sliver of sun?

While there, we also visited Appomattox Court House, the famous site where Lee surrendered to Grant to end the Civil War. Just by chance, we were there on April 9, the 159th anniversary of that event! The National Historical Park includes the whole reconstructed town (which we learned is called Appomattox Court House) and the McLean house, a private home where the surrender actually took place. The details were pretty amazing: Lincoln was determined to rebuild the union and insisted on respect for the surrendering soldiers, allowing them to return home. He didn't even allow the Union soldiers to celebrate in front of the Confederates. He insisted they be welcomed back into the nation. At no other time in history did a war end so civilly and respectfully. Unfortunately, of course, he was assassinated just a few days later. Makes you wonder what Reconstruction would have been like if he'd lived ... and what a leader like that could do in our world today.

Part of the Appomattox Court House NHP

In front of the McLean House

"The room where it happened"!

Next, we drove to Fairy Stone State Park for another 3 days. While there, we got about 24 hours of rain, with huge thunderstorms Thursday evening that knocked out the power and water to the campground! We escaped the rain during the day with a trip into Martinsville to visit the Virginia Natural History Museum.

My husband in front of a giant sloth!

Me and the Allosaurus

By Friday, the storms had blown away, leaving behind colder temperatures and very high winds. We had a wonderful hike Friday morning on the Whiskey Run Trail, with stunning views. Unfortunately, it was far too windy to get our kayaks out on the lake.

Hiking in Fairy Stone State Park

Stunning views from the Whiskey Run Trail

We ended our trip with a weekend stay with my college suite-mate and her husband (another college friend) at their brand-now, gorgeous lake house. We enjoyed a boat ride on Smith Mountain Lake, some good meals, lots of catching up on the last seven years, reminiscing, and laughter!

Nothing like old friends!

Beautiful lake views from the house

__________

On the Blog

A couple of posts before I left:

TV Tuesday: Tracker - we're both loving this new CBS show starring Justin Hartley (of This Is Us) as a loner who finds missing people. It's suspenseful but also a road trip show so right up our alley!

 Nonfiction Review: Why We Read by Shannon Reed - I enjoyed this highly entertaining exploration of books and reading from an avid reader and English teacher/literature professor, with a great sense of humor! I can't wait to meet her at Booktopia.

__________

On Video

Friday Reads 4-5-24 - my brief weekly update of what I am reading, including 3 books for Booktopia

March Reading Wrap-Up - It was a great reading month, with lots of books read for Middle-Grade March, Fierce Reads Readathon, and Booktopia, including nonfiction, fiction, audios, graphic memoir, YA, and middle-grade.

__________

 What We're Reading

I finished Sipsworth by Simon Van Booy, who is the best-selling author of about a dozen books (though he's new to me) for Booktopia (tickets available; my recap/vlog from Booktopia 2023). This was a very quiet, tender story about a woman named Helen. She is 83 and living in a retirement cottage (in the UK) in the small village where she grew up. She's lived all over the world but decided to come home after losing her son and her husband. Helen is very lonely and lives each day in a quiet routine, until she has a surprise encounter with a mouse that leads to all kinds of adventures and new connections. It reminded me somewhat of A Man Called Ove, and I really enjoyed it.

 

Now, I am reading another book for Booktopia, The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane, the author of Ask Again, Yes, which I just read in February as a Buddy Read (and loved!). Malcolm is the owner of the Half Moon, a longtime bar in his hometown of Gillam (same setting as Ask Again, Yes). He's married to Jess, a lawyer who recently left Malcolm, saying she needed some time apart. The novel flashes back to the past, to show how Malcolm and Jess first met and the horrible infertility struggles they faced, as well as Malcolm's history with the bar and how he came to buy it. Besides Jess leaving, Malcolm is also having financial problems. As the novel opens, a series of huge snowstorms hits the town, cutting off power and shutting things down for a week. As with her previous novel, this one is all about relationships, with lots of emotional depth, though there are some plot twists, too. I'm almost finished with it now and have really been enjoying it.

 

On audio, I finished another novel for Booktopia, You Are Here by Karin Lin Greenberg. This was kind of a slice of life novel, about a cross-section of very different people in a town who meet because they all work in or frequent the local mall, which is rumored to be closing soon. Tina is a hair stylist who works in the mall's salon. She's the single mother to Jackson, a nine-year-old boy. Ro is an elderly woman who comes to the salon to get her hair done each week. Kevin works at the bookstore in the mall and lives next-door to Ro, in a tiny house (with his wife and twin kids!) in his in-law's backyard. And Maria is a teen girl who dreams of becoming an actress and works, wearing a chicken suit, in the food court. Each of these people has their own chapters, is dealing with their own issues, and interacting with the others. I really enjoyed this novel. It's got a good sense of humor, though it tackles some tough topics, and I loved the way it wrapped up.

 

During our road trip, my husband and I listened to Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron, book 10 in his mystery/thriller series about Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch. My husband read the first book in the series a few years back. There are two mysteries in this one, one dealing with a half-wolf that Mike has encountered in the past who's been shot with a cross-bow. The other mystery surrounds an old friend of Mike's who's serving time in prison when violence breaks out. Throughout the novel, Mike is supposed to be on vacation but gets pulled into these two cases for personal reasons. This was a good one for a long car ride, and we both enjoyed it. We had one minute left as we arrived back home last night, so the timing was perfect!

 

My husband, Ken, finished Red Knife by William Kent Krueger (a favorite author for both of us), book 8 in his Cork O'Connor series. Ken finally activated his library card and got this one from the library - clearly, he's enjoying retirement! Now, Ken is reading Righteous by Joe Ide, book 2 in his IQ series. I put this one in his Easter basket!


Our son, 29, finished a book I gave him for his birthday last year, Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, one of his all-time favorite fantasy authors (and he has many favorites). This is book 1 in World of the First Law, a spin-off of his hugely popular First Law trilogy. Now, he is reading Raven Caller by David Daglish, book 2 in his The Keepers series. We gave him that one for Easter!

 __________

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, April 03, 2024

Nonfiction Review: Why We Read

Every spring, my mom and I attend Booktopia, a weekend book event held at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, where readers and about eight authors talk books, hang out together, share meals, play a rollicking game of book trivia, and more. This year, this unique event is being held the last weekend in April (tickets still available; my recap/vlog from Booktopia 2023). My first book read for Booktopia 2024 was Why We Read: On Bookworms, Libraries, and Just One More Page Before Lights Out by Shannon Reed, a very entertaining nonfiction/memoir perfect for any book lover.

Each chapter aims to answer the title question, with some expected chapter titles like To Learn About (and From) the Past and Because We Had To and To Feel Less Alone. But she also has some surprising chapters like To Break the Rules and Because I Wanted Free Pizza. Interspersed with these essay-like Why chapters are some fun lists like How I Choose a Book: A Thirteen-Step Guide and Signs You May Be a Character in a Popular Children's Book. Throughout the book, Shannon shares details of her own reading life, from her grandmother teaching her to read at age two (!) to her childhood and adolescence as an avid reader to some of her adult experiences reading. Shannon is also a teacher, so she shares fascinating stories of teaching English and Literature to high school students and her current role as a Creative Writing and Literature professor at a university. In every chapter, there is enough book name-dropping to make your To-Be-Read list burst, though many of the books she talks about are comfortingly familiar to any avid reader. Best of all, from my point of view, is Shannon's wonderful sense of humor that runs through every page.

This was definitely a book that I could relate to! Shannon's stories and memories often had me nodding along or laughing out loud. Her different perspectives, as both a reader and a teacher of literature, were always intriguing. Reading this book made me feel like Shannon was a friend--certainly, at least someone with whom I share a common passion. I can't wait to meet her at Booktopia! I very much enjoyed this hilarious, informative, and comforting journey through books and reading. And yes, don't worry--there is a lengthy list of books mentioned at the end.

329 pages, Hanover Square Press

Harlequin Audio

This book fits in the following 2024 Reading Challenges:

 

Nonfiction Reader Challenge - category: Published in 2024

Literary Escapes Challenge - Pennsylvania
 

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 and/or download it from Audible.

 

Or get this audiobook from Libro.fm and support local bookstores (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!