Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Elk Neck State Park & Lighthouse, Maryland

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

Last weekend, my husband and I fit in one more camping trip while the weather was nice...or so we thought! It turned out to be gray all weekend and rainy at times, though still pretty warm. THIS weekend, of course, when we are at home, it is 77 and sunny! Oh, well - we did enjoy a nice camping weekend, including a hike and a campfire. Here are some highlights from our weekend at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland - one of our favorite camping spots less than an hour away. It's been over a decade since I could manage the hike to the lighthouse, but I did it last weekend!

Hike to Turkey Point Lighthouse

Looking out at the Chesapeake Bay on a gray day

Selfie at Turkey Point with the Chesapeake Bay behind us
Turkey Point Lighthouse

View from the top of the lighthouse

Inside the lighthouse - lots of stairs to get up to the top!

A monarch butterfly alight on a honeysuckle flower

Walking the trail back.

Our campsite at Elk Neck State Park, MD

Hope you are enjoying this gorgeous weekend!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Fiction Review: Machine Learning

If you read my blog this summer, you know that my husband and I are HUGE fans of Hugh Howey's Silo series: Wool, Shift, and Dust. That trilogy is a completely unique post-apocalyptic, dystopian story with suspense, an intriguing setting, and in-depth characters you come to care about. I finished it this summer for my Big Book Summer Challenge, and both my husband and I loved it. We first read book 1, Wool, because multiple friends of ours from all over the country kept telling us, "You HAVE to read this book!" They were right.

So, I was beyond thrilled to see a new collection of short stories by Hugh Howey among my choices to review for Shelf Awareness and even more thrilled when I was assigned it. I was right to get so excited. Machine Learning is an eclectic mix of compelling and thoughtful stories, from 3 to 40 pages long, in a wide array of genres.

I enjoyed every single story in the collection, but some were truly mind-blowing. Howey has a way of taking common tropes and turning them on their heads, looking at familiar storylines from a completely new perspective. He covers topics as diverse as artificial intelligence, alien invasions, Old West stories, and myths and folklore. He even includes 3 Silo stories for those who didn't get enough of the characters in the 3 long books (like me!) - but I recommend you read the Silo trilogy before the Silo short stories because there are some spoilers there, and they just make more sense if you are familiar with the world.

You can read my full review of Machine Learning at Shelf Awareness, which includes examples of some of the stories in the collection.

Have you read any Hugh Howey novels or short stories yet? Are you a mega fan like we are?

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.

Machine Learning New & Collected Stories
by Brett LantzTrade Paperback

Or order Machine Learning from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: Masterminds: Payback

I'm not often inspired to finish series, but in the case of the middle-grade sci fi thriller series Masterminds by Gordon Kormon, I couldn't wait for the third and final book! I thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced action and unique plot in the first book, Masterminds, and the second book, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny. Book 3, Masterminds: Payback, wrapped up the series nicely with more action and adventure.

If you read my reviews regularly, you know that I hate spoilers, so I am going to carefully describe book 3 without giving away the secrets in books 1 or 2 - half the fun is all the surprises!

This series focuses on a unique, isolated town in New Mexico named Serenity. True to its name, Serenity has no crime and no poverty and has been voted #1 in the U.S. for standard of living. Honesty and integrity are among the core values of its 185 citizens. A small group of 12- and 13-year olds have grown up together in Serenity, including model citizen and high-achiever Amber; her best friend, artistic Tori; computer whiz Eli whose dad is the town's mayor; and Malik, a rebel (which is an oddity in Serenity).

In book 1, these kids discover some startling secrets about Serenity and themselves and manage to escape from the town. In book 2, they are out in the real world and on their own for the first time, with the security force from Serenity hot on their heels. Here, in book 3, those four kids are still on their own and still trying to evade the frightening people who want to haul them back to Serenity. At the start of the book, they get split up, with Amber and Malik ending up in Chicago with an infamous crime boss, while Tori and Eli head to California, to track down a possible lead to more information about their own origins.

Eventually, the four main characters are reunited and still intent on their plans to unravel all the secrets of Serenity and their own lives and now, to rescue the other kids left behind in town and make those responsible pay for what they have done. As in the previous two books, there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns in the plot and nonstop action, as the kids race across the U.S. (and beyond). I listened to all three novels on audio and enjoyed the multiple-voice productions. With plenty of suspense, the series finally comes to a satisfying conclusion. Masterminds is perfect for both boys and girls in middle grades who enjoy a fast-paced thriller.

320 pages. Balzer + Bray

If you want to avoid spoilers, don't read the blurbs for books 2 and 3!

You can listen to an audio sample of book 1, Masterminds, here:

I received this audiobook 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.

by Steve Kenson and Darren Bulmer and Christopher McGlothlinTrade Paperback
Masterminds 02 Criminal Destiny
by GRR5514, Steve Kenson, Scott BennieTrade Paperback

Masterminds 03 Payback
by GRR5514, Steve Kenson, Scott BennieHardcover

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Teen/YA Review: Hollow City

I am still loving that spooky season R.I.P. Challenge! Last month, I finally read book 2 in the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. I really enjoyed book 1 (review at the link), and book 2 continued the fast-paced fantasy adventure, in this unique series that builds its story around the weirdest vintage photos you've ever seen!

I am going to tiptoe around the plot to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t yet read the first book. Jacob Portman was living an ordinary life in Florida, when his grandpa, who'd always told wild stories about fighting monsters, died under mysterious circumstances. So, in book 1, Jacob followed his beloved grandfather's stories and journeyed to a small island off the coast of Wales, where he found the home for peculiar children hidden in a unique time warp and found out that all of his grandpa's stories were actually true. Peculiar people have strange talents - like invisibility or creating a flame in their hands - that would put them in danger among "normal" society. Oh, and it turns out that Jacob is peculiar, too, with the unique ability to see the monsters that are relentlessly chasing the peculiar children…just like his grandpa could.

Fast-forward to the start of book 2, Hollow City, where Jacob and a small group of his new peculiar friends have had to leave their protected home on the island and are looking for a way to help their beloved headmistress, Miss Peregrine. Their journey eventually takes them to London in 1940, where the city is being bombed nightly and children are being sent out to the country. Jacob feels a responsibility to keep his fellow peculiars safe while they search for answers and assistance.

Along the way, they discover other "time loops" hiding other groups of peculiars, as well as some peculiar children living among normal people, doing their best to hide their special abilities. All of this fantasy adventure, though, is set against the grim background of the London blitzkrieg, so that the children are fighting against both supernatural and all-too-real dangers.

The most unique and fascinating aspect of this series is the photographs that accompany it. Both books 1 and 2 (and book 3 which I haven’t read yet) are filled with real-life vintage photos that will make you believe that peculiars are absolutely real. These are some of the weirdest - dare I say most peculiar? - pictures that you've ever seen. Most are quite old, from well before Photoshop, but you will find yourself examining each one closely, wondering, "How did someone do that?"

Just a few of the bizarre vintage photos in Hollow City

The author found these vintage photos - and thousands more - in flea markets at auctions, and among collectors, and he wrote the story to fit the photos (you will see how a single one of these strange photos could easily become the fodder for an entire story), which makes the combination of bizarre vintage photos and Riggs' imaginative story so compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed following the suspenseful adventures and close calls of the peculiar children in this second part of their story. I was riveted by the story and its twists and turns and can't wait to read the final piece in this very original series.

396 pages, Quirk Books

NOTE: I had the pleasure of meeting one of the founders of Quirk books, author Jason Rekulak, earlier this year at Booktopia. It's a very unique publisher, with a lot of fun books! And I highly recommend Jason's own novel, The Impossible Fortress.

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a friend. My review is my own opinion.

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.

Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom RiggsTrade Paperback

 Or you can purchase Hollow City (or book 1) from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Graphic Novel Review: The Hunting Accident

I usually review one book per month for Shelf Awareness, but last month, I had a chance to read and review two because my editor offered a group of graphic novels as extras. I generally enjoy graphic novels, so I chose a few and was assigned The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry by David L. Carlson and Landis Blair (illustrator).

I was intrigued by the description but wasn't sure I would like it. I needn't have worried. This powerful real-life story told in a unique way completely blew me away. It's the story of Matt Rizzo, a one-time criminal in Chicago who went to prison when he was young, after being blinded during the crime that put him there. Depressed and with nothing to live for, Matt came close to ending his life but was saved by an unlikely source: a renowned murderer also in prison with him. Matt later become a poet and writer, and his story is told from the perspective of his young son, who knows nothing of his past. It's a fascinating story, but the combination of illustrations, literary references (especially Dante's Inferno), poetry, and excerpts from real-life documents elevates it to outstanding.

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness.

But, take my word for it...even if you're not sure the subject matter is for you, give this book a try! You won't be sorry.

Monday, October 16, 2017

It's Monday 10/16! What Are You Reading?

Whew...late on the blog today. I spent the morning running around - therapeutic massage (not the relaxing kind but the "find the spots that hurt the most and dig in" kind!), my annual mammogram, then a bunch of errands. Finally back home & loving the quiet for a few moments...but my son spent the night and will be up soon, and my husband is coming home soon to meet the hot water heater salesman with me.

We tried another relaxing camping weekend...and it was mostly relaxing. But we got skunked with bad weather again. We haven't seen the sun here in the mid-Atlantic in quite a few days now! We did enjoy a nice hike, a campfire, and lots of reading, though. I'll share some photos on Saturday Snapshot. However, we came home from packing up in the rain, with loads of wet, dirty towels and both of us really needing a shower to find that our hot water heater died while we were away! No hot water, a puddle in the basement, and the fuel oil tank empty (it seems it kept trying to heat the water as the cold water poured in and right out the bottom!). So, I showered at a friend's house last night, my husband showered at work this morning, and we have to boil water to do dishes! Hoping that getting a new one won't take too long (or be too expensive).

Anyway, we did enjoy plenty of reading this weekend! Here's what we have all been reading:
  • Still thoroughly enjoying the seasonal R.I.P. Challenge, I have been reading Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, a best-seller from last year that I gave my husband (I think for Christmas). It's a literary thriller about a private plane crash with only two survivors - a man and a little boy. There is plenty of suspense as to why and how the plane crashed (and whether it was some sort of error or intentional), but the novel also digs deeply into each of the characters who were on the plane. It's been really great - completely riveting - and I just have a few pages left.
  • I listened to another thriller on audio last week, If I Run by Terri Blackstock, one of the free audios I downloaded from SYNC this summer. This was another gripping thriller, that starts out with a young woman leaving the crime scene of her best friend's murder and going on the run. We don't know why she is running; those details come to light gradually as she tries to evade the police and the PTSD-suffering vet that the victim's parents have hired to find her. The entire story isn't resolved at the end - it turned out to be part 1 of a trilogy - but I enjoyed it.
  • This morning, during my journeys around town, I started a new audiobook, Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas - yes, another suspense novel! Are you seeing a theme here? I've only just started it, but it's about a woman who is still haunted by her best friend's disappearance 18 years later and returns to their hometown to see if she can finally find out what happened.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Deadly Cure by Lawrence Goldstone, a historical thriller set in NYC in 1899. He says it was very good and that I will like it, too!
  • Ken is now reading The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, which won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel. I gave it to him for his birthday recently, as recommended by a reading friend of mine. It's about a young man who the unusual talent of being able to open any lock. He's says it's good so far.
  • Jamie, 23, returned to The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, an epic fantasy that was recommended by our friends at Northshire Bookstore in Vermont. We gave book 1, The Blade Itself, to Jamie for his birthday in August, and he raced through it in just a few days! He was thrilled to find books 2 & 3 at his favorite used bookstore, and he is almost finished with book 2, Before They Are Hanged and then onto book 3! Score one for mom and dad (and Northshire) for a good birthday gift!
Here's what I posted in the blog last week:
Movie Monday: Everything, Everything, based on the YA novel

TV Tuesday: Ten Days in the Valley - new limited thriller starring Kyra Sedgewick

Middle-Grade Review: Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott - suspenseful survival story in Alaska

Fiction Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware - dark & creepy suspense

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.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

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

Camping this weekend

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fiction Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

I am really enjoying the R.I.P. Challenge this fall, as I do every year! It gives me a chance to finally get to some of the suspense, mystery, and thriller novels I used to read exclusively that now seem to pile up. For Father’s Day this summer, I gave my husband In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, a novel recommended by (and purchased at) Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, where I attended Booktopia in May. He enjoyed this creepy thriller, and so did I!

The novel starts with a bang, with the main character, Nora, waking up injured in a hospital room after a frantic run through a dark and snowy woods that she barely remembers. She knows that something horrible has happened, but what?

The action then moves back to a couple of weeks earlier. Nora wakes up in her small apartment and heads out for a 9-mile run through the park on a beautiful November day. When she returns, she finds a new e-mail from a stranger, inviting her to a hen party for an old friend, Clare, whom she hasn’t seen or talked to in ten years. (Note that a “hen party” is a British tradition, sort of like what we might call a bachelorette party in the U.S., though it seems to be a more deeply ingrained and varied tradition there). Mystified as to why she was invited, Nora e-mails another old friend, Nina, (whom she has kept in touch with) whose name was also on the invitation. The two decide to attend together, though Nora still has some serious doubts.

Exactly what happened between Nora and Claire ten years ago remains a mystery for much of the book, but it is clear that it was very upsetting to Nora, causing her to break off all contact. Nora and Nina arrive at the hen party (which is actually an entire hen weekend), being held in an unusual house, secluded in the woods, that is mostly made of glass. Their very exuberant host, Flo, explains that she is Claire’s best friend and the house belongs to her aunt. Other attendees include Melanie, a new mom who is away from her baby for the first time, and Tom, a fashionable gay man who loves a good party.

Claire finally arrives, making Nora feel even more nervous and claustrophobic than she already is. Nora deals with the stress all weekend by going running through the surrounding woods. The narrative moves back and forth from the hen weekend to Nora in the hospital, in pain, remembering blood, and watching the police officer on duty outside her room, so you know from the start that something goes terribly wrong that weekend. One of the first things Nora remembers is that it all had something to do with the shotgun hanging on the wall over the fireplace in the glass house.

This novel is all about suspense. You know from the start that something goes wrong, so much of the suspense comes from wondering what happened, but Ware also creates a creepy, dark tone with the setting. That glass house feels to Nora like they are all on stage, surrounded by the dark woods, not able to see out but on display. She sees signs that perhaps they are not alone. As you read and get to know each character, you wonder if one of them could be the one who goes crazy and pulls out the shotgun? Or was it someone else? It’s a delightfully creepy journey filled with taut tension that kept me turning the pages late into the night. Apparently, Reese Witherspoon agrees because she is making the novel into a movie! I can’t wait.

308 pages, Scout Press

Disclosure: I purchased this book myself. My review is my own opinion.

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.

In a Dark Dark Wood
by Ruth WareTrade Paperback

 Or purchase from Northshire Bookstore in VT:


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: Hear the Wolves

Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott. While the days here were still in the 90’s and humid, this dark survival story transported me to cold, dark Alaska during an epic blizzard.
One of the first books I read for the R.I.P Challenge (I was so excited when September arrived!) was the middle-grade novel

Twelve-year old Sloan lives in tiny Rusic, Alaska, with her father and her older sister, Maren. Her mother left two years ago, and Sloan survived a harrowing incident out in the wilderness by herself. Those experiences caused Sloan to be afraid of being left alone. Her father or Maren walks her to school each day, and she imagines an invisible lasso connecting them to her. Sloan’s father wants his youngest daughter to regain her confidence and independence, so he leaves her alone for two days while he and Maren travel to a nearby town for a community vote, along with most of the rest of Rusic’s residents.

Sloan isn’t very good at math or writing, but she is an excellent hunter, thanks to her dad’s teaching, and she has a talent for art, too. Her sister entered her work in a contest, and Sloan won a scholarship to attend a big art competition in Anchorage, but Sloan is afraid to travel that far. She desperately wants to overcome her fear.

Things have been changing in Rusic lately because of the wolves. It used to be that the wolves minded their own business, and the humans minded theirs, with plenty of rabbits and other small game for them to share. Since much of the habitat for rabbits was destroyed, though, food has become scarce for the wolves. As they’ve gotten hungrier and hungrier, they’ve also become bolder and more desperate, encroaching on the human side of Rusic.

When Sloan’s father left her alone for two days, he didn’t know that a huge blizzard was on its way. When Sloan wakes up that first morning and sees how heavily the snow is falling, she makes her way to the church in town, where oil reserves are stored, to get an extra barrel of oil to keep their generator running through the storm. There, she runs into a few other stragglers left behind, including an older woman who is badly injured. The group decides they need to walk to the next town to get her to medical care. The rest of the novel covers their harrowing journey, not only battling the elements but also trying to keep the starving wolves at bay.

This is a tense and suspenseful survival story, with a ragtag group of people thrown together by circumstances fighting for their lives, as the storm rages on and the wolves draw closer. The book is packed with action and adventure, but it is also about the internal struggles of Sloan and her companions, each battling his or her own problems and trying to work together. Although it’s written for middle-grade readers and stars a twelve-year old protagonist, parts of the story are violent and gory, so younger or more sensitive readers may want to consider whether this book is for them. The violence is not gratuitous, though; it is a realistic part of the danger this group faces in its journey. Those willing to go along for the ride will find a riveting and compelling story of survival, friendship, and bravery.

220 pages, Scholastic Press

NOTE: This novel includes a lot of fascinating information about the lives of wolves. In a note at the end of the book, the author describes her visit to a wolf sanctuary as research for the book, and what she learned about wolves.

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.

Hear the Wolves
by Victoria L. ScottHardcover

 Or you can order Hear the Wolves from Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

TV Tuesday: Ten Days in the Valley

One of the new fall TV shows I was most excited about is Ten Days in the Valley, a "limited series" with 10 episodes on ABC about a young girl who is abducted from her home and her overworked, stressed-out mother. We have watched the first two episodes so far, and it is dark and suspenseful with plenty of twists.

Kyra Sedgewick (known for her starring role on The Closer and many other movie roles) stars as Jane Sadler, a TV producer. At the start of the first episode, we see that she has a difficult relationship with her ex-husband, Pete, played by Kick Gurry, who begs for more time with their daughter. Jane seems to have a very close relationship with her adorable daughter, Lake, played by Abigail Pniowski, and the two of them cuddle together as Lake falls asleep. Jane, though, soon breaks her promise to stay in bed when she gets an urgent call that the next episode of her new cop show needs a complete rewrite by morning. In what looks like a familiar routine for Jane, she gets out of bed and tiptoes out to the shed behind the house that serves as her office. She brings a baby monitor and keeps the back door cracked open.

Things go from bad to worse that night, though, and after an intense night of writing, Jane heads back to the house to find that all of the doors - including the one she left open - are closed and locked. She breaks a window, frantic now, and gets into the house, only to find that Lake is gone without a trace. She immediately suspects that Pete came back during the night to take Lake because she'd said no to his request to keep her for a few more days. The police get involved, with the investigation led by Detective John Bird, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (aka Mr. Echo from Lost, a favorite of ours). At first, the police follow Jane's instincts, but soon other clues emerge that muddy the waters and point to a more complicated case. To make matters worse, it is clear to the police that Jane is lying or withholding information (she's doing both).

Only two episodes have aired so far, but we are loving this show. It's fast-paced suspense with layers of complexity that are just beginning to get peeled away, bit by bit. Sedgewick is her usual amazing self, here playing a woman who was clearly on the edge of falling apart even before her daughter went missing; her performance is intense and compelling. The other actors are excellent as well, including Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Jane's boss, Emily Kinney (we liked her most recently in the short-lived Conviction) as Jane's assistant, and Erika Christensen of Parenthood fame as Jane's sister. It's a taut thriller that keeps you guessing, with surprises in every episode. We can't wait to see more!

Ten Days in the Valley is currently airing on ABC and is available On Demand, on the ABC website, or for $1.99 an episode (or $16.99 for the season) on Amazon. There will be 10 episodes (each represents a different day).

Monday, October 09, 2017

Movie Monday: Everything, Everything

Since I review YA books, I'd heard about the novel Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, so I was glad when the movie came out. Reading the summary of the story, I was wondering whether it might be a 2017 version of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (anyone else remember that 1976 TV movie starring John Travolta?) Well, it kind of is...but with more depth and some plot twists I wasn't expecting. I enjoyed this teen romantic drama.

Eighteen-year old Maddy, played by Amandia Stenberg, has a rare immune disease such that her body can't protect her against germs; even a common cold could be deadly. So, Maddy has lived her entire live in her specially designed house, with only her mother and her nurse, Carla, for company. If you have to be stuck in a house your whole life, it's a pretty cool place, with natural elements, modern furniture, and a huge glass wall with a view of the outside world. Maddy is used to this secluded life, so she keeps busy taking architectural classes online, making models (her favorite is a diner where she imagines one day sitting in a booth), studying, playing games with her mom and Carla, and enjoying time online.

One day, a new family moves in next door, and Maddy has an excellent view from her window of the moving truck, the family, and especially, the gorgeous long-haired teen boy named Olly, played by Nick Robinson. He sees her, too, and is fascinated and attracted to the beautiful girl behind the glass. They begin communicating via handwritten notes held up to windows and progress to texts, IM, e-mails, and eventually talking on the phone. As expected, they fall in love. Olly yearns to show Maddy the world, and Maddy is suddenly no longer content to never leave home, but they both want to protect Maddy's health. I expected a rather predictable story at that point ala The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, but what happens next surprised me.

I watched this movie on my own, while my husband was traveling. He's not a huge fan of teen romances (though he did enjoy Before I Fall with me). It's a mostly light drama, with a bit of suspense toward the end and a hefty dose of romance. Visually, it's wonderful to watch. I found myself wanting to visit Maddy's home (minus the not being able to leave part), and the movie does some fun things with their through-the-glass romance, for instance Maddy imagining herself and Olly in person in the diner she designed while they're texting or talking on the phone. The teen actors did a good job and were fun to watch, and both Anika Noni Rose and Ana de la Reguera were good as Maddy's mom and nurse, respectively.

Everything, Everything is currently out on DVD and available for streaming on Amazon, starting at $3.99. Or you can read the book!

Disclosure: I received this DVD free in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the film's PR team.

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.


It's Monday 10/9! What Are You Reading?

Last week was another busy one, with my husband's birthday & dinner out, an unexpected evening out with friends for dinner and a new musical based on Something Wicked This Way Comes (which was amazing!), and a family dinner here for my husband's birthday on Friday. Then, I was completely wiped out! But that's OK - it was a nice, quiet weekend, so I had time to rest and recover and even got a bunch of things done online that I'd been putting off (the upside of being stuck on the couch). I was also discharged from PT last week after two months, so that was a relief. My arm & shoulder aren't back to 100% yet (maybe about 75%), but I'm on my way and will continue to work on it at home. Getting rid of those 2-3 PT visits a week will free up some time for me!

As always, we are all enjoying our books. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished In a Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry, an author I met at Booktopia in May. I bought this literary suspense novel for my husband, and he liked it. It's the story of a reporter in Lake Placid, NY, who is present when a body is found encased in the frozen lake, and it turns out to be a man she knows. It's a slow, dark burn with plenty of tension and suspense, as she works on a series of articles about the dead man while how he died remains a mystery (until the very end). A perfect fit for me for the R.I.P. Challenge - creepy & suspenseful but not scary or gory.
  • Next, I was very excited to read the latest novel by best-selling author Andy Weir (who wrote The Martian): Artemis. It is due out on November 17, and I am reviewing it for Shelf Awareness and just finished it last night. Artemis is the name of the first city on the moon, and the story follows a young woman, Jazz, who is a small-time smuggler but gets involved in some serious criminal activity that is way over her head. It's basically a caper story that takes place on the moon, with Weir's signature blend of science, suspense, and plenty of humor. I really enjoyed it.
  • I finished listening to a middle-grade sci fi thriller, Horizon, by renowned author Scott Westerfeld. This is book 1 of a new series that starts with a group of kids on their way to a robot competition in Japan when their plane crashes. Nothing about the crash or their surroundings afterward seems quite right. It combines sci fi elements with mystery and survival adventure. Believe it or not, I think this might be the first Westerfeld novel I have read! I enjoyed it and have downloaded book 2 (a good sign as I don't always continue with series after book 1).
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Deadly Cure by Lawrence Goldstone, a historical thriller set in NYC in 1899. He says it is very good so far and that I will like it, too!
  • Jamie, 23, finally finished a whopping epic fantasy, Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight, book 1 of The Duelists trilogy, and enjoyed it. He says it's similar to the Three Musketeers, with elements of steampunk and fantasy/magic mixed in. 
  • Now, Jamie has returned to The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, an epic fantasy that was recommended by our friends at Northshire Bookstore in Vermont. We gave book 1, The Blade Itself, to Jamie for his birthday in August, and he raced through it in just a few days! He was thrilled to find books 2 & 3 at his favorite used bookstore, so now he is reading book 2, Before They Are Hanged. Score one for mom and dad (and Northshire) for a good birthday gift!
Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: The Killing, a dark Netflix show about homicide detectives on a case in Seattle

Fiction Review: Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson - warm, funny story of an unusual little boy and his caretaker

Fiction Review: Exposed by Lisa Scottoline - exciting legal thriller

2017 Big Book Summer Giveaway Winner! - Congratulations, Cheriee!

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.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

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

Sunday, October 08, 2017

2017 Big Book Summer Challenge Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations, Cheriee! You won the Big Book Summer Giveaway! Everyone who participated in the 2017 Big Book Summer Challenge (either through the challenge page here on the blog or through the Goodreads group) was eligible, and I used a random number generator to pick a winner.

Cheriee blogs at Library Matters, and she included her Big Book Summer sum-up in this blog post - she finished 4 Big Books this summer! Plus, Cheriee was an active member of the Big Book Summer Goodreads group. Way to go, Cheriee! (You can follow Cheriee on Twitter).

For your prize, Cheriee, you can pick any of these Big Books (or if none of these are to your liking, let me know and I can offer other alternatives):

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fantasy)
  • The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling (adult mystery)
  • The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Dodkin (YA mystery/fantasy)
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (adult fiction)
  • Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger (YA sci fi thriller)
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (adult fiction) 
(links are to my reviews, where available)

Congratulations to Cheriee and the other 19 people who participated in the 2017 Big Book Summer Challenge! I hope to see you all back here next summer - I already have more Big Books I want to read!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Fiction Review: Exposed

Recently, I reviewed Exposed by Lisa Scottoline for Shelf Awareness. This is the 5th book in her Rosato & DiNunzio series of legal thrillers. I think I had only read one other Scottoline novel before - Everywhere That Mary Went, her very first novel. I did post about her here in the blog before, though, when she wrote a hilarious column for the Phildelphia Inquirer, about her experiences on book tours.

I enjoyed reading Exposed, a suspenseful legal thriller. I found the first half of the novel a bit slow (perhaps because I was unfamiliar with the characters), but it picked up by the middle and was very fast-paced from then on, with lots of unexpected twists and turns and plenty of surprises. You could definitely jump right into this 5th book in the series without reading the first four - that's what I did, and I enjoyed it.

You can read my full review here on Shelf Awareness.

Have you read any Lisa Scottoline books? Are you a fan?

This novel fit in perfectly with my fall R.I.P. Reading Challenge!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Fiction Review: Be Frank With Me

I was thrilled when my neighborhood book group chose Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson for our September selection because I’d heard good things about this novel. It lived up to my expectations – almost everyone in my book group loved this funny, quirky, heartwarming story of a very unusual little boy.

Alice is a young twenty-something assistant working in the publishing industry. Her boss, editor Isaac Vargas, gives her a strange but important assignment: to fly to California and help one of their star authors finish a long-awaited book. M. M. Banning (known as Mimi to her friends) is a mysterious and reclusive author who wrote one best-seller when she was young that became a classic and never wrote another novel (think Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird). She’s gone through some financial difficulties and now needs to publish a second novel, decades later.

Alice is sent to help her with household tasks so she can write, help her with the computer (she still writes on a typewriter), and keep an eye on the progress of the book for Mr. Vargas. When she arrives, however, she finds that her primary role is that of caretaker for Mimi’s unusual nine-year old boy, Frank. In fact, Mimi doesn’t let her see anything she’s working on.

To give you an idea of Frank’s oddness, here is Alice’s first glimpse of him:
“M.M. Banning and I were seated on the living room couch, watching her son playing outside in the hot, bright son. The kid, dressed in a tattered tailcoat and morning pants, accessorized by bare feet and a grubby face, looked like some fictional refugee from the pages of Oliver Twist, one who’d walked all the way to Los Angeles from Dicken’s London and had slept in ditches at night along the way.”

That passage also gives you a glimpse of the author’s wonderful sense of humor. Those turned out to be Frank’s play clothes. He always dresses in miniature outfits that look like they came from classic Hollywood films but was usually far more dapper and cleaned up for outings beyond the house and yard. Here’s a passage from the opening prologue, describing Frank as he and Alice rode a city bus together:
“But his looks weren’t what had our fellow travelers transfixed, certainly not in a place like Hollywood where gorgeous kids are so common that you even see them on city buses. No, what got people staring was Frank’s look. Before we left the house that morning, he’d shellacked his hair like a mini Rudolph Valentino, put on a wing-collared shirt, white tie and vest, a cutaway coat, morning pants, and spats. Also a top hat, which he balanced on his knees while we rode to the hospital because, as he’d explained to our bus driver when the man admired it, “A gentleman never wears his hat indoors.” “

So, yes, Frank is adorable but also very hard to get close to. He’s a very quirky kid (after a while, you realize he probably has autism), as is his reclusive mother. Frank has two hard and fast rules: No touching Frank, and no touching Frank’s things. Alice, of course, learns the importance of these rules by trial and error.

Alice and Frank spend their days together, in a constantly amusing way, and slowly – very slowly – get to know each other better and come to care about each other. Mimi is mostly shut up in her room, typing (at least Alice hopes she’s really typing). There is a big mystery as to who Frank’s father is, since Mimi has never said. Add into the equation one other person whom the isolated Bannings allow into their lives – the mysterious Xander, a handsome man who describes himself as Frank’s “piano teacher and itinerant male role model.”

This is a very, very funny novel. It’s become trite to say something is “laugh-out-loud funny,” but it is really true in this case – I was bursting out with unexpected laughter the whole time I was reading this book. It’s not just funny, though; this is also a very warm, tender story about the growing relationship between Alice and Frank. Elements of mystery and suspense are also woven in along the way. Will Mimi finish her book? Who is Frank’s father? Where does Xander go when he disappears and what is his story anyway? Quirky, prickly, sweet Frank, though, is at the heart of this witty, clever, uplifting story, and I was sorry to say goodbye to him at the end.

287 pages, William Morrow

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library. My review is my own opinion.

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Be Frank With Me A Novel
by Julia Claiborne JohnsonTrade Paperback