Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fiction Review: The Secret History


I have been procrastinating writing my review of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. True, I am behind in everything anyway and just finished my 2015 Summary of Books last week, but there’s more to my reluctance than that. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It’s a dark novel with a pervasive sense of dread, while I normally prefer more uplifting books, and there wasn’t a single likable character. Still, though, I found it oddly compelling and stuck with it through almost three weeks until I finished it.

There’s no big twist at the end of this novel – you know right from the first page of the prologue that the main characters murdered one of their group – Bunny – and left him for dead in a ravine, where a big snowstorm covered their crime for ten days. That’s right on page 1. The rest of the book goes back and tells the story from the beginning, from the perspective of Richard, a young man brought up in a decidedly lower-middle class family in a small town in California, where his father owned the local gas station. Richard hated his life and his family (and the feeling seemed mutual), and was eager to escape to a better life. He got a scholarship to a small private college in Vermont called Hampden, and it was there that he met the others.

Richard soon fell in with a small group of wealthy, snobbish students, keeping his own modest beginnings a secret. He found his way into their very exclusive (just six students) Classics program, taught by an eccentric but charismatic professor. The other students were Henry, a large, quiet young man whose father worked his way up and ran an empire; effeminate Francis, whose very young mother was more like an older sister to him; jovial Bunny, whose father was a banker; and the twins, Charles and Camilla, who’d been orphaned at a young age and brought up by family. While the rest of the students at Hampden were living a normal college life – running to a wide variety of classes, hanging out in the dorms, going to keg parties on Friday nights, Richard’s group studied Greek (and spoke and wrote it), lived in apartments filled with antiques, and led a very reclusive and unusual life.

It took me more than a hundred pages to figure out when the novel was set, in large part because Richard and his cohorts dressed and acted like students from a much earlier age. They wore suits and ties, drove old cars, watched old movies, and even talked like people from a much earlier time. At first I thought the novel was set on a college campus in the 1950’s! This kind of drove me crazy for a while until the clues added up (keg parties and pot on campus but no computers or cell phones, lots of payphones, certain movies, etc.), and I realized it was set in the 1980’s. I was in college in the 1980’s – it was nothing like what this strange group experienced! But I digress…

It’s a very odd group of students and a very odd story. Despite the closeness of their group of six, there are plenty of secrets and lies, including Richard’s entire life story. About three-quarters of the novel tracks the events leading up to the murder, then the rest is the fevered, frantic days afterward, their guilt and anxiety, the funeral, and finally, at the very end, where they all are now. Don’t expect any happy endings here!

The tone of the novel is dark and brooding (as are the personalities of some of its characters), as you might expect for a story centered on the murder of one student by his closest friends. The focus on ancient Greece and the group’s odd retro habits set on a 1980’s college campus make it an unusual story – I saw one reviewer note that it follows the structure of a Greek tragedy. Although there is a murder at its center, this is no fast-paced thriller but a slow, gradual, complex literary novel, where the focus is on the characters (though there is plenty of violence, too). As I said, I generally prefer more uplifting fiction – and at least one character I can root for – but there’s no denying the depth and captivating pull of this unique story.

559 pages, Vintage Contemporaries (division of Random House)

P.S. While Tartt’s more recent novel, The Goldfinch, shows much of the same writing skill and literary quality as The Secret History, I enjoyed The Goldfinch much more. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Read About Love in February!

freeimages.com
[NOTE: This article is reprinted from the February issue of Vital! magazine. You can also see it online here at the Vital! website, though I have included links to the book reviews in this blog post.]


Celebrate Valentine’s Day this month by reading about love. Love in books doesn’t necessarily mean romance. There are many kinds of love written about in novels. Here are some of my favorites:

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion– a different kind of love story, about a man with Asperger’s searching for a wife in a methodical way – fun and laugh-out-loud funny, like a romantic comedy in a book.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls – a novel by the renowned author of the memoir The Glass Castle that focuses on the love between young sisters in 1975 who rely on each other when their mother leaves them.

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan – the story of an Irish immigrant to New York who must choose between her love and her dreams.

Time and Again by Jack Finney – a love story within a time travel plot, wrapped in historical fiction, as the main character travels back in time from 1970 to 1882.

The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry by Gabriele Zevin – a wonderful bookish love story full of life that will have you laughing and crying.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult – a unique and suspenseful story of a girl searching for her missing mother that highlights the unbreakable bond of love between a mother and her child.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – three different kinds of love stories, interwoven and all set in the hills of Virginia, with a heavy focus on the love of nature as well.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – this combination of the reality of life in Alaska in 1920 and the fantasy of a child who comes to life in the snow showcases both the love between a husband and wife and between parents and a child.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – a quirky, hilarious, and uplifting story about damaged people finding love in the unlikeliest places.

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad by Judith Redline Coopey – a compelling novel about forbidden love set against a fascinating historical backdrop.

Suzan Jackson is a freelance writer who lives in Delaware with her husband and two sons. She writes a blog about books, featuring reviews, book news, and more at www.bookbybook.blogspot.com. You can find reviews of most of the books listed here on the blog.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

TV Tuesday: Colony

Months ago, when the first previews for the TV show Colony were shown, my family was eagerly awaiting this new USA show. Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) plus post-apocayptic alien invasion? We're sold! We've watched the first three episodes of this intriguing show so far and can't wait to see more...

Holloway plays Will Bowman, who is married to Katie, played by Sarah Wayne Callies. They have two kids at home and in the first episode, are visibly upset over a missing third child, Charlie. The Bowmans live in a post-apocalyptic LA, which is eerily similar to current-LA...only different. There are no cars on the streets, only walkers and bicycles. Things seem quiet and peaceful on the outside, but just under the surface, it is clear that people are scared and nervous. And the peace is occasionally shattered when robotic drones fly overhead, shooting at people who committed some unseen crime.

LA has been invaded by an outside force, presumably alien, that has taken control of everything. There is a wall around LA, and the Bowmans worry about their older son, who was caught outside that wall when the invasion happened and is now working in a "factory" and unable to contact them. In the first episode, desperate to find their son, Will stows away in a truck headed outside the wall, but his plans are foiled when a Resistance force blows up the gateway to the other side.

In the aftermath of the explosion, Will is offered a job in the controlling government - and this is not an offer he is at liberty to refuse. To keep his family safe, he takes the job, even though he and Katie sympathize with the Resistance. They both realize that Will must take this job, both in hopes of finding their lost son and to keep their remaining children safe. Bit by bit, as the episodes continue, viewers learn more about both the Resistance and the new order that is in charge, as Will and Katie end up in some precarious positions, trying to balance their real feelings with Will's job, and their need to keep their family safe.

Even just 3 episodes in, we are all hooked on this exciting new show. It's classic sci fi, with lots of action and suspense but also plenty of human drama, too. The acting is excellent - Josh Holloway is just as charismatic here as Will as he was as Sawyer on Lost! Peter Jacobson (who starred as Taub on House) is also featured as the man who hires Will (and who has decided that siding with the invaders is the best way to benefit himself). The show is well-written so far and fast-paced. We can't wait to see what happens next! And...breaking news...Colony was just renewed for a second season, so it sounds like we're not the only ones enjoying it!

Colony is available On Demand on cable and online at the USA Network website. Episodes are also available starting at $1.99 on Amazon Prime (see link below).



Monday, February 08, 2016

Movie Monday: Books Coming to the Big Screen in 2016

Rejoice, book lovers! The trend of transforming books into movies continues to ramp up in 2016, with everything from classics to YA novels to recent best-sellers being adapted for the Big Screen.

Here is BuzzFeed's List of 19 Books to Read Before the Movie Comes Out in 2016. Goodreads has its own list, with over 100 books being made into movies (but notice the caveat at the top of the page - the list was made by Goodreads' users, so not all of those listed will actually be released in 2016).

Of the list of 19 movies listed at Buzzfeed, I have read three of the books:
All of these will make good movies. I know my husband and I will enjoy seeing the first two together. But the one I am most looking forward to is Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk because it was such an incredible, moving, funny book. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and I can't wait to see how they adapt it for film - it will have to be really good to meet the standards of the book.

The 5th Wave is one we have here at home, but none of the three of us have read it yet! It just came out in the theaters, so we better get busy.

From the Goodreads list, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (my favorite book read on 2012) and Looking for Alaska by John Green are favorite books of mine, and both will make great movies...but the latest updates show they won't be released until 2017. Similarly, my husband and I both LOVED Wool by Hugh Howey and can't wait to see that on film, but it is still only in the very earliest stages of development. Same with Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, an outstanding middle-grade series. American Pastoral by Philip Roth, however, is due out in 2016 and should be good (probably more to my liking than my husband's, though!).

11/22/63 by Stephen King is another favorite of ours, but it has been made into a TV mini-series that will be airing soon on Hulu (we must find a friend with a Hulu subscription!) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is also slated for the small screen but is still in early stages of development. I'd love to see that one, too - it's such an epic novel that it will make a wonderful TV series.

Wow, so many great movies and TV series to look forward to for us book lovers!

Which movie adaptations are you most looking forward to in 2016?

It's Monday 2/8! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what a busy - but fun - weekend! We had our annual Mardi Gras party Saturday - just a small gathering of friends, mostly people we met when we lived in New Orleans (yes, we are now almost all in Delaware - a quirk of working for DuPont). Lots of food, music, and good company...but even a small gathering is tiring for me! Then, of course, we had Superbowl on Sunday. That was a very small party - just me, my husband, and my 90-year old father-in-law. Both of our sons had their own parties to go to. So, I was up until 11:30 pm two nights in a row! Seriously, that is really crazy for me.

In all the excitement (plus our recent acquisition of Netflix which has us watching Orange is the New Black every spare moment), we still made time for relaxing with our books, as always:
  • I quickly finished This Side of Wild by Gary Paulsen, a book of essays for middle-grade readers. We used to LOVE to listen to Paulsen's novels (especially the Hatchet series) on audio with our sons when they were younger. This collection of essays is all about encounters with wild animals (and some domestic). It was nominated for the National Book Award last year, so I'm glad I finally got  to it - it was fascinating, fun, and laugh-out-loud funny! A perfect palate cleanser between longer books.
  • Now, I am reading The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, the sequel to The Rosie Project, which I read and loved during New Year's week. I liked the first book so much that I requested this one from the library, even though I have enough books here at the house to keep me busy for years! It's great so far - warm and very, very funny.
  • I am listening to The Cage by Megan Shepherd, a teen/YA novel which has been called "The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld," about humans being held in zoo-like places by an alien race. It's really engrossing so far and pulled me into the story from the very first chapter. The audio is well-done with different actors.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a Christmas gift from me, The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), the first of her Cormoran Strike series. He's enjoying it so far, and he and I are having fun trying to translate the Britishisms (a fun game I like to play with my British Facebook friends!)
 Lots of blog posts last week - I finally finished all of my year-end wrap-ups (except I still need to sign up for 2016 reading challenges so let me know if you have any ideas)...but now I am falling behind on reviews. Maybe someday I will catch up on everything! Here's what I posted last week:
Favorite Movies Watched in 2015, by genre, with the full list in the tab Movie Reviews

TV Tuesday: Orange is the New Black, our latest TV addiction!

Favorite Books Read in 2015 - what a great reading year! See the full list of what I read in the Books Read in 2015 tab

Saturday Snapshot - Big Birds - a hawk and vultures that visited after the storm

Weekend Cooking: Happy Mardi Gras! - still plenty of time to cook or eat some delicious foods to celebrate tomorrow!

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers
 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Weekend Cooking 2/7: Happy Mardi Gras!

Lots of great food to help celebrate Mardi Gras!
Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

HAPPY MARDI GRAS!

This weekend marks the end of the Mardi Gras season, which begins on January 6 and culminates in Mardi Gras Day (aka Fat Tuesday), on February 9 this year. We used to live in New Orleans, so our annual Mardi Gras party has become a tradition among our friends here in Delaware, many of them whom also lived in New Orleans when we did (we all met working at a DuPont plant in Louisiana, and DuPont's headquarters is here in Delaware, so many of us ended up back together!). I cooked all last week, our house is all decorated, we had our party last night, and on Tuesday we will go to another friend's house for another gathering of old Louisiana friends and our traditional Popeyes chicken dinner (yes, Popeyes is absolutely authentic!).

If you'd like to celebrate Mardi Gras this week, it's not too late. Here are some great foods you can cook yourself, as well as items you can order or purchase:

Just a few of Zapp's fabulous flavors!
First, we always order a carton of Zapp's Potato Chips from Louisiana a couple of weeks before the party. Zapp's are the most amazing chips you've ever tasted, with unique flavors you can't get anywhere else, like Cajun Crawtator, Cajun Dill (my personal favorite), VooDoo (my son's fave), and many more. They are made in a little Louisiana town called Gramercy, just north of New Orleans, and you can order them any time of year by clicking that link above or calling 1-800-HOT-CHIP. They now have some regional distributors, including Utz, near us in PA, so they arrive even faster than they used to. You won't regret it!
Red Beans & Rice
For dinner, you might want to try one of these classic New Orleans' dishes. These are my own recipes, all easy and healthy (they were published in Family Fun magazine February 2012). Red Beans and Rice is a favorite at our house that we eat all year-round. It is tradition in Louisiana to eat it on Mondays, so if you get the ingredients today, you can have a pot on your stove for tomorrow night. My version is super-simple, quick, and so tasty, your family will be begging you to make it again next week!
Everyone looks forward to Jambalaya at our party each year, and it is a favorite among my family, too. This one takes a little more work, but it is well worth it. The recipe makes a big pot of jambalaya, so invite some friends over to share it! We usually make it with chicken and low-fat Andouille sausage, but you can use any combination of chicken, sausage, and/or shrimp.
Jambalaya
Another classic New Orleans dish is Shrimp Etouffee. We don't usually make this one for Mardi Gras (it's harder to make a big batch for a large group), but we have it for dinner throughout the year. If you live somewhere where you can get fresh crawfish or even frozen crawfish tails, then you can substitute those for the shrimp. Either way, this is a delicious, simple dinner perfect for the cold weather! 
And, if you don't feel like cooking, go to your nearest Popeyes and pick up some delicious, authentic (though not very healthy!) treats. Popeyes really was started as a local business in New Orleans by a local businessman there, and the food is actually pretty good for fast food and quite authentic - we usually get the spicy chicken, red beans & rice, dirty rice, and of course, their delicious biscuits.
Bread Pudding in front and a King Cake
Last, but not least, you must have King Cake to properly celebrate Mardi Gras! Family Fun included a recipe (not mine) in my article for baking King Cake from scratch, but we usually get ours from a bakery. In Louisiana, King Cakes are everywhere for the entire Mardi Gras season - at the plant where we worked, there was a King Cake every single day from January 6 until the Friday before Mardi Gras (no one worked on Monday or Tuesday of Mardi Gras week!), and whoever found the little baby baked inside had to bring the cake the next day. You can order directly from bakeries in New Orleans - two of the top ones known for their king cakes are McKenzie's and Gambino's - but we were happy to discover that most towns and cities have a local bakery or two that make King Cakes this time of year. Just check your local listings for bakeries and make some phone calls. We found two here in our area that make King Cakes, plus a grocery chain (Giant) that also bakes them this time of year.
Finally, to put you in the Mardi Gras mood and give you an idea of what you're missing in New Orleans, NOLA.com sponsors a number of live web cams. This is the paradecam, which gives you a great view of St. Charles Street (where the classic street cars usually run), along one of the major parade routes. They used to have it on round-the-clock. This year, it seems they are only turning it on during certain times of day to catch certain parades, but the page I linked to includes a timetable. There will be parades every day right through Tuesday. In a sidebar on the right side of that same page are links to other live webcams in the New Orleans area. And this page on the nola.com site is a starting point for lots more content related to Mardi Gras, including fantastic photos and videos of parades and more.

There's still plenty of time to celebrate Mardi Gras! Make or buy some Louisiana food and join in the celebration. Laissez les bon temps roullez!


My sons and I, about 8 years ago, celebrating Mardi Gras

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Saturday Snapshot 2/6: Big Birds


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

I have an odd collection of photos this week. After that big snow storm hit us a couple of weeks ago, we spotted a bunch of HUGE birds hanging around our house. The first photo is of a big hawk who hung around our backyard for a few days.

The next few are of a group of turkey vultures. I went out to my mailbox one day and saw 8 huge turkey vultures in my neighbor's front yard! I was  wondering if I should check on my neighbors (ha ha) when she came outside and explained that she'd thrown some leftover ham into the yard earlier - that explained it! At one point, there were 5 of the vultures all up on her rooftop (last photo). Pretty cool!
Hawk hanging out n our tree

Turkey vultures in the yard

Turkey vultures on rooftop, drying out their wings

Can you spot all 5 vultures on this rooftop?

Hope you are enjoying a great weekend - it's both Mardi Gras AND Superbowl this weekend, so celebrate!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Favorite Books Read in 2015

How did it get to be February already? I am even later than usual with my annual reading wrap-up, but I couldn't possibly skip it because 2015 was a truly AWESOME reading year! I read so many amazing books that just blew me away.

I tried something new and made a complete list of all the books I read in 2015, with my favorites starred - these were favorites chosen without any limits (like top ten, for instance), though even that was a hard judgement call because I read so many great books last year! They are organized by type, alphabetically by title, with an indication of what genre(s) or topics each encompasses.

Here are some stats, just for fun. In 2015, I read:
  • 78 books (one more than in 2014!)
  • Of those:
    • 34 were fiction
    • 7 were nonfiction
    • 7 were graphic novels/memoirs for adults 
    • 16 were teen/YA
    • 18 were middle-grade
    • 25 were audiobooks
    • 53 (65%) were written by women authors
(there's some overlap in those categories)

You can see how I did on my 2015 Reading Challenges here.

Now, for some my top picks:

Best Book of the Year
(also the first book I read in 2015!)

 

Top 10 Novels for Adults Read in 2015

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (2nd time & still a fave!)
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Wool by Hugh Howey

Top 3 Graphic Novels/Memoirs (and also Top 3 Nonfiction)
Fun Home by Allison Bechtel
Relish by Lucy Knisley  
Persepolis  by Marjane Satrapi

Top 7 Teen/YA Novels Read in 2015
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl  
Challenger Deep by Neal Schusterman 
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
UnDivided by Neal Schusterman

Top 6 Middle-Grade Books Read in 2015
Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan
Finding the Worm by Mark Goldblatt
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper 
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai  
Nest by Esther Ehrlich
Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Like I said, what an amazing reading year! Check out my full list - there were many more favorites I didn't mention here. What were your favorite books read in 2015?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

TV Tuesday: Orange is the New Black

Even though it is likely we are the last people on earth to have seen it, I still feel compelled to tell you about Orange is the New Black because it is such a great show! We got Netflix about a week ago (just before the huge snowstorm coincidentally). My husband and I were watching the first episode when my son and his girlfriend came in the room. They watched the rest with us, we went up to bed, and the next morning, they told us they ended up watching the first 5 episodes in a row! It's just that addictive. We are now about 8 episodes into the first season.

So, just in case we aren't the last ones on the planet to see this show, it is set in a women's prison. Piper, a very white, wealthy, WASP-y young woman, is heading to prison because ten years ago, she got involved in carrying drug money for her lesbian girlfriend who was involved with an international drug cartel. Key members of the cartel were arrested, and Piper's name got thrown in the pot by those hoping to turn in others for a reduced sentence. So Piper, who is now engaged to her cute Jewish boyfriend, is going to prison for 15 months because of her youthful mistakes.

As you might imagine, Piper doesn't quite fit in with the prison community. They are roughly divided into the blacks, the Hispanics, the Golden Girls (older inmates), and the Others (real misfits). Many of these women are very tough (or have become so to survive), and most have lives lives entirely different than Piper's. Other inmates include Crazy Eyes, who takes a not-appreciated liking to Piper, Red (played by Kate Mulgrew), who is in charge of the kitchen and a lot more, and "Pennsatucky," a scary Christian-zealot who takes an instant dislike to Piper.

As I said, this show is incredibly addicting! I dare you to watch just one episode. You really care about what happens to Piper...and, as the show goes on, some of the other inmates, too. Piper is trying to figure out how to walk a thin line between being a "good citizen" for the warden and fitting in with her fellow inmates. She wants to stay out of trouble but is also astonished at some of the injustices she sees there. Orange is the New Black made awards-show history by being nominated for - and winning - awards in both drama and comedy categories. That's appropriate, as it melds comedy and drama into each episode. The acting is top-notch, and the plots are compelling. It is also, as you might expect from a prison show, quite graphic at times, with lots of nudity, sex, and some violence.

Orange is the New Black is available only on Netflix, since it is a Netflix original program. It might be worth the Netflix subscription fee all on its own! There are three full seasons available now on Netflix, and Season 4 is premiering on June 17 this year.

Have you seen Orange is the New Black yet? Are you addicted, too? What other TV shows are you enjoying now?

(NOTE: This is an older trailer that mentions the start date for season 3 at the end - I didn't want to give away any spoilers for earlier seasons!):


Monday, February 01, 2016

Movie Monday: Favorite Movies Watched in 2015

I decided to try something different and made a list of all the movie we watched in 2015 - you can see the full list here, including links to all my reviews. I'm so glad I did this and took a look back - we saw so many amazing movies last year! I had forgotten about a lot of them, so it was great to revisit them. Just remember, this is a list of movies we watched in 2015, not necessarily those that came out last year (though we saw more new releases than usual!). We watched 54 movies all together, and my list is organized alphabetically, within genres.

Besides the full list, here are some superlatives to whet your appetite:

Best Movie of the Year
Chef  - hard to choose just one, but I loved this warm, funny, uplifting movie

Favorite Suspense/Thrillers
Before I Go To Sleep
Dark Places 
Hours
Nightcrawler
Taken 

Favorite Dramas (so many good ones to choose from!)
Boyhood
Chef 
Hector and the Search for Happiness
The Imitation Game
The Judge
Still Alice
The Way
Wild      
 
Favorite Comedies
St. Vincent
This is Where I Leave You

Favorite Sci Fi Movies
12 Monkeys
Coherence
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
The Martian
Predestination
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Favorite Documentary
Without a Home

Favorite Family/Animated Movie
Shaun the Sheep           

Best Uplifting Movies
Chef
Hector and the Search for Happiness
Redwood Highway 
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 
The Way
    
What were your favorites movies you watched in 2015?

It's Monday 2/1! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another busy week (I know, when are they not?). With my son home from school Monday & Tuesday due to snow and taking my father-in-law to a doctor's appointment Tuesday, it just felt like a really short week. I have also been super busy with writing work - that's a good thing! I had 3 deadlines all converge (still need to finish the last one today). And it's Mardi Gras season! So, I will also be busy this week preparing for our annual Mardi Gras party on the weekend - a big deal for me with my chronic illness because it's the only time we have more than 2 people over at a time all year. Loads of fun, though, so I am looking forward to it.

Oh, yeah, and there's...reading! I actually spent a fair amount of time reading in the middle of the week, trying to finish my book before book group meeting Wednesday evening (I didn't). Here's what we've all been reading this week:
  • I finished (finally, on Saturday!) a book for my neighborhood book group, The Art Thief by Noah Charney. It's a mystery about an art thief who steals multiple valuable paintings seemingly all at once from three different locations. I know absolutely nothing about art, so I learned a lot. It was a very complex mystery with lots of different interwoven threads. I think I understand what happened...
  • I also finished listening to The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, a teen/YA novel on audio. It is intriguing, about a teen girl who lives in a world where spells can help you overcome life's challenges - make you prettier, more popular, less sad. The main character, Ari, seeks a spell to help her forget her boyfriend, Win, who died, but all spells come with a cost. I thought it was a little weird at first, but it turned out to be engaging and gripping.
  • I am on a mission this year to get through more of my TBR books (check out my summary of 2015 challenges to see how I did last year), so I chose a thin middle-grade book off my bulging TBR shelves: This Side of Wild by Gary Paulsen. We used to LOVE to listen to Paulsen's novels (especially the Hatchet series) on audio with our sons when they were younger. This is a collection of essays by Paulsen, all about wild animals. It was nominated for the National Book Award last year, so I'm glad I'm finally getting to it - it's facinating so far and laugh-out-loud funny!
  • I haven't started a new audio book yet, but as I type this, I am downloading The Cage by Megan Shepherd, a teen/YA novel which is supposed to be "The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld," about humans being held in zoo-like places by an alien race. Sounds a bit Planet of the Apes to me! Should be interesting.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Broken Harbor, the fourth book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series and loved it, as he did her others. I've only read the first one so far, so I have some catching up to do.
  • Ken is now reading another Christmas gift from me, The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), the first of her Cormoran Strike series. He's enjoying it so far though trying to figure out some of the Britishisms.
  • Jamie, 21, finished The Brethren Prince: Piracy, Revenge, and the Culture Clash of the Old Caribbean by Ira Smith. It is historical fiction about real-life pirates in the mid-17th century Caribbean - he started it for our trip to Jamaica over New Year's. I'm not sure what he's reading now!
  • Craig, 18, is reading The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka for his World Lit class. His older brother didn't like it, but Craig is enjoying it so far. That's a classic I haven't read yet - maybe I will finally get to it when he is finished.
 I'm getting a bit behind on reviews, but wrote these blog posts last week:
TV Tuesday: Younger - I love this smart, funny, sexy show that is back for its 2nd season

Fiction Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - my starred review for Publisher's Weekly of a wonderful historical novel

Summary of 2015 Reading Challenges - yes, finally! Now I need to choose 2016 challenges...

Saturday Snapshot - last week's winter storm

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers
 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Snapshot 1/30: Winter Storm


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Here in Delaware, we spent most of last weekend snowed in, like the rest of the Northeast and Mid-atlantic states! It snowed heavily nonstop for about 36 hours, with winds up to 40 mph! Here are some highlights from our house:

View from our front door during the storm - no sign of the 3 steps there!

Piling up on our back deck and still falling!

Husband & son spent hours shoveling on Sat - no sign of it Sunday!

Pretty patterns left by the wind


Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Summary of 2015 Reading Challenges

How can it possibly be January 29 already?? I looked back to last year and saw that I didn't post my 2014 summaries until the end of January and thought I'd definitely do better this year...maybe next year?

Anyway, 2015 was a great reading year for me (I WILL be posting my full year-end summary soon!), and I thoroughly enjoyed the Reading Challenges that I participated in.

I joined 6 Reading Challenges at the beginning of 2015 and added in 2 seasonal ones during the year:

The Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015 hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.
I participate in this one every year, just for the fun of tracking where my books are set. I read books set in 23 different states in 2015. That's a bit lower than previous years, but I made up for it globally, with books set in 17 different countries last year! And many of those were countries I'd never read about before. You can read my full list of books and locations on my 2015 Reading Challenges page.


2015 Mount TBR Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block.

I signed up for the Mount Blanc level - aiming for at least 24 TBR books this year, and (drumroll....) I read exactly 24 books from my own shelves! Woohoo! Still, I'd like to do even better at the TBR challenges because I have an entire bookcase of TBR books, and the pile never seems to get any smaller! But every year, there are lots of book group books, library books, new audiobooks, etc. I will definitely sign up for another TBR challenge for 2016. You can read my full list of TBR books read on my 2015 Reading Challenges page.


 
I signed up for Binge Listener level, 20-30 audiobooks, and listened to...25 audiobooks! Just right. I love listening to audiobooks - it doubles my reading time -  so this one works well for me. You can read my full list of audiobooks completed on my 2015 Reading Challenges page.
 
 
2015 Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.
 
I signed up for the Explorer level, aiming for 6 - 10 nonfiction books. I read these 8:
  1. Smile by Raina Telgemeier 
  2. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  3. Personal History by Katharine Graham 
  4. Relish by Lucy Knisely 
  5. French Milk by Lucy Knisley 
  6. How To Wake Up by Toni Bernhard
  7. If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power
  8. Persepolis by Marji Satrapi 
All but one was a memoir! That's the kind of nonfiction I like best. I tend to read mostly fiction, so I like signing up for a nonfiction challenge to give me some extra motivation to read a broader range of books.



Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 hosted by Books and Chocolate.
 
My goal was 6 classics last year. This challenge had 12 categories to aim to read from, and I only read 4:
1.  A 19th Century Classic Dracula by Bram Stoker
2.  A 20th Century Classic
3.  A Classic by a Woman AuthorRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
4.  A Classic in Translation.
5.  A Very Long Classic Novel
6.  A Classic Novella - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title
8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic.  
9.  A Forgotten Classic
10.  A Nonfiction Classic. 
11.  A Classic Children's BookAnne of Green Gables by H.M. Montgomery
12.  A Classic Play.  
 
I knew this challenge was a bit too restrictive for me when I signed up, but I do enjoy reading classics, so this year I hope to find one that defines classic more loosely and allows for re-reads.
 
Back in September 2014, I added this new challenge which ran through December 2015. My goal was to read 10 books set in other places/cultures. I read 21 all together! So, that was a big success, and I enjoyed reading globally. You can read my full list of books read for this challenge on my 2015 Reading Challenges page.
 


Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by Book By Book (me!)

I planned to read 6 Big Books (400 pages or more) this summer and met my goals:
  1. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  2. Revolution by Deborah Wiles
  3. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
  4. UnDivided by Neal Schusterman
  5. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  6. Anne of Green Gables by H.M. Montgomery
Hope you will join me for the fun next summer!



R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril X, hosted by The Estella Society
 
This one caught my eye in the fall, when I normally like to read spooky, creepy books anyway! I joined at Peril the First level - to read 4 books in September & October 2015 with dark or suspenseful themes. I read 8:
  1. All Fall Down by Ally Carter
  2. Doll Bones by Holly Black
  3. Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper
  4. The Martian by Andy Weir 
  5. Dracula by Bram Stoker  
  6. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
  7. The Cemetery Boys by Heather (Zac) Brewer  
  8. The Three by Sarah Lotz
So, all in all, a very successful year for Reading Challenges! Now, I need to (late, as usual!) sign up for my 2016 Reading Challenges.

Which Reading Challenges are you hosting or signing up for in 2016?