Summer Movie Series — A Family Quest

hello sunshine

In our family, summer is a time to accomplish some serious reading. Yes, its true that we read all year long (a lot) and that reading is at the center of all of our down-time. But in the summer, all that glorious free-time beckons us to read, and read, and read…by the pool, at the beach, on car trips, on rainy days, during half-time at soccer games and boring stretches of baseball games and any other free moment that we can find.

While reading is a major part of our summer, we realized last year that it is a solitary past-time, one that we can only share occasionally. So we instituted a Summer Family Movie Series: a list of summer-themed movies that we can watch together (some just the adults) to be entertained and spend time together. We went on a quest to make a list of all of the movies we could think of that take place during the summer, or that for some inexplicable reason seem “summery,” and decided we would watch as many as possible during the summer…whenever the familiar refrain of “there’s nothing to do” was moaned, we would go to the list and watch one.

Our goal is not to watch them all, but to see as many as possible each year and to save these titles for summer viewing only. We find that their designation as summer movies that we don’t watch otherwise during the year make them seem more special.

I thought I would post a list of our favorite summer movies on the blog, and I would welcome suggestions from readers about their favorites that we might have missed.



  • The Parent Trap — both the original, which I love, and the Lindsay Lohan version, which my kids prefer.
  • Earth to Echo
  • The Sandlot
  • Holes
  • Aliens in the Attic
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Phineas and Ferb the Movie
  • Camp Rock
  • Teen Beach Party
  • Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
  • Cars and Cars 2
  • Finding Nemo and Finding Dory
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008 version)
  • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012 version)
  • Bedtime Stories
  • Field of Dreams (this can be a bit boring for very young kids, but baseball lovers of all ages will enjoy it.)
  • All of the feature-length Scooby Doo Movies. My husband and I loved the show as kids and my kids all love it now. We own many of these movies and they are on a heavy-rotation every summer. (Side note: Scooby Doo Camp Scare takes place in summer.) Some of our other favorites include: Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword, Aloha Scooby Doo, Pirates Ahoy, Blue Falcon, and Big Top. A full list of these movies can be found here


  • Super 8
  • Forrest Gump
  • Jaws — our teen is really into scary movies, this might not be a good fit for all teens. (Don’t be fooled by it’s PG rating, it was released before PG-13 designations were created.)
  • Jurassic Park 1, 2, 3 and Jurassic World
  • Indiana Jones 1-4 (our family favorite remains Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Independence Day and Independence Day Resurgence
  • Fever Pitch
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (our favorite remains #1)
  • A League of Their Own

FOR ADULTS (clearly some are more low-brow then others, but still watchable, some others which I watch alone because my husband refuses)

  • Rear Window
  • Endless Summer
  • National Lampoons Vacation and European Vacation
  • Before Sunrise
  • Die Hard with Vengeance
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Point Break
  • The Great Outdoors
  • Summer Rental
  • Weekend at Bernies
  • 50 First Dates
  • The Bird Cage
  • Stand by Me
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Friday the 13th (and to a lesser degree, Sleep Away Camp)
  • Thelma and Louise
  • The Hangover and Bridemaids — these are not an official pairing, but they are both wild wedding comedies that we seem to watch back to back every summer… definitely not for kiddos!!

My Best Books of 2016!

In honor of New Year’s Eve, I am posting a list of my favorite books of the year. Since I read books published in 2016 as well as many, many books written in previous years, I decided my list will include any book I finished (and loved) this year, irregardless of when it was published. I have also included two books I read last year, but re-read this year so I feel like they are fair game for a “best of” list.

Here they are…

All the Light You Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) A true masterpiece and one of the best books I have ever read, All the Light is a story of war, loss, and survival for two children during World War II. Written with some of the most magical, enchanting language I have ever come across.

Career Of Evil (Robert Galbraith) This is book three in the incomparable murder mystery collection, the Comoran Strike series, told by a master storyteller.  A fiercely intelligent, funny, and honest book with two main characters that are impossible not to love and a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.

Carry On (Rainbow Rowell)and Landline, and Attachments, and Eleanor & Park, and Fan Girl! I discovered and read every single word Rainbow Rowell has ever published this year and I loved every last one of them!  In Carry On, Rowell has crafted a YA fantasy that is magical, funny, modern, and lovely.

The Revenant (Michael Punke) A gripping, fast-paced historical novel about the rugged, dangerous lives of the men who were working to create a home for themselves in the wilderness of the upper Midwest in the mid-1800’s.

Journey to Munich (Jacqueline Winspear) The most recent installment of Winspear’s wonderful series which are set in early 20th century England and focus on “psychological investigator” Maisie Dobbs. All of the books in the series are intellectual mysteries told in stunning historical detail. This one is her best yet:

Monsters of Templeton (Lauren Groff) This novel was unlike any book I read this year: a story about a young woman, her family, and her hometown that is told using stories both past and present about the main character as well her relatives and neighbors.

Euphoria (Lily King) A slim novel documenting the experiences of three brilliant anthropologists living and conducting research among the native peoples of Papua New Guinea in the 1930’s.

Prodigal Summer (Barbara Kingslover) In one of Kingsolver’s most gorgeous books, readers will find a story of about the magic that comes alive in the (human and animal) world during the heady months of summer. An epic piece of writing about our intimate connection to the world around us and the other people who inhabit it along-side us.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce) This book tells the story of an aging British man who breaks with years of routine to set off on a walk across England to visit a dying friend. Along the way he sheds years of grief and pain and becomes a new version of himself.

Blindsighted (Karin Slaughter) Although this singular book is not exceptional on its own, I am including it because discovering Karin Slaughter’s two intertwining series of murder mystery books (the Grant County and Will Trent series) this past year meant that I was given hours upon hours of wonderful (if a bit gruesome) reading material from this talented and prolific author.

As a side-note to those of you who have children or love to read children’s literature, my sons thought I should mention some of the books we read as a family and really loved this year.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (Books 1-4). These four delightful books follow the lives of the spirited, loving, independent Penderwick sisters and tell of their many adventures. A review of book four can be found here:

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) This wonderfully inventive story tells of a group of children who must work together using clues from their favorite books to find a way to escape from the new town library, built by a wacky gamemaker named Mr. Lemoncello.

Illustrated Versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets These editions take our family’s most beloved books and give them new energy and a renewed sense of magic. Jim Kay’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous.

End of Summer Re-Reading

After starting and putting down a small stack of underwhelming books this past week, I have decided to deliberately to only re-read for the rest of the week and over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Taking along a beloved favorite would prevent (the horror!) being stuck at a long soccer practice or at the pool all day with a dud. Once I made this decision, I cheerfully picked up a stack a wonderful, thrilling, books to take along (or, in one case downloaded onto my phone to listen to) on my end-of-summer adventures.

journey to munich coverThe Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

I am a huge fan of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Winspear and this most recent book was one of her absolute best: moving, thrilling, rich in historical facts, and gorgeously highlighting the novel’s beloved heroine’s strength and intelligence. Follow Maisie Dobbs undercover into Hitler’s pre-war Munich for a glimpse into the Third Reich before it started World War II. This time around I am listening to the (amazing! talented!) narrator Orlaugh Cassidy read Journey to Munich and finding it even more engaging than the first reading. I highly recommend both the series and all books narrated by Orlaugh Cassidy.

The Cuckoo’s Calling and Career of Evil by Robert Galbraithcuckoos calling cover

I am well aware that I am constantly talking about this series of three murder mysteries by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for JK Rowling) but for good reason. They are all wonderfully written thrillers that are solved by the fantastic private investigative duo of Comoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. Not to be missed…and best enjoyed in order: The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in the series; followed by Silkworm, and then Career of Evil.,

career of evil cover

Takedown Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovitchtrick 22 cover

As silly and ridiculous as this book is (it is the 22nd book in the Stephanie Plum series), I find that not only it is 100% readable but it lends itself perfectly to re-reading on a hot summer day relaxing poolside. Follow bounty hunter Plum and her hopeless associates as they track down a prankster whose tricks have turned deadly. The novel’s lack of seriousness makes it exceptionally easy to put down while you go for and swim.

the fever coverThe Fever by Meghan Abbot

I read and thoroughly enjoyed this novel when it came out in 2014 and came across it at the library and picked it back up for a re-read. The story centers on a small town that is suddenly thrown into chaos when a group of girls become sick with a bizarre and terrifying illness. A full blog post is in the works…stay tuned.

October Book Series — Young Adult Book Reviews

The author's Self Portrait

The author’s Self Portrait

Guest authoring this post is my 12 (almost 13) year old son. He also took of all of the photos posted as well. He loves scary books as much as I do and he was happy to share some of his newly finished spooky finds – some mystery, thriller and horror novels. My son is a Creative Writing student at a local performing arts middle school, very happy to practice his writing skills. He told me that I definitely should add that these are only about half of the books he read so far this month.

Ten By Gretchen McNeil (2012) This is an unnervingly realistic story following a teenage girl, Meg, who goes to a party on a small island. A violent storm hits and the teens settle in to watch a movie. When they find a DVD labeled, “Do Not Watch,” they watch it, to see a creepy video with a person in a mask threatening to kill THEM! They think it’s a prank, and then people start dying. Who is the killer, and who will survive…?

Undead By Kristy McKay (2012) Zombie movie meets humor novel. In this comedic take on a zombie thriller a teenage girl, a rebel, a nerd, and a glamour queen all trapped in snowy British town full of zombies. The teens struggle to survive the zombies…and there irritation with each other. Full of great jokes and scenes, this will have you laughing from page 3 on. The plot keeps you guessing and it is nice to read about murderous zombies without being scared to death. Like one of the characters jokes, “wait, wait, we don’t need to run from these guys. They can only shuffle. We can get away by walking briskly.”

Better hope this was not a zombie escape.

Better hope this was not a zombie escape.

The Vanishing Season by Jody Lynn Anderson (2014) When a girl from Chicago moves to sleepy town in northern Illinois she expects every thing to be boring. Then a wave of mysterious murders of teenage girls riles up the town. The county is sealed off from the rest of the state in an attempt to keep the town’s girls safe (and the murderer in!) Alternating chapters are introduced by the ghost of one of the girls. Keep’s you guessing until the very end…maybe even longer.

Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks (2013) Toni is being bullied by Chloe, the meanest, most popular girl in school. Toni reaches out to Chloe’s boyfriend asking for help, but the boyfriend refuses. A creepy Goth girl befriends Toni and convinces her to do a spell on the boyfriend but it rebounds back on the girls because the boyfriend was not the real bully. So of course, the girls do more spells, than more, things spiral out of control, and a killing spell is conjured.

The Haunting Hour by R.L. Stine This is a collection of ten short stories which are more entertaining than scary, with the topics that range from dragons to zombies. The book jacket promises I “will be haunted for life,” but personally they were barely at all scary, maybe because I am reading much scarier books this month. The creepiest story is about a babysitter that forces the kids to make voodoo doll cookies that the kids don’t take seriously enough and they end up hurting their neighbors.

Monster, Scavenger Hunt, and Die Softly all by Christopher Pike

Monster (1992) This is an old story* where a girl named Angela’s best friend bursts into a party and kills two people claiming they were secretly alien monsters. Angela knows that it is crazy for her friend to do this and she begins to investigate. What she discovers is horrifying. (Not for children under 12!!)

Scavenger Hunt (1989) When Carl joins his best friend’s team for a special end-of-the-school-year scavenger hunt, he feels happy to be included with the cool kids. But, then the clues for the hunt lead them astray and things start getting weird. Carl wonders if they are following the clues to the right place. And what will they find at the end of the hunt?

Die Softly (1991) A geeky boy from the school AV club tries to gain popularity by taking pictures of some cheerleaders in the locker room. What he ends up taking pictures of is a possible murder of one of the girls. He sets out to find out what really happened in the photos, and risks ending up dead.

What lies behind this door... Torture chamber? Mad scientist library? Dentist's office?

What lies behind this door… Torture chamber? Mad scientist laboratory? Dentist’s office?

A note from the author’s mother:

*By “old story” my son means the books are set in the 1990’s.

It was thrilling to pick a book and have my almost-teenage son not only love it, but ask me to help him find more by the author. (It is a rare occurrence when he will admit anything I like is cool.)

I was very excited to find these three books at the Thrift Shop since Christopher Pike’s books from the early 90’s are largely out of print. Christopher Pike was an absolute favorite writer of mine when I was in middle school. My best friend Danielle and I read all of his horror novels (our favorites were Slumber Party and Gimme a Kiss) and would talk about them for hours. To this day, she and I still bond by sharing books we loved with each other.

Sunset at cemetery.

Sunset at cemetery.

October Books Series — Halloween Books for Young Readers

As I have mentioned on earlier blog posts, I am not the only reader in my house who loves seasonal books. All three of my sons read stacks of spooky books every October, particularly my two younger sons, who look forward every year to pulling out their old favorite fall and Halloween stories to read and re-read throughout the month. I asked for their help drafting this blog post, and within minutes, they had brought me a teetering pile of books to recommend to other kids.

blog pic halloween at library

My son at our local library, where the librarians are also in the spirit of the season.

I cannot begin this blog, however, without acknowledging perhaps the best children’s mystery books ever written, the Harry Potter series. These books — while not necessarily Halloween-themed titles, and often only thought of as fantasy not mystery — are among the best children’s literature ever written. Readers are not only treated to glimpses of a truly amazing parallel world, but they are challenged to follow closely the slowly unfolding mystery of Harry Potter’s life. These books are an extended family affair, beloved not only by me, my husband, and our sons, but also my siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews.  Reading all seven Harry Potter books is a rite of passage in our family…that is what we call “being initiated into the Slug Club.” I could write an entire blog about the Harry Potter books. For the purposes of this blog post, I just wanted to make sure they make every parent’s list for young and young-adult readers.


Owl Babies (Martin Waddell)

Eek-A-Boo (Joan Holub)

Where is Baby’s Pumpkin? (Karen Katz)

Clifford’s First Halloween and Clifford’s Halloween (Norman Bridwell)

Llama Llama Trick or Treat (Anna Dewdney)

Boo! (Leslie Patricelli)

Berenstain Bears’ Spooky Old Tree (J and S Berenstain)

blog pic trick or treat (2)Trick-or-Treat it’s Halloween (Linda Lowery) This ABC picture book and poem about the best parts of Halloween is a favorite of everyone in the family. Even our twelve year-old can be found reading it to his youngest brother, complete with spooky voices and theatrics. All of the illustrations are done with construction paper cut outs made by the author and her husband. A gem!


Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (Julia Rawlinson) This is a wonderful, seasonal tale about the changes in the forest from summer to fall. My four year old says this title is about, “a fox that tries to save his favorite tree from Autumn” but then the “tree turns beautiful and icicled.”      pic flecthc (2)

Big Pumpkin (Erica Silverman) A funny rhyming poem about monsters trying to pick a pumpkin in time to make pumpkin pie on Halloween night. “My favorite line is when they say ‘it’s big and it’s mine and it’s stuck on the vine’,” says my son.

Room on the Broom (Julia Donaldson) Some animals help a witch save her wand, hat, and broom, and in return, she creates a broom that can fly all of them about on Halloween night.

Henry and Mudge: Under the Yellow Moon (Cynthia Rylant) This series has been a mainstay on our bookshelves for years. In this chapter book comprised of four short chapters, each one about fall, Henry is finally brave enough to face Halloween now that he has his dog Mudge.

Scary, Scary Halloween (Eve Bunting) Absolutely gorgeous drawings by another of our favorite children’s author and illustrator, Jan Brett, depicting a whole host of ghosts and monsters out trick or treating.

In the Haunted House (Eve Bunting) A little girl is braver than her father about walking through a haunted house. My littler ones love to look for the “clues” in the pictures that the haunted house is pretend.

A Halloween Scare at My House (Eric James) A new book we just found at the library this week, this book is a funny rhyming poem about a boy who braves a monster take-over of his town only to find they are scared of him. My husband likes this one for “it’s perfectly consistent iambic meter.” [I should note here that my husband is a poetry scholar, hence the nerdy comment.]


All of the books in the preschool readers’ category are still beloved by early elementary school kids. If you’re looking for some titles that are a bit longer or can be read by independent readers, my sons recommend the following.

Who Stole Halloween? (Martha Freeman) Part of the ChickaDee Court Holiday Series, this title finds our main characters Alex and Yasmeen trying to find out where all of the neighborhood cats are disappearing to on Halloween. Is it really a local ghost rumored to haunt the town?

blog pic geronimoGeronimo Stilton Series, all Halloween titles. (Including: It’s Halloween ‘Fraidy Mouse, This Hotel is Haunted, The Peculiar Pumpkin Thief) Our narrator and hero, the mouse Geronimo, sets out to solve a series of Halloween themed mysteries around his hometown, New Mouse City.

Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise (Kate Dicamillo) Our nine year-old son offers this summary of the book: “Mercy gets all dressed up for Halloween but ends up chasing a cat all around the neighborhood. Everyone else in town thinks Mercy has started a Halloween parade and follows her.” BTW, Mercy is a pig.

Magic Tree House Series: A Good Night for Ghosts and Haunted Castle on All Hallows Eve (Mary Pope Osborne) A time-traveling brother and sister team go back to two different haunted, medieval castles. All of the books in Pope’s Magic Tree House series are not-to-be-missed reading for emergent readers. Both of our older sons’ first independently-read chapter books were in this series. All of the books have helpful illustrations and are researched to be historically accurate.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving), Treasury of Illustrated Classics, junior-novel version. This series of junior-novels keeps the original content and tone, but slightly updates the books to make them more accessible to younger readers. This American classic never fails to thrill our sons when we re-read it each year. Plus, the book pairs nicely with the classic Disney cartoon movie, movie information can be found here

(Other junior novel titles from this Treasury we love are: Swiss Family Robinson, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Mysterious Island, and Poe’s Short Stories. More info here

The Halloween Candy Mystery (Marion Markham) A jewel thief is plaguing a town on Halloween night, but he is forced to hide the gems until he can get away. The gems end up in the candy bags of twins Mickey and Kate, and the two kids set out to solve the mystery and catch the thief.

Witch’s Wishes (Vivian Vande Velde) A witch turns a little girl’s costume wand into a real wand, unbeknownst to the girl, and crazy wish-granting ensues.The little girl makes some funny wishes that come true, sometimes better than expected.

The Worst Best Halloween Ever (Barbara Robinson) The mayor of town shuts down Halloween to put a stop to pranks. Instead, a sugar-free, spooky-free party is to be held at the elementary school. Things do not go as planned. blog pic best halloween ever

My oldest son will be reviewing some Young Adult thriller titles for a post next week. Stay tuned…

October Book Series — Other Great October Reads

While I am finishing up a few books, I thought I would post other ideas for October reading. All of the books listed below are ones that I have read (in most cases, re-read) recently and feel that they are all worth settling in with this month.

Cell and Under the Dome by Stephen King

An undisputed leader of thriller and horror novels, Stephen King should be on everyone’s reading lists. Although these two novels are very different, they remain two of my favorites by the prolific (and possibly under-appreciated?) author. In the slim novel Cell, a freak event causes cell phone users to turn into murderous zombies (although they aren’t dead, so maybe not true zombies) bent on killing as many unaffected people as possible. We follow a small band of survivors as they skirt death searching for loved ones and for answers to the crisis. I still cannot believe this is not a Hollywood blockbuster given the two hot topics, cell phone obsession and zombies!

By contrast, Under the Dome is an enormous novel following the lives of dozens of residents in Chester’s Mill, Maine who find themselves trapped under an invisible dome. Residents scramble to not only make sense of the implausibility of the dome, but also how to handle the day-to-day crises that the dome presents — power grabs, hoarding, lawlessness, and more. You might know this one from the CBS show (which became a sprawling, unwatchable, desperate-for-ratings project) which departs from the book’s intense focus on realistic characters who find themselves facing an unrealistic phenomenon. The book is really wonderful, filled with countless of King’s beautiful (and at times very brief) character studies of the citizens of Chester’s Mill, with some sharp insights into how people handle — for good or bad — terrifying events.

Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Series) by Robert Galbraith

A British war veteran wounded in action returns to London to work as a private investigator. Although unsuccessful in his personal life, his sharp investigative skills — and his very clever assistant Robin — make it possible to solve high profile cases that the police have been unable to close. Written (under a pseudonym) by the incomparable J.K. Rowling, the series is thrilling and highly literate, with a touch of humor, and hosts two characters that you can’t help but want to follow. Not to be missed!

NOTE: The third book in this amazing series, A Career of Evil,  has just been released but I am still on the hold list for a library copy. I plan to read it and write an in-depth blog post on it and its predecessors as soon as possible.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

This was the first novel by best-selling thriller writer of Gone Girl. A reporter returns to her small hometown to cover child murder cases, only to have to investigate some of her own family’s dark secrets. Very chilling scenes with many unexpected and shocking twists.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

This is a novel about the Salem witch trials set in 1692 and 1991. The main character Connie, a Harvard academic, returns to her childhood home in Salem, Massachusetts to finish her dissertation, only to become distracted by her family’s mysterious history. The novel presents a modern, intellectual tale of witches and witchcraft without the artificial melodrama. Also of note in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is the first-person portrayal of the persecution and trial of the town midwife set in 1692. Howe gives readers a novel that is simultaneously informative, well-written, thrilling, and very moving.