Saturday, April 22, 2017

Kid Konnection: The Kelly Twins Books & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you two fun books for early readers.

Summary: Second-graders Arlene and Ilene Kelly are twins — identical twins to be exact — and they love being a pair. They love to dress alike, they have identical pet ferrets, and they do everything together. But being a twin is not always easy. When a set of triplets comes to school, Arlene and Ilene wonder whether triplets are more special than twins. At Halloween, on different streets in identical witch costumes, some neighbors think that the girls are one person trying to get extra candy. And when Arlene gets sick and has to visit the hospital, the twins each find out what it’s like to be one instead of two. But whether they’re together or apart, Arlene and Ilene know they’re lucky to have each other.

Johanna Hurwitz invites readers into the world of the funny, lovable Kelly twins, who are truly two of a kind. -- Candlewick

I rarely pick up early reader books, but I thought the Kelly Twins series by Johanna Hurwitz and illustrated by Tuesday Mourning looked adorable. The first book in the series, THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS, introduces twin sisters Arlene and Ilene; and youngsters are sure to be entertained by them.

Arlene and Ilene love being twins. Unlike many sisters, they want to do everything together and they even enjoy dressing alike; however, they soon feel a little threatened by their unique twin status when triplets enroll at the school. THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS definitely demonstrates the fun in their relationship, but it also showcases that separate identities are important... especially when it comes to getting Halloween candy. In addition when Arlene has to go to the hospital for emergency surgery, the two sisters discover that their lives sometimes must follow separate paths.

Summary: Arlene and Ilene love so many things about being identical twins. They like sharing a room, sharing friends, and wearing matching outfits. But they’re in different classes at school, and one twin has a scar that the other one doesn’t. One morning, their friends Monty and Joey point out a new difference that takes the sisters by surprise and gets them thinking: if they are identical twins, why are there differences between them at all? Their tongues must be the same, so why do they like different kinds of ice cream? Why does Arlene wear pink nail polish while Ilene thinks it’s silly? Why is Ilene sleeping soundly when Arlene is awake, wondering how she can be sure that she is Arlene, not Ilene? Revisit the funny, lovable characters from The Two and Only Kelly Twins and take a peek at the wonders — and puzzles — of being an identical twin.

What’s the same about identical twins — and what’s different? Sleepovers, poetry projects, and new haircuts are in play as seven-year-old Arlene and Ilene start coming into their own. -- Candlewick

The new book in the series is DOUBLE OR NOTHING WITH THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS. Like the first book, this story provides more realistic adventures of Arlene and Ilene; however, this book really starts showing that these two girls aren't one and the same -- they definitely are starting to have their own (and often times different) opinions.

In DOUBT OR NOTHING, Arlene and Ilene still love being identical twins, but others are starting to recognize their differences. Even though they look exactly alike to most people, they realize that they are their own person. One has a scar and one doesn't, and they like different foods and even different colors. In this second book in the series, the girls really start to come into their own as their self-awareness about what it means to be a twin becomes more apparent.

I thought THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS and DOUBLE OR NOTHING were cute books for early readers. Both books have short chapters and simple text so even the earliest of readers will have success at independent reading. In addition, there are lots of cute illustrations to break up the words for even the most reluctant of readers.

I think children will definitely like these adorable characters. Arlene and Ilene are both sweet kids and their thoughts and emotions should resonate with most youngsters, especially twins. As a mom, I appreciated that their day-to-day activities are realistic as are their interactions with others.

If you're interested in learning more about the author, check out this video interview with the NYPL.

I think the Two and Only Kelly Twins series are perfect for readers who are ready for their first chapter books. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing review copies of these books.

Giveaway alert: One lucky winner will receive both books featuring the Kelly twins -- THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS and DOUBLE OR NOTHING WITH THE TWO AND ONLY KELLY TWINS. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, May 5th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Friday, April 21, 2017

Guest Review: Most Dangerous Place

Summary: Defending a woman accused of murdering the man who sexually assaulted her, Miami lawyer Jack Swyteck must uncover where the truth lies between innocence, vengeance, and justice in this spellbinding tale of suspense—based on shocking true-life events—from the New York Times bestselling author of Gone Again. According to the FBI, the most dangerous place for a woman between the ages of twenty and thirty is in a relationship with a man. Those statistics become all too personal when Jack Swyteck takes on a new client tied to his past.

It begins at the airport, where Jack is waiting to meet his old high school buddy, Keith Ingraham, a high-powered banker based in Hong Kong, coming to Miami for his young daughter’s surgery. But their long-awaited reunion is abruptly derailed when the police arrest Keith’s wife, Isabelle, in the terminal, accusing her of conspiring to kill the man who raped her in college. Jack quickly agrees to represent Isa, but soon discovers that to see justice done, he must separate truth from lies—an undertaking that proves more complicated than the seasoned attorney expects.

Inspired by an actual case involving a victim of sexual assault sent to prison for the death of her attacker, James Grippando’s twisty thriller brilliantly explores the fine line between victim and perpetrator, innocence and guilt, and cold-blooded revenge and rightful retribution. -- Harper

Booking Dad is getting his groove back. He's home from his various vacations, so he's finally catching up on some reviews. The latest book he's read and enjoyed is MOST DANGEROUS PLACE by James Grippando. Here are his thoughts:

Attorney Jack Swyteck is waiting at the airport to meet an old friend, Keith Ingraham and his wife Isabelle Bornelli who arrive in Miami from Hong Kong for their daughter’s hearing surgery. Instead Jack finds himself defending Isabelle who is arrested at the airport for the murder of the man, Gabriel Sosa, who allegedly raped her 12 years ago.

From that moment on, author James Grippando’s MOST DANGEROUS PLACE, A Jack Swyteck Novel, moves at a rapid pace in sorting out the truth in this legal thriller based on a true story. The story becomes more complicated as Grippando adds more characters and more mystery to the case.

For example, Isabelle’s father Filipe interjects himself into the case for personal reasons and tries to direct the case to benefit him. Isabelle’s ex-boyfriend, David Kaval, who was involved in the murder of Sosa and is serving prison time for another crime, cuts a deal with the DA and agrees to testify against Isabella. Manual Espinosa, a slick attorney, manages to get bail for Isabelle when Jack failed to do so, and works his way onto the defense team. To complicate things further, Isabelle’s husband Keith is charged with accessory to the murder. Additionally, Isabelle seems unwilling or unable to tell the complete story about what happened 12 years ago. Only as Jack discovers new information from his own investigations can he go back to Isabelle and Keith to learn more of the full story.

Although the characters are well developed and add significant depth to the story line, the story is really about sexual assault and the way it impacts the victim, the perpetrator, their families and how the victim handles any recourse.

MOST DANGEROUR PLACE is a fast moving story where the author is continually adding new information and surprises to keep the reader guessing. I recommend MOST DANGEROUS PLACE to anyone who enjoys the legal thriller genre.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: A Giving Heart

Summary: A beautiful artist-drawn coloring book with Scripture created to encourage, inspire, and delight Christian mothers.

This beautifully rendered adult coloring book will offer Christian moms a perfect way to enjoy moments of peaceful creativity as they color 46 gorgeously intricate pictures and meditate upon God's word. Filled with lovely botanical scenes, charming designs, and intricate patterns, the images and words of this book will remind mothers of their special place in the hearts of their loved ones and the wonderful purpose God created in them. -- Faith Words

Mother's Day will be here before you know it, and I know the perfect gift idea. It's A GIVING HEART: A COLORING BOOK CELEBRATING MOTHERHOOD by Stephanie Corfee, and it's just a beautiful (and thoughtful) sentiment to share with moms.

There are 46 detailed pictures in A GIVING HEART to color complete with different types of flowers, vines, birds, and designs. There are even pages with adorable little houses and coffee drinks. What makes this coloring book extra special (and therefore perfect for mothers) is that there are inspirational messages throughout. Many of the pages include motivational quotations from the bible that celebrate the wonder of being a Christian mother.

A GIVING HEART is absolutely gorgeous. It really is one of the nicest coloring books I've ever seen -- so nice that I was immediately inspired to start coloring a page. I'm obviously not very good, but here's what I've done so far:
There is no doubt that A GIVING HEART would be an extremely thoughtful gift for mothers this upcoming Mother's Day. The book is a beautiful reminder to moms of how much they are valued and loved. Highly recommended!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this coloring book.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: The Day I Died

Summary: From the award-winning author of Little Pretty Things comes this gripping, unforgettable tale of a mother's desperate search for a lost boy. 

Anna Winger can know people better than they know themselves with only a glance—at their handwriting. Hired out by companies wanting to land trustworthy employees and by the lovelorn hoping to find happiness, Anna likes to keep the real-life mess of other people at arm’s length and on paper. But when she is called to use her expertise on a note left behind at a murder scene in the small town she and her son have recently moved to, the crime gets under Anna’s skin and rips open her narrow life for all to see. To save her son—and herself—once and for all, Anna will face her every fear, her every mistake, and the past she thought she'd rewritten. -- William Morrow

THE DAY I DIED by Lori Rader-Day is classified as a mystery/psychological suspense novel; however, I think I'll most remember it as an in-depth look at the toll an abusive relationship can take on a person. That's not to say that the mystery aspect of this novel wasn't intriguing, because it most certainly was. I'm just saying that the strength of this story came with the character of Anna Winger and her attempts to come to terms with her past.

Anna Winger is the narrator of THE DAY I DIED. She is a handwriting expert who keeps a fairly low profile. Through the years, she and her son Joshua have moved from small town to small town trying to hide from her ex-husband who once abused her. When Anna is asked to help with a case for a missing toddler, the crime hits a little too close to home for her.

Meanwhile, Joshua, now a surly teenage, is beginning to act out. The sheriff, with whom Anna is working with on the case... and feeling quite the attraction to, notifies her about Joshua's involvement in painting graffiti around town. Things between Anna and Joshua escalate, and Joshua eventually goes missing too. Anna's involvement in both cases of the missing kids brings a lot of intense feelings to the forefront and forces her to face many of the demons from her past.

I really enjoyed THE DAY I DIED, and I can definitely see why Ms. Rader-Day is an award winning author. (In fact, I can't wait to read her earlier novels -- I think I even have an autographed one in my basement!) She definitely knows how to tell a story, and her talent in bringing to life characters is nothing to scoff at. After I finished this novel, I was extremely impressed with how real she made the fears and emotions of a battered woman; and I would say that it's definitely the strength of this book.

As far as mysteries go, I did appreciate the dual storylines of the missing kids. Since one was a toddler, I was naturally more interested in how this child just went missing. I kind of had a feeling what happened to Joshua and knew he was responsible for some of his actions. Having said that, I was curious about how both stories were going to be resolved. However, if I have one issue with this book (and it's a slight one), I thought how the two stories came together was just a little too coincidental. Don't get me wrong, the author didn't make the resolutions convenient or an easy way out. It was just a little too coincidental that both kids ended up in the same town.

I do think the author did a good job of bringing to life the character of Anna. She was a terrific narrator and I really grew to appreciate her voice. Notice I said "grew." Anna was difficult to get a grip on early in the novel. She was brusque and almost unlikable. However, I definitely warmed up to her as the story went on... and I even ended up liking her quite a bit once I got to know her. I always did enjoy her social commentary though and found her to be funny in a sarcastic way.

THE DAY I DIED actually did make me think quite a bit... and it was more than the whodunnit aspects of the novel. Anna's personality and psyche were such a result of her past, and it was so interesting to learn about her. I have to commend the author for making Anna's experiences with domestic violence so real and almost terrifying in a quiet way. (I know that doesn't make sense but you have to read the book -- Ms. Rader-Day has major skills with prose!)

Overall, I really enjoyed THE DAY I DIED. It's a terrific literary mystery that will give you something to think about for days after finishing the book. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Kid Konnection: Vampirina at the Beach & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you an adorable picture book in an already popular series.

Summary: When the summer moon is full, a beach trip is an epic way to spend the night.

With her signature poise, Vampirina and her clan gear up for a festive time at the beach. Keeping her ballet lessons in mind, Vampirina demi-pliĆ©s on a surfboard, leaps for a volleyball, and finishes each competition with style, even if she doesn’t always come out on top.

Readers will shout “Brava!” for this third gracefully ghoulish picturebook by duo Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham. -- Disney/Hyperion

I am so excited to share with you a book that I recently received from Disney/Hyperion! It's called VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH written by Countess Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by Mistress of the Night LeUyen Pham, and it's too darn cute! VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH is actually the third book in the Vampirina series, so I'm a little late to the game... but better late than never!

VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH stars none other than Vampirina. She and her friends decide to head to the beach on a summer evening when the moon is full. Once they are there, Vampirina decides to make the most of the trip; and she participates in lots of fun beach activities like surfing, playing in the waves, building sand castles, snorkeling, and more! Her skills as a ballerina shine through, and she has a great time even when she doesn't always succeed.

As a mom, I loved this book. It's very cute but it's also got some solid messages. There are some sound recommendations (including a few safety tips) for readers to heed on their next beach vacation. In addition, Vampirina remembers some good advice from her teacher and incorporates her lessons into her adventures.

I just adore Vampirina -- she makes me smile. She is too cute and that's no doubt a credit to Ms. Pham. I have always loved her illustrations, especially the Freckleface Strawberry series; and she has brought to life an adorable little vampire. Each page is full of cute color illustrations that provide plenty to look at for readers. In addition, the pictures of Vampirina's ghastly friends are hilarious.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Vampirina is coming soon to your living room. There is a little sticker on the cover of the book that says Vampirina is coming to Disney Junior. I sure wish my daughter were younger because I love this character. Highly recommended!

Giveaway alert: OK -- hold onto your hats. This is one great Vampirina giveaway!

Meet Vampirina Ballerina!

One winner receives:

  • Vampirina Ballerina 
  • Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover
  • Vampirina at the Beach
  • plus a branded beach ball and tumbler!
To enter, just fill out the form below before April 28th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Official Site + Social Media
Visit the Official Site
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Hashtag #VampirinaBallerina

Review copy and prizing provided by Disney-Hyperion.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Guest Review: A Second Winter

Summary: Set in Denmark in the darkest days of World War II, The Second Winter is a cinematic novel that, in its vivid portrayal of a family struggling to survive the German occupation, both captures a savage moment in history and exposes the violence and want inherent in a father’s love.

It is 1941. In occupied Denmark, an uneasy relationship between the Danish government and the Germans allows the country to function under the protection of Hitler’s army, while Danish resistance fighters wage a bloody, covert battle against the Nazis. Fredrik Gregersen, a brutish, tormented caretaker of a small farm in Jutland laboring to keep his son and daughter fed, profits from helping Jewish fugitives cross the border into Sweden. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Polina, a young refugee from Krakow, finds herself impressed into prostitution by Germans and Danes alike. When Fredrik steals a precious necklace from a helpless family of Jews, his own family’s fate becomes intertwined with Polina’s, triggering a ripple effect that will take decades and the fall of the Berlin Wall to culminate. -- Other Press

I picked up a copy of THE SECOND WINTER by Craig Larsen at last year's SIBA. While the book did appeal to me, I had a feeling that my dad might enjoy it (and get to reading it before I could!) Here are his thoughts:

THE SECOND WINTER by Craig Larsen is a story about how the lives of everyday people are impacted by war. The book opens in 1969 when Angela Schmidt, a concert pianist with the Munich symphony visits her aunt in East Berlin. Her aunt gives her a package from her late father, Hermann, who was a photographer with the German army. Angela was hopeful the package would tell her something about her father who never returned home from the war. She later opens the package to find a series of photographs and a sapphire necklace.

The story then flashes back to 1938 where a young Polish-Jewish girl, Polina, is trying to live a normal life in occupied Poland. Her life changes dramatically in 1940 when she witnesses her family being arrested by the by the Nazis. Polina moves in with an aunt and uncle and suffers terrible abuse. She runs away and is picked up by a group of German soldiers who use her for sex. By 1941 Polina is a teenage prostitute in Nazi occupied Copenhagen. Hermann Schmidt, a good family man before the war, is obsessed with Polina and purchases her from her pimp and sets her up in an apartment.

The reader is then introduced to Fredrik Gregerson. Fredrik is the black sheep of a respected Danish family who ekes out a living on a farm in rural Denmark. Fredrik is a cruel brutal man and the sole parent of his children, Oskar and Amalia. As a means of earning extra cash he works to smuggle Jews out of Denmark to escape the war. He shows no sympathy toward the Jews and on one such trip Fredrik steals a suitcase full of jewels from a Jewish family. When the police come to the farm to investigate Fredrik’s role in a local murder, he fears they will discover the jewels and sends Oskar off to Copenhagen to sell them. Oskar sells most of the jewels to Hermann Schmidt and leaves a sapphire necklace as “payment” for Polina who he takes back to the farm. Polina is ambivalent about Oskar’s apparent love buts holds an unusual attraction toward Fredrik. This situation cannot end well and Oskar takes Polina and leaves the farm.

Using World War II as a backdrop, THE SECOND WINTER is a story about how far people will go to survive a crisis. The author has done a very good job of describing the horrors of war through the behavior of the characters. Although Polina is the character that the reader follows from the very beginning of the book, the story is not about her but about how the war changed the character of the men who meet her.

THE SECOND WINTER tells a suspenseful story that is as depressing as war itself. It is a sad story with an unhappy ending. I would not be surprised to someday see this story made into a movie.

I should probably share that my father wasn't sure that his review of THE SECOND WINTER "gives it justice" because it's a "very deep book." As a result, I'm guessing that this novel would make a terrific book club discussion. I was thrilled to find a link to ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include war, heroes, morality, and fatherhood.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Never Let You Go

Summary: Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband, Andrew, was sent to jail and Lindsey started over with a new life.

Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with her own business and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When Andrew is finally released from prison, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties and left the past behind her. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he’s a different person. But has he really changed? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?

With Never Let You Go, Chevy Stevens delivers a chilling, twisting thriller that crackles with suspense as it explores the darkest heart of love and obsession. -- St. Martin's Press

I am sad to say that I wasn't an early adopter of Chevy Stevens' novels; however, once I read my first one, I was a fan. In fact, I have promised myself that I'll read anything and everything she writes -- she's that good. Her latest novel NEVER LET YOU GO didn't disappoint. It's a tightly woven, fast-paced novel that I found quite disturbing (in a good way!)

NEVER LET YOU GO tells the story of Lindsey Nash, a single mother who left her abusive husband Andrew in the middle of the night around eleven years ago. She and her daughter Sophie started a new life in a new town, while her husband went to jail for a killing a woman while driving under the influence. Sophie barely remembers her father, but now that she's a teenager, she's definitely curious about him.

Lindsey thinks she has done a pretty good job with starting over after leaving her husband. She owns her own cleaning business, which is pretty successful; and she's done a good job in bringing up her daughter. However, Andrew has been released from prison... and she kind of thinks someone might be watching her. Lindsey is pretty uncomfortable and takes a few precautions, but things really escalate when she finds out the Sophia has had contact with her father. She's even met with him a few times!

Lindsey is certain that her ex-husband is behind all of the strange things that are happening to her; however, Sophie isn't quite sure what to believe. She trusts her mom and her fears, but she also knows that her father's stories are pretty convincing and he swears he's a changed man.

In addition to her concerns about Andrew, Lindsey is also worried about her daughter. Not only is she sneaking around to meet with Andrew, she's also in a new relationship with a teen boy. Moms worry enough as it is when their daughter are dating; however, Lindsey is worried that he seems to share some traits with her ex-husband.

Tensions rise in NEVER LET YOU GO as stranger and stranger things begin to happen to Lindsey. Lindsey is certain her ex is behind these incidents; however, readers (and eventually Lindsey) will begin to question who is responsible for these acts.

I enjoyed NEVER LET YOU GO quite a bit, and I would definitely classify it as a page-turner. I loved how Ms. Stevens told this story -- going back and forth between the present and the past as well as using both Lindsey and Sophie as narrator. In addition, the tension of this novel just kept building page after page... and it ended with a pretty shocking conclusion.

I say pretty shocking because I am proud to say that I figured out where this novel was going about two thirds of the way through. I wasn't a hundred percent sure and didn't figure out all of the details, but I had a sneaking suspicion about who was behind the very strange actions. What I will say is that I absolutely loved how everything was eventually revealed. It really was a well-constructed and well-told story.

One of the things I appreciated about NEVER LET YOU GO were the characters. I thought both Lindsey and Sophie were terrific... and very realistic characters. Ms. Stevens did a great job in capturing the essence of each character and her voice in the alternating chapters, and I definitely felt an affinity towards both of them. I totally "got" Lindsey's fear and suspicion about Andrew, and I also understood Sophie's desire to get to know her dad.

Another aspect of this novel that I really enjoyed was how it toyed with me... and that does include the surprise ending. I loved following both Lindsey and Sophie's thought processes, but it was the way that the author captured the feelings of terror in Lindsey that was so well done. I honestly felt Lindsey's pain and was so uncomfortable for her. This might sound kind of strange, but this book actually scared me a bit!

Overall, I found NEVER LET YOU GO to by typical Chevy Stevens. It was a well-written thriller that definitely kept me on the edge of my seat! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.