Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: The Summer House

Summary: When Flossy Merrill summons her children to the beloved family beach house to celebrate their father’s eightieth birthday, both cherished memories and long-kept secrets come to light in this charming and lyrical novel from the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer.

Flossy Merrill has managed to—somewhat begrudgingly—gather her three ungrateful grown children from their dysfunctional lives for a summer reunion at the family’s Rhode Island beach house. Clementine, her youngest child and a young mother of two small children, has caused Flossy the most worry after enduring a tragically life-altering year. But Samuel and his partner Evan are not far behind in their ability to alarm: their prospective adoption search has just taken a heart-wrenching turn. Only Paige, the eldest of the headstrong Merrill clan, is her usual self: arriving precisely on time with her well-adapted teens. Little does her family know that she, too, is facing personal struggles of her own.

No matter. With her family finally congregated under one seaside roof, Flossy is determined to steer her family back on course even as she prepares to reveal the fate of the summer house that everyone has thus far taken for granted: she’s selling it. The Merrill children are both shocked and outraged and each returns to memories of their childhoods at their once beloved summer house—the house where they have not only grown up, but from which they have grown away. With each lost in their respective heartaches, Clementine, Samuel, and Paige will be forced to reconsider what really matters before they all say goodbye to a house that not only defined their summers, but, ultimately, the ways in which they define themselves. Featuring McKinnon’s “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) voice, this warm-hearted novel is perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Alice Monroe. -- Emily Bestler Books

I can't believe how quickly the summer is flying by. It's almost August and that means sending my daughter off to college -- Ack! I was looking at the pile of books that I need to review, and I decided that I better feature another one of those "beach" books that I read while on vacation. (I think this might be the last breezy read for a few weeks.) The novel is THE SUMMER HOUSE by Hannah McKinnon, and it's a good one.

THE SUMMER HOUSE tells the story of the Merrill family. The matriarch, Flossy, asks all three of three of her adult children to come to their Rhode Island beach house to celebrate their father's 80th birthday. They agree to come, albeit a bit begrudgingly, and Flossy attempts to bring them all together for one final summer vacation at their summer home.

It would only make for fun fiction if the family is somewhat dysfunctional... and Ms. McKinnon doesn't disappoint. Everyone in this book is dealing with some issues. Clementine is probably the most troubled child. She is the youngest daughter and mother of two young kids and has recently lost her husband in a surprising tragedy. Samuel is her son who is also dealing with some pain. He and his partner Evan want to adopt a child, and the process has been extremely disappointing. Finally, there's Paige, the eldest child, who does her best to control her life (and everyone else's around her.) She's also dealing with some serious stuff but does her best to hide it.

Flossy knows all three of her children are hurting, and she hopes this summer vacation helps them to heal. However, she also plans on selling the house and isn't quite sure how her kids will take the news. Knowing it's the final summer in that home, everyone reflects on their childhood memories and discovers what's truly important in their lives.

I really enjoyed THE SUMMER HOUSE! I am always drawn to books about dysfunctional families, and the Merrill family definitely fit the bill. Of course, the beach location didn't hurt -- and by that I mean the setting of the story and where I was when I read the book! I appreciated each of the characters' plights, and I liked that they were somewhat complex characters. Each one of them definitely had their faults, but I still managed to feel sympathy for all of them.

One thing I thought the author did really well was explore sibling relationships. These three children, despite being adults, were still holding onto some major issues from the past. It was a little surprising to me how much they cared about, what seemed to me to be, minor incidents from their childhoods; however, I do think there was some reality in their actions. It seemed like the minute they entered that beach house, they returned to their childhood personas.

What I appreciated even more, though, was that they continued to grow and evolve as adults throughout the course of the novel. I will admit at the out start that they were all a bit self-centered -- some more than others and some for better reasons than others, but they eventually came around and realized how much they loved (and needed) each other. While the drama surrounding their lives was pretty entertaining, I liked that the book ended in a touching (and satisfying) way.

THE SUMMER HOUSE would make a great book club book. There is a reading guide with 15 questions in the back of the book, but I couldn't find an on-line link. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include loss, aging, the house as a character, healing, second chances, family traditions, and emotional baggage.

I found THE SUMMER HOUSE to be a terrific beach read. It will definitely appeal to fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Dorothea Benton Frank, and I think it's a great addition to your pool or beach bag!

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: Leona - The Die is Cast

Summary: This best-selling Scandinavian thriller follows its troubled heroine as she investigates a high-profile robbery for Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division.

Naked and bloody, a seven-year-old girl walks into a bank in central Stockholm in broad daylight and gets away with millions. Leona Lindberg of Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division agrees to work on the case. With a long, distinguished history on the police force, she seems the perfect choice. But Leona is grappling with difficult issues of her own—a gambling addiction, a strained marriage—that could jeopardize the investigation. As she struggles to keep the volatile pieces of her life under control, the line between right and wrong becomes increasingly unclear, and even irrelevant.

This is a hardboiled crime novel, filled with unexpected twists and turns, featuring an unusual heroine. Leona makes for gripping reading while challenging feminine norms and questioning what is behind the choices we make. -- Other Press

I accepted a pitch for LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST by Jenny Rogneby prior to attending this year's BEA; however, when after actually meeting the stunning Ms. Rogneby,  I knew this was one book that I had to read. It actually was the only mystery/thriller I packed for my beach vacation, and I'm so glad I included it. This book is something special!

LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST is already a best-selling novel in Scandinavia and the beginning of a new series stars Leona Lindberg, a complicated police officer in Stockholm's Violent Crimes Division. This book tells the unbelievable story of a seven year old girl who walks into banks, demands money, and ends up walking out of the bank with millions... and she just happens to be naked and covered in blood. Do I even need to tell you that LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST is a bit dark and creepy?

Leona Lindberg agrees to take on this high profile and difficult case. At 34 years old, she's a police veteran and has a pretty good solve rate so it makes sense for her to be in charge. However, it becomes apparent to the reader fairly early on that Leona is a bit of a mess. Her marriage is in trouble, her job is very demanding, her son is very ill, and she appears to have a gambling problem. Just trying to juggle these things makes Leona's life very difficult, and her actions make it difficult to discern whether she is on the right or wrong side of the law.

I thoroughly enjoyed LEONA, but I'm not exactly sure what that says about me. This novel is definitely twisted... and truth be told, I'm a bit surprised that someone as delightful as the author wrote something so dark. Having said that, she did work as a criminal investigator in the Stockholm City Police Department so she probably saw some pretty bad things there.

One of my favorite things about LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST was Leona herself. Leona is a fantastic character and so darn complicated that I'm still not quite sure what to make of her. She definitely had some baggage from her past that made her present life pretty difficult, and it seemed like she couldn't make the right choices despite knowing that they were detrimental to her personal life and her career. In fact, she was extremely hard to even like or root for, but I was interested in her all the same.

As far as mysteries go, I think it's safe to say that  LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST has more twists and turns than I could almost process. I mean that in the best of ways though. I loved that I was constantly surprised because it made for one highly entertaining story (if at times a little unbelievable), and I am so glad that this novel is the first in the series because I'm dying to see what's in store for Leona in the next book!

All in all, I think LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST is a great start to a new series. I definitely recommend this novel to fans of psychological suspense and thrillers.

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, July 22, 2017

Kid Konnection: The Big Book of Why Activity Book & 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 a fun activity book by Time for Kids.

Summary: Hidden pictures, dot-to-dot, mazes, trivia, crosswords, and funny fill-ins are just some of the engrossing activities readers will find in this full-color game book jam-packed with more than 300 photographs and illustrations. Like picture puzzles? Try finding an out-of-place cell phone in a famous Civil War photograph. Think you know about tornadoes? Figure out this word scramble and learn even more! Love word searches? There's one based on the theme of every chapter in the popular book TIME For Kids Big Book of Why. Whether kids are on a summer family road trip, on the plane to grandma's house, or settling into a bunk at sleepaway camp, the Big Book of Why Activity Book is the perfect companion.

Featured topics include sports, animals, history, science, tech, and more! The dozens of different activities include hidden pictures, mazes, word search, trivia Q-and-A, funny fill-ins, dot-to-dot, crosswords, coloring pages, and pictograms. -- Liberty Street

There's a new addition to the best-selling Time for Kids fact book series the Big Book of Why that looks like a lot of fun. It's called the BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK, and it's full of hands-on activities like hidden pictures, dot-to-dot, mazes, crosswords, and more. It's the ideal summer fun book for kids ages 8 - 12.

The BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK is extremely entertaining. There are more than 300 color photographs and illustrations in addition to the many activities and puzzles. The basic idea of this activity book is that it "answers big questions about how the world works." The book is divided into chapters so kids can delve into one subject matter or jump around to sections (or activities) that appeal to them. For example, there are chapters on animals, space, humans, history, technology and sports to name a few.

Not only are there fun games and activities, but there are also sections that provide some interesting tidbits about the various subject matters. But truthfully, I think most kids are going to love filling out the various puzzles and activities. There are mad-lib type fill-ins, spot the differences, acrostics, matching, mazes, and much much more! Needless to say, the BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK makes learning fun.
Unfortunately, my son is a tad too old for this fun book; however, my nephew is the perfect age... and he has a birthday coming up. I can't wait to see what he thinks about this entertaining (and educational) activity book. I suspect kids are going to absolutely adore this book, and I highly recommend it as a way to keep your kids learning (and playing) this summer.

I have a copy of the BIG BOOK OF WHY ACTIVITY BOOK to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 4th 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!

Thanks to the Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this book.

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, July 19, 2017

Review: Ginny Moon

Summary: Ginny is a recently adopted teenager with autism. She has a new home, new parents, and a new last name.

Before Ginny arrived at her new house, she spent years living in danger with her birth-mother. Her world is a much better, safer place now, and everyone tells her that she should feel happy. But Ginny is stifled. Her voice is pushed down. Silenced. Bottled up for too long now. It’s ready to burst.

Ginny is desperate to get back to where she came from, back to what she left behind. Because something heartbreaking happened there—something that only Ginny knows—and nothing will stop her from going back to make it right. She’ll even get herself kidnapped.

Ginny Moon is an illuminating look at one girl’s journey to find her way home. In this stunning debut, Benjamin Ludwig gives a voice to the voiceless, reminding us that often we only hear those who speak the loudest, and there’s much to be learned by opening up our ears and our hearts. -- Park Row Books

I had heard some positive buzz about the novel GINNY MOON by Benjamin Ludwig; however, it wasn't until Adriana Trigiani recommended this book to me that I decided to give it a try. I love coming-of-age stories and GINNY MOON is definitely a unique one. This novel explores an autistic young girl's desire to find her birth mother, and I found it to be a terrific read.

Ginny is a 14 year old autistic girl who has been recently adopted by Maura and Brian, her forever parents, after living in foster homes for years. The first nine years of her life were pretty difficult -- Ginny lived in constant danger of being abused by her birth mother, but now Ginny seems to have the stability she needs. However, when Maura gives birth to a baby girl, Ginny's behavior becomes very erratic and Maura fears for the safety of her family.

Living with Ginny has never been particularly easy, but Maura and Brian did their very best. Ginny is not only autistic, but she is also deeply scarred from an incident from her childhood. the details are sketchy, but Ginny wants to know what happened to her "baby doll." According to Ginny, she took care of her "baby doll" and when the police arrived one day to her house, she stuffed the doll into a suitcase and never had the chance to go back and get it. Ginny is desperate to find her birth mother and the baby doll, and she's willing to go to extreme measures to find them... even it that means being kidnapped!

I actually read GINNY MOON while I was on vacation, and I have to say that I found it very entertaining. The novel was both funny and heartbreaking, and I am happy to say that it was eventually heartwarming too. This book is Mr. Ludwig's debut novel and he's definitely got some serious talent when it comes to storytelling and creating memorable characters. I should have known that Adriana wouldn't lead me wrong!

You can't help but fall a little bit in love with Ginny. She's a fantastic character and I think the author did a terrific job in bringing a 14 year old autistic girl to life. The story is told in her words and I was incredibly impressed with how realistic she seemed. Ginny experienced more in her 14 years than most people experience in a life-time. The author said that her was inspired to write about Ginny after he and his wife adopted an autistic young girl and he witnessed how much she wanted to return to the place she came from. It's evident to this reader that he is a pretty special guy... and he truly understands his characters.

One thing that surprised me a bit about this novel is how dark parts of it were. I can't express the horrors that Ginny faced as a young girl and how much they traumatized her. I found it to be extremely sad and more than a little disturbing. What amazed me about this novel though is how the author managed to incorporate so much humor into a depressing story. The book really did make me both laugh and cry, and I loved how the novel ended!

What I enjoyed most about this book, though, were the messages in the novel. As bad as Ginny's birth mother was, there was so much good in this story. Brian, her forever dad, was an incredibly patient and kind man... and Ginny was so lucky to have him. The novel really featured how fostering and adoption can save both parents' and kids' lives. In addition, I loved how this novel portrayed autism. I will admit that I had some preconceived notions that were shot... and I loved that! Finally, I loved how this story showed what can happen when a child has a supportive family.

Needless to say, I think GINNY MOON would make a terrific book club selection. There is a reading guide available with eleven interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include adoption, family, love, sacrifice, fear, obsession, abuse, and autism. I believe that Ginny is such an intriguing character and worthy of quite a bit of discussion.

Overall, I think fans of coming-of-age stories as well as readers who enjoy stories about dysfunctional families will enjoy GINNY MOON. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: The Force

Summary: The acclaimed, award-winning, bestselling author of The Cartel—voted one of the Best Books of the Year by more than sixty publications, including the New York Times—makes his William Morrow debut with a cinematic epic as explosive, powerful, and unforgettable as Mystic River and The Wire.

Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .

All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop.

He is “the King of Manhattan North,” a, highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given unrestricted authority to wage war on gangs, drugs and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Based on years of research inside the NYPD, this is the great cop novel of our time and a book only Don Winslow could write: a haunting and heartbreaking story of greed and violence, inequality and race, crime and injustice, retribution and redemption that reveals the seemingly insurmountable tensions between the police and the diverse citizens they serve. A searing portrait of a city and a courageous, heroic, and deeply flawed man who stands at the edge of its abyss, The Force is a masterpiece of urban living full of shocking and surprising twists, leavened by flashes of dark humor, a morally complex and utterly riveting dissection of modern American society and the controversial issues confronting and dividing us today. -- William Morrow

At BEA, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Jennifer Hart (aka Book Club Girl). Of course, I asked her what books she was excited to be working on for the summer/fall; and she said that one of their big ones is THE FORCE by Don Winslow. She told me my dad would love it, but when I saw the buzz surrounding this novel, I decided that I wanted to read it! (I will pass it along to my dad, though, because he will love it... and appreciate that I'm giving him a novel without the expectation of a review!)

THE FORCE tells the story of Denny Malone, a NYC cop who is "the king of Manhattan North." He is both respected and feared, and he's in charge of "Da Force," the elite special force that pretty much can do anything to fight gangs, drugs and guns in the city. Basically, being a cop has been Malone's life-long dream and no one really gets in his way. The thing is that Malone isn't always clean, and recently he crossed a serious line.

Malone and his partners made a major drug bust and ended up stealing millions in cash and drugs... and now everyone, including the Feds, know something's up. The Feds have given him an ultimatum -- either provide information and help trap other officers or go to jail for a very long time. Malone hates that he's betraying his brothers, but he also wants to protect the city, himself and his loved ones. Malone's actions are definitely blurred between good and bad, but the big question is, "Can he use his life-long skills as a cop to save himself?"

I couldn't wait to share my thoughts about THE FORCE with all of you, and now that I'm trying to write my review, I will admit that it's not going to be easy. It's not a typical read for me, although I used to read novels like this much more in my pre-blogging days. However, I am so happy that I decided to pick up this book. THE FORCE has been, without a doubt, my favorite book of the summer. It's nothing short of a masterpiece, and I'm truly in awe of Mr. Winslow's writing talents!

I hardly know where to begin in telling you about THE FORCE. I feel as if I just want to throw out adjectives like amazing and brilliant, but when it comes to specifics, I'm at a loss for words. THE FORCE is a big novel (almost 500 pages), and I was never bored with the story. (That's saying a lot for me because I usually stay away from chunksters!) Furthermore, not only was I not ever bored, I was enthralled with everything Malone said or did.

Malone truly is one of the most memorable characters I've ever encountered in fiction. The complexity of his character, namely the juxtaposition between his good and bad actions, is fascinating. I've seen comparisons to THE GODFATHER (but with cops), and I have to say I totally agree. Malone has so many layers, and while many of his actions are unquestionably disgusting, I loved him. I don't know if I loved him as a human being, but I definitely loved him as a character.

Another stellar thing about THE FORCE is how many twists and turns there were to the story. I could barely keep up with Malone and many of the other characters, and I constantly questioned who was good versus who was bad. At this point, I'm still asking myself that! What I can definitely say is that this novel demonstrated that we all have the capacity to be both good and evil, and nothing is really black or white. Needless to say, this novel gave me quite a bit to think about even after I appreciated the entertaining aspects of the story.

And finally, I was amazed/impressed/blown away by how well the author brought the New York Police Department to life. I sure as heck hope much of what occurred in this novel was a figment of Mr. Winslow's imagination; however, he certainly made it feel real to me. I loved how he captured the relationship between the cops (both the good and the bad), but I also appreciated how well he described the essence of the city and its inhabitants. Truly, the way he described the police force and the relationship with the city (and the politicians) was something special... and the author's research for this novel is nothing short of outstanding.

I could go on and on about this novel for quite a long time, but I just wanted to tease you with enough to make you pick up this book. Needless to say, I loved this novel and would love to discuss it with others -- think amazing book club pick! As far as I'm concerned, if you even think you might enjoy a novel about a "good" cop gone "bad," then THE FORCE is a must-read 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, July 15, 2017

Kid Konnection: Heartwood Hotel Series

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 books in a new chapter book series starring an adorable mouse!

Summary: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn soufflĂ© and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

This delightfully enticing start of a new chapter book series tells a tale of friendship, courage, and community, with exquisite black-and-white illustrations throughout. -- Disney Hyperion

Summary: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places. 

The second book in the enchanting Heartwood Hotel series, The Greatest Gift will warm your heart with its endearing characters and exquisite illustrations. -- Disney Hyperion

A TRUE HOME and THE GREATEST GIFT by Kallie George and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin are the first two books in the new Heartwood Hotel series, and I have to say that I found them to be delightful. Kids who enjoy stories about animals are going to love them, and I will even admit that I was charmed by the little mouse named Mona.

A TRUE HOME kicks off the Heartwood Hotel series by introducing Mona, the little mouse. Mona is all alone in the middle of a storm when she discovers the Heartwood Hotel. She is desperate for a place to stay, and she's even willing to work for her keep. Luckily for Mona, the hotel was in need of a maid!

Heartwood Hotel is a safe haven for all types of animals. There are rooms that cater to the various types of creatures including birds, squirrels, and even skunks! There are also plenty of hotel employees who not only clean the rooms, but also make food and provide entertainment. Even though Mona knows that her stay there is only temporary, she falls in love with the place and the animals... and she hopes that Heartwood Hotel will become her new home!

THE GREATEST GIFT picks up where A TRUE HOME ended. I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that Mona does end up staying at the hotel and working as a maid. In this second book in the series, Mona is settling into her new home and making some special friendships. She is even part of the St. Slumber celebration -- the feast before many of the animals hibernate for the winter. This is the slowest time for the hotel, and the animals are looking forward to a calm winter.

However, a rabbit duchess shows up and the staff finds her quite demanding, and there is a mysterious stranger who seems to be sneaking food from the kitchen. The animal folks at the hotel are pretty forgiving, but when the food levels dwindle to almost nothing, someone needs to get to the bottom of the mystery. Fortunately, Mona once again saves the day!

A TRUE HOME and THE GREATEST GIFT are adorable chapter books aimed at kids ages 9 - 12, or early chapter book readers. Truth be told, I think it will appeal to younger readers too. The stories are adorable and would make terrific read-aloud books for parents and teachers. The books also have some precious illustrations which are the perfect complement to the sweet stories.

I will admit that I'm not usually a huge fan of books about animals. (I know, I know!) However, I found these books to be adorable. I loved Mona and the other animals who live and work in the hotel, and I especially appreciated their (mainly) sweet interactions with each other. The books had some terrific messages... and they are definitely funny and uplifting.

The publisher decided to release both A TRUE HOME and THE GREATEST GIFT at the same time so readers wouldn't have to wait for a book two! I found it interesting that they have also planned an accelerated publishing schedule with the intention of keeping kids hooked on the adventures of Heartwood Hotel.

I'd be remiss if I didn't share with you the adorable website devoted to the series. There are lots of fun extras including finding your perfect room, meeting the staff, checking out the current menu or making your own, and seeing the events schedule. In addition, there are some crafts and other activities that your kids will enjoy!

I highly recommend the Heartwood Hotel series to youngsters. The characters are so charming, and the stories will definitely provide some important lessons about friendship and helping others!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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, July 12, 2017

Review: Hello, Sunshine

Summary: From Laura Dave—the author of the “addictive” (Us Weekly), “winning” (Publishers Weekly) and critically acclaimed bestseller Eight Hundred Grapes—comes a new novel about the secrets we keep…even from ourselves.

Sunshine Mackenzie has it all…until her secrets come to light.

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age. -- Simon & Schuster

I'm a big fan of author Laura Dave, so I was extremely excited that her latest novel HELLO, SUNSHINE arrived in my mailbox prior to my beach vacation. This novel about the fall from grace of a celebrity chef sounded like an ideal summer read... and it was the first book I picked out of my large stack to read by the waves!

HELLO, SUNSHINE tells the story of Sunshine Mackenzie, a woman who seemingly has it all. She's a celebrity chef with a huge social media following, and she has a terrific husband who wholeheartedly supports her and her career. She's even has her own television show. However, when she discovers that she's been hacked, all her dirty secrets are revealed!

Sunshine's perfect life suddenly isn't so perfect. Her husband leaves her, she loses her television show, and her fans turn on her. She doesn't seem to have any options except to return to her childhood home where her estranged sister and niece have been living. It's only when Sunshine hits rock bottom that she can clearly see the truth about herself and what she wants out of life.

HELLO, SUNSHINE was a fantastic beach book! It was an extremely fun read, kind of like chick lit for grownups; however, it also touched upon some very serious and relevant issues in today's society. In fact, I picked up the novel hoping to be entertained with a woman's fall and eventual redemption, and I definitely was... but I also thoroughly appreciated how thought-provoking this novel was when it came to social media and honesty. And that's probably what I liked the most about HELLO, SUNSHINE. It was an insightful look at how we portray ourselves in this age of social media.

Sunshine was an extremely interesting character. I will admit that I didn't always like her very much, but I did like what she represented. She was a complex character who definitely symbolized what can go wrong when you start telling others (and yourself!) lies about yourself. This novel definitely featured the pitfalls when you start with just one little fib or exaggeration. As most of us realize, one little lie is usually just the beginning... and the coverup ends up requiring quite a few more.

I also enjoyed that Sunshine didn't just feel sorry for herself and give up. Rather, she began forging new relationships (namely with her niece) and trying to fix old ones that had been damaged (like the one with her sister.) In addition, she began a low-level job in the kitchen of a hard-nosed chef and worked her butt off. Even when things seemed pretty dismal for Sunshine, she persevered and tried to make amends for her past. And that's where the redemption aspect of the novel took place, and that's also when I started liking and rooting for Sunshine!

My favorite aspect of HELLO, SUNSHINE, though, was how this novel explored the subject of reality and self-awareness in a world full of social media. Don't get me wrong, I love Twitter and Facebook even though I'm not a huge poster. I enjoy following my friends' lives and seeing pictures and accomplishments of their kids; however, there have always been times that I think it's interesting to see the spin they put on their public lives. In fact, I often wonder if the people with the best posts on Facebook are truly living those perfect lives. This novel definitely explores that and more!

Because of a hacker, Sunshine is forced to confront what she's been posting on all of her social media outlets. Ultimately, that's a really good thing for Sunshine because she realizes how difficult it's been to live the life she's created... not actually experienced. She learns to be authentic and live her life for herself and those she are close to rather than her millions of fans; and in the process, she repairs relationships from her past and begins to love herself.

I think HELLO, SUNSHINE would make an excellent book club selection. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I don't think you'd need one. There are so many topics to discuss from celebrity personas, to dysfunctional families, to love, to honesty, to second chances. You also will definitely want to explore social media and the effects it has on our society, our kids, and even ourselves.

HELLO, SUNSHINE is a fun and thought-provoking read. Highly recommended!

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