Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Those Girls

Summary: Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father's temper. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. As events spiral out of control they find themselves in a horrifying situation and are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives. Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer. But when one of the sisters goes missing, followed closely by her niece, they are pulled back into the past. And this time there's nowhere left to run.

With Those Girls Chevy Stevens presents her most visceral thriller yet: an unforgettable portrait of desperation, loyalty, and evil. A story of survival...and revenge. -- St. Martin's Press

I am embarrassed to say that I've never read a novel by Chevy Stevens. Her books have always appealed to me, and I even have a few of them on my bookshelves; however, I've never actually picked up one of them... until now. Her latest book is called THOSE GIRLS and it tells the story of three sisters who have had more than their fair share of heartache in their lives.

After suffering years of abuse from their alcoholic father, the Campbell sisters, Jess, Courtney and Dani, end up fighting back one night. Things get out of control and the teenage girls are forced to leave their home and go into hiding. But when they arrive a small town and accept some help from two local boys after their car breaks down, life gets even worse for the three. After escaping from the guys, the sisters are forced to change their names and start over.

For eighteen years, the girls are getting by and trying to recover from the traumas they experienced as teens; however, when one of the sisters and her niece Skylar go missing, they other two sisters discover that they have never really escaped from their past. As a family, they are forced to confront their past and the secrets they've been keeping while at the same time fight for their lives.

I really enjoyed THOSE GIRLS! So much so that I now want to read all of Ms. Stevens' novels. In this book, she created an intriguing cast of characters that I actually cared about. She also had enough tension and suspense to keep things interesting. I honestly read the book in one day and I couldn't wait to see what happened to this family.

While there is no doubt that Ms. Stevens' has major skills as a suspense writer, she is also very talented when it comes to character development. These three sisters were well drawn characters and very believable. What occurred during the girls' past definitely had a major impact on each of their personalities and actions; and even though they tried to create new lives, they could never really escape the fear from being found out.

One thing that really impressed me about this novel was how the story was told. Initially, the story was told by the youngest sister Jess. Eighteen years later, though, the story was told by her daughter Skylar. I loved both of their voices and thought that hearing the story through both of their eyes was especially poignant. While the book was a thriller, it was also much more complex than just a suspense story. I enjoyed the realistic relationships between the sisters, but I especially loved the relationships between mother and daughter.

Another aspect of THOSE GIRLS that I appreciated was the characterization of the "bad guys." The girls' father was horrible to them, although he was also a just a pitiful man. However, the teens that these girls encountered after fleeing their home were so interesting... albeit creepy. I definitely enjoyed that the portrayal of these men was disturbing but at the same time realistic.

THOSE GIRLS is a terrific thriller and I highly recommend it to fans of literary suspense!

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. 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 4, 2015

Kid Konnection: Pool


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 that has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

Summary: What happens when two shy children meet at a very crowded pool? Dive in to find out! Deceptively simple, this masterful book tells a story of quiet moments and surprising encounters, and reminds us that friendship and imagination have no bounds. -- Chronicle

I wish I could remember where I first saw the new picture book POOL by JiHyeon Lee. I'm pretty sure it was a magazine, but besides that, I'm clueless. The article mentioned that this was a must-see summer book, and I was fortunate enough to already have a copy sitting on my shelves.

I have to admit that I found the cover of POOL to be intriguing, and I was even more impressed after I began flipping through the pages. POOL is a beautifully illustrated book (with no words) about a very crowded swimming pool and the beginning of a friendship. This picture book is both simple and exquisite, and I absolutely loved it!

The story begins when a young boy is visiting a crowded swimming pool. He is reluctant to get it but decides to take the plunge. He swims under the crowd and discovers a young girl in the same boat (not really a boat, but you get the idea!) Together, they explore the pool and their imaginations take them to an even bigger body of water.

The illustrations in POOL are just gorgeous! I love simplicity of them and also how much they drew me in. I also loved how the illustrator used color in just the right places.

POOL is a beautiful book in term of its illustrations but also because it shows the beauty of a new friendship. I have to admit that I was surprised how a book with no words could touch my heart like it did. I think the power of the message is what makes this book especially poignant. That you need to dive in to experience both friendship and joy!

Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher 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!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Giveaway: Ana of California and Anne of Green Gables

Summary: In the grand tradition of Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Andi Teran’s captivating debut novel offers a contemporary twist on a beloved classic. Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana Cortez has just blown her last chance with a foster family. It’s a group home next—unless she agrees to leave East Los Angeles for a farm trainee program in Northern California.

When she first arrives, Ana can’t tell a tomato plant from a blackberry bush, and Emmett Garber is skeptical that this slight city girl can be any help on his farm. His sister Abbie, however, thinks Ana might be just what they need. Ana comes to love Garber Farm, and even Emmett has to admit that her hard work is an asset. But when she inadvertently stirs up trouble in town, Ana is afraid she might have ruined her last chance at finding a place to belong. -- Penguin

One book that I'm really excited to read is ANA OF CALIFORNIA by Andi Teran. This novel is a retelling of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES with a modern and diverse cast of characters! Ana is a fifteen year old orphan who lives in East L.A. She's just used up her last chance with a foster family and she will either be sent to a group home or a farm trainee program in Northern California. Ana doesn't seem like she will fit in on the farm; however, maybe Garber Farm is exactly what Ana needs!

ANA OF CALIFORNIA sounds fantastic and I can't wait to read it. I'm embarrassed to say that I've haven't ever read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES though, so my goal is to read both books this summer! In fact, I think book clubs should consider reading both ANA and ANNE and discussing. The publisher has put together a wonderful book club kit which would help make your meeting fun. There is a link to some discussion questions, along with an author interview, a map, a playlist, further reading suggestions, and even some recipes!

Thanks to the fine folks at Penguin, I have a copy of ANA OF CALIFORNIA along with a gorgeous copy of ANNA OF GREEN GABLES to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 16th 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!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: The Guest Cottage

Summary: Sensible thirty-six-year-old Sophie Anderson has always known what to do. She knows her role in life: supportive wife of a successful architect and calm, capable mother of two. But on a warm summer night, as the house grows quiet around her and her children fall asleep, she wonders what’s missing from her life. When her husband echoes that lonely question, announcing that he’s leaving her for another woman, Sophie realizes she has no idea what’s next. Impulsively renting a guest cottage on Nantucket from her friend Susie Swenson, Sophie rounds up her kids, Jonah and Lacey, and leaves Boston for a quiet family vacation, minus one.

Also minus one is Trevor Black, a software entrepreneur who has recently lost his wife. Trevor is the last person to imagine himself, age thirty and on his own, raising a little boy like Leo—smart and sweet, but grappling constantly with his mother’s death, growing more and more closed off. Hoping a quiet summer on the Nantucket coast will help him reconnect with Leo, Trevor rents a guest house on the beautiful island from his friend Ivan Swenson.

Best-laid plans run awry when Sophie and Trevor realize they’ve mistakenly rented the same house. Still, determined to make this a summer their kids will always remember, the two agree to share the Swensons’ Nantucket house. But as the summer unfolds and the families grow close, Sophie and Trevor must ask themselves if the guest cottage is all they want to share.

Inspiring and true to life, The Guest Cottage is Nancy Thayer at her finest, inscribing in graceful, knowing prose matters of the heart and the meaning of family. -- Ballantine

When I was picking out books to take with me to the Outer Banks a few weeks ago, one that I made sure to include was THE GUEST COTTAGE by Nancy Thayer. Ms. Thayer is a bestselling author known for writing beach books, and she's even been called the "Queen of Beach Reads."

THE GUEST COTTAGE is a story about two single parents and their children who end up sharing a beach house on Nantucket one summer. Sophie is a mother of two and has always been there for her successful architect husband. However, recently she's been wondering if it's enough... if this is all her life as to offer. Not surprisingly, her husband has been asking similar questions. When he tells her that he is leaving her for another woman, Sophie has no idea where to turn; and she decides to rent a guest cottage from her friend for the summer on Nantucket Island.

Meanwhile, Trevor is a young father of one whose wife has recently died. His little son Trevor isn't dealing with the loss very well, and Trevor wants to do what it takes to make Leo come out of his shell. He decides a quiet summer away from all of their recent troubles might help Leo, so he decides to rent a guest house from his friend.

Surprise! Surprise! It's the exact same guest house! I guess the owners don't really communicate all that well! Anyway, Sophie and Trevor decide that maybe they can all stay there for the summer and make things work. As their families grow closer, Sophie and Trevor find themselves attracted to each other and wonder if there's any way they can build a future with each other once they arrive back home to Boston.

THE GUEST COTTAGE was an ideal beach read. It was relatively light and full of romance, and I can see why Ms. Thayer has sold so many books. I can't really say that the premise was all that original, and I could definitely tell from the first few pages where the story was going; however, I don't think surprises and twists are necessary elements in a beachy read.

The first thing that struck me when I sat down to write this review was how gorgeous the cover was. I can guarantee that had I seen this book at a store, I would have stopped to check it out. I had an ARC of THE GUEST COTTAGE with a generic red and white cover, and I didn't fully appreciate just how pretty this book was! It certainly screams "summer!"

I enjoyed THE GUEST COTTAGE quite a bit. One reason why this book entertained me as much as it did was the character of Sophie. I could relate a bit to her as a mother (not really as a wife!), and my heart definitely went out to her. To find that her husband was having an affair and wanted a divorce is hard enough, but to be 36 years old and starting over is a scary thing. I loved how she put her children first, and she was a good mom. I also enjoyed seeing her reconnect with a passion from her past. I definitely was rooting for her to find love again (although it was certainly fast!) and happiness.

I also really liked Trevor. His situation was a little different. His wife had recently passed away and he was left all alone with his young son. He not only had to deal with the tragic loss of his wife, but he also had to deal with Leo who was becoming more and more withdrawn. On top of that, I think Trevor also began to examine his marriage and he discovered some sad and startling things about his wife. I really, really liked Trevor. He was a good man and a good father.

Ms. Thayer definitely knows how to weave a good romance. I appreciated the way she developed Sophie and Trevor's relationship, and I even liked the little bit of tension she incorporated into the story. It was obvious, that despite the age difference, that Sophie and Trevor were much better matched with each other than they were their respective spouses, and I found myself rooting for them. It was a sweet love story that also managed to incorporate their children!

THE GUEST COTTAGE would make a fun book club pick for the summer. I'm sure many readers would love to pack this one in their beach or pool bag. There is a reading guide with ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, loss, marriage, guilt, divorce, parenting, and friendship.

Overall, THE GUEST COTTAGE is an entertaining beach read. Recommended to fans of Ms. Thayer and Elin Hilderbrand.

Thanks to Elevate Communications for a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: The Santangelos

Summary: Legendary mega-seller Jackie Collins chronicles passion and power in one of America's most glamorous families.

A vicious hit. A vengeful enemy. A drug addled Colombian club owner. A sex crazed Italian family. And the ever powerful Lucky Santangelo has to deal with them all, while Max-her teenage daughter is becoming The "It" girl in Europe's modeling world. And her Kennedyesque son, Bobby, is being set up for a murder he didn't commit. But Lucky can deal. Always strong and unpredictable with her husband, Lennie, by her side she lives up to the family motto-Never cross a Santangelo. Lucky rules. The Santangelos always come out on top. An epic family saga filled with love, lust, revenge and passion. -- St. Martin's Press

Summer just wouldn't be summer with a novel by Jackie Collins. This year her novel is called THE SANTANGELOS, and it focuses on that intriguing cast of characters. Like all Jackie Collins' novels, the book is filled with lots of Hollywood inside scoop, family dramas, revenge, violence, and... of course, sex!

Most of you, even those who aren't regular Jackie Collins' fans, are probably familiar with The Santangelo family, namely Lucky. And while THE SANTANGELOS follows all of the regular characters including her father and children, Lucky is still the star of the story as far as I'm concerned. Once again, Lucky is trying to run her businesses and keep her family in line... and once again, that's not an easy task with her strong-willed (and wild!) children.

Lucky's daughter Max is in Europe becoming a major fashion model, and her handsome son Bobby is being set up for a murder he doesn't think he committed. Meanwhile, Lucky is trying to handle some devastating news about her father and the effects it will have on the entire Santangelo crew. There is no doubt that Lucky is smart and strong, but these events are proving to be a challenge to her and the family.

THE SANTANGELOS is, without a doubt, a very entertaining read. I was fortunate enough to read this by the pool a few weeks ago, and I have to say it was the perfect place to take in all of the Santangelos' escapades. This family sure is something and they never cease to truly amaze me. I especially appreciated how Lucky eventually made sense of the craziness that was happening to her family and saved the day!

Fans of Jackie Collins will love the sex and drama in this book. I admit that I've been reading Ms. Collins' novels since high school, and as far as I'm concerned, there are few writers who write better sex scenes. Honestly, I'm glad it was so hot at the beach because no one could tell how much I was blushing. This novel has some very hot sex scenes that might make some readers a little uncomfortable! Although, I suspect those very same scenes attract a fair share of readers too!

One thing I appreciated about THE SANTANGELOS was the pacing of the story. This novel was close to 500 pages, and yet, I read it in less than a day. It was definitely a page turner! Not only was I interested in Lucky, Max, and Bobby's stories, but I also enjoyed how the drama escalated towards the end of the book. I don't want to give too much away, but there was so much action and excitement in these characters' lives, and I couldn't wait to see how everything worked out. And I'll give it to Ms. Collins. She definitely managed to have quite a few shocking twists in this novel!

Of course, THE SANTANGELOS isn't for everyone and it's definitely not a literary novel.... but it is a lot of fun! I actually look forward to reading a Jackie Collins' book every summer -- it's escapism at it's best!

Thanks to Get Red PR for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Giveaway: Us

Summary: David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Times bestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart. Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.

Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the caf├ęs of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around? -- Harper

One of the books I was most excited about after last year's BEA was US by David Nicholls. Like many of you, I adored ONE DAY, and I was anxiously awaiting his next novel. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed -- you can read my review here.

US tells the story of Douglas Petersen, a middle-aged man whose wife informs him that she wants a divorce... when they get back from their month-long tour of Europe with their son. Douglas is thrown for a loop and decides that this trip is his last chance at saving his family.

The story is told through Douglas' eyes and he is nothing if not honest. With flashbacks, the reader discovers more about Douglas' marriage and his role as a father. The story is entertaining, funny, and especially touching. Needless to say, this novel delves into some very special topics including marriage, divorce, love, loss and families.

Thanks to the fine folks at Harper, I have a copy of the soon-to-be released (like tomorrow!) paperback edition of US to share with one very lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 12th 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!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Princess and the Pony & 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 cute picture book about a little princess and her special friend!

Summary: Princess Pinecone knows exactly what she wants for her birthday this year. A BIG horse. A STRONG horse. A horse fit for a WARRIOR PRINCESS! But when the day arrives, she doesn't quite get the horse of her dreams...

From the artist behind the comic phenomenon Hark! A Vagrant, The Princess and the Pony is a laugh-out-loud story of brave warriors, big surprises, and falling in love with one unforgettable little pony. -- Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic

THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY by Kate Beaton is an adorable picture book about a princess who wants to be a warrior princess. So for her birthday, she wants a big, strong, fast horse instead of the cute, cozy sweaters that she usually receives. Much to her surprise, she does get a horse of sorts... it's a chubby little pony who tends to fart! (That's the author's word -- not mine!) And his eyes are looking in different directions... but only sometimes!

The princess does her best to prepare her new pony for battle, but she kind of gives up. The pony is hopeless! She ends up telling her pony to just do his best, and they head to battle. What happens during the battle is quite a cute little twist!

I really thought THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY was a funny story! I couldn't help but love the chubby pony, and I equally loved the warriors' reactions to him during the battle. It's a sweet and hilarious book that will entertain boys and girls alike... and possible even a parent or two!

The colorful illustrations in THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY are the perfect complement to this story. You can see how cute the princess and the pony are on the cover, but I wanted you to see just how fun this book is. Check out pages 3 and 4 below.
In conclusion, THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY is very funny book about a special pony! Highly recommended!

Learn more at Scholastic.com
Visit the author at BeatonTown.com
Follow Kate Beaton on Twitter
#PonyTime

Giveaway alert: I have a HAPPY BIRTHDAY WARRIOR prize pack available courtesy of the publisher. One (1) winner receives:

· A copy of THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY
· plus a $25 Visa gift card to celebrate your warrior’s next big birthday.

To enter, just fill out the form below before July 10th 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!



*****
Photo credit: Notker Mahr
Kate Beaton is the author of Hark! A Vagrant, her #1 New York Times bestselling collection of comics which began as a webcomic in 2007. The Princess and the Pony is her first picture book. She is the recipient of multiple Harvey awards, and her work has been featured in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Comics Anthology. Kate lives in Toronto, and you can find her online at www.beatontown.com and on Twitter as @beatonna.

Thanks to the publisher 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!