Saturday, August 27, 2016

Kid Konnection: Busy Builders, Busy Week! & 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 for little ones who love all things construction!

Summary: In this bright, bold picture book, a cast of animal characters are building a brand-new playground in a local park for their community! Each day of the week contains a different construction plan as the steam-rolling, digging, and planting gets underway.

Tuesday! Mix day!
Pipe and boards and bricks day.
Stack, spin, pour it in.
Give the fence a fix day.

Wednesday! Load day!
Take it on the road day.
Hoist, haul, pull it all.
Something being towed day!

The construction project comes together for a joyful, rhyming walking tour of a neighborhood, where young readers can learn the days of the week while watching everyone work as a team! -- Bloomsbury

BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Leo Timmers is a very fun picture book. In fact, it's ideal for fans of trucks and animals; and it also teaches youngsters about the various days of the week.

BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! features an irresistible cast of construction workers... who just happen to be animals. They are building a new playground for a community park, and their dedication to the job shines through on every page. The book takes readers through the various days of the week, beginning with Sunday, and shows what progress is being made on the park. It ends on Saturday with the big park opening!

I thought BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! was so much fun. I love the whimsical nature of the animals and their machines. (The cement mixer has polka dots!) And, I think the illustrations are positively adorable. I have no doubt that little ones will love looking at the pages of this book because there are so many silly details. I can't wait to share it with the little guys that I babysit every Monday!

BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! is a great book and a must-have addition to preschool and home libraries. There is even a free class curriculum guide and storytime kit here. Highly recommended!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 9th 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!

Follow Jean on the BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! tour!

Mon, Aug 22 -- Cracking the Cover
Tues, Aug 23 -- Literary Hoots
Wed, Aug 24 -- NC Teacher Stuff
Thurs, Aug 25 -- Mom Read It
Fri, Aug 26 -- Unleashing Readers
Mon, Aug 29 -- Bluestocking Thinking
Tues, Aug 30 -- Jean Little Library
Wed, Aug 31 -- Geo Librarian
Thurs, Sept 1 -- Mrs. O Reads Books
Fri, Sept 2 -- Where Imagination Grows

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, August 25, 2016

Review: How to Party with an Infant

Summary: The new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants—a hilarious and charming story about a quirky single mom in San Francisco who tiptoes through the minefields of the “Mommy Wars” and manages to find friendship and love.

When Mele Bart told her boyfriend Bobby she was pregnant with his child, he stunned her with an announcement of his own: he was engaged to someone else.

Fast forward two years, Mele’s daughter is a toddler, and Bobby and his fiancée want Ellie to be the flower girl at their wedding. Mele, who also has agreed to attend the nuptials, knows she can’t continue obsessing about Bobby and his cheese making, Napa-residing, fiancée. She needs something to do. So she answers a questionnaire provided by the San Francisco Mommy Club in elaborate and shocking detail and decides to enter their cookbook writing contest. Even though she joined the group out of desperation, Mele has found her people: Annie, Barrett, Georgia, and Henry (a stay-at-home dad). As the wedding date approaches, Mele uses her friends’ stories to inspire recipes and find comfort, both.

How to Party with an Infant is a hilarious and poignant novel from Kaui Hart Hemmings, who has an uncanny ability to make disastrous romances and tragic circumstances not only relatable and funny, but unforgettable. -- Simon & Schuster

I have to share a funny story that happened when I was reading the new novel HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT by Kaui Hart Hemmings. I was sitting at karate and a mom came up to me and asked me if I was pregnant. I didn't get it for a minute, but I guess she was thinking that I was reading a self-help book. I very quickly assured her that I wasn't having a baby, but I'm sure she could tell immediate because I had a disgusted look on my face!

HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT is far from a self-help book. Rather, it's a funny story about a single mom trying to navigate motherhood in the trendy city of San Francisco. The novel is funny and does have some touching moments; however, I can't go so far as to say I loved it. I thought it was just ok.

Mele is a single mom with a two year old daughter named Ellie. The father of her baby told her he was engaged to another women when Mele announced her surprise pregnancy. Now, he wants Ellie to be the flower girl at his wedding, and Mele is less than thrilled since she's not quite over him yet. She can't decide if it would be right for her to attend the wedding!

Meanwhile, Mele is looking for something to do. She's busy with being a mom and hanging out with play groups, but she might need a little more. (This is where I think many stay-at-home moms will relate.) She decides to enter the San Francisco Mommy Club's cookbook writing contest. She begins by filling out a questionnaire... in a brutally honest (and often times humorous) way, and then she uses her friends' life stories to create the unique recipes.

With the help of her play group (and one very special dad), Mele gets through all of the changes in her life, especially Ellie's dad's wedding. She also realizes some important things about being a mom and what she really wants out of life.

HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT is truly an original story. I can't think of anything I've read similar to it. I don't mean that the story is entirely unique, but the way it's presented is pretty darn creative. I'm not sure I'm going to explain this very well, but the basic structure of the book is set up in the form of the questionnaire. Then, Mele's story is also woven in. Where it gets creative is that author also introduces Mele's friends' stories and then uses their stories to inspire original recipes. It's a fresh approach to storytelling, and I definitely appreciated what the author was trying to do.

I can't honestly say why the book didn't work for me. Maybe it's because I'm so far past Mele's motherhood stage. I also think that I pretty much have nothing in common with her or her stories. As a result, I couldn't really relate to her all that much. I also didn't really love her like I had hoped. There were times when her insecurity shined through and my heart did go out to her, but then there were other times when I didn't really like her all that much.

There were definitely some things I did like about this book though. I did think the author did a good job of capturing some of the feelings of hanging out with a toddler all day and attending play groups. It took awhile before Mele found the ideal playgroup, and her stories of some of the earlier ones were cute. I had to laugh at some of the interactions with the moms (and dads) as well as remember back to those days when I wasn't sure if my daughter or I were going to make it. Success was just making through each day in one piece!

I also appreciated that this book was so smart and witty. Even though I didn't love Mele, I found some of her observations on life (and especially motherhood) to be pretty darn funny. There were definitely parts of this novel that were satirical in nature, and I think (for the most part) they worked really well. I also thought there were some touching parts of the story that really cut to the chase about how hard it is to be a mother... especially a single mother.

I do think HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT would be a good book club pick for a certain type of group -- probably one made of younger moms. There is a reading guide available with twelve questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendship, motherhood, sacrifice, forgiveness, acceptance, new relationships, helicopter parenting, mommy wars, and more.

Overall, HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT was a cute read that did touch upon some serious issues. I recommend this novel to moms with infants or anyone looking for a unique (and funny) story.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: The Girls

Summary: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence. 

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction. -- Random House

I hardly know where to start talking about THE GIRLS by Emma Cline. This book has received some major praise in the past few months, and who am I to argue with that? The story takes place in the 1960s and will remind some readers of the Manson Family cult. In fact, I was expecting a fictionalized account of that story, but what I got was so much more.

THE GIRLS tells the story of Evie Boyd, a fourteen year old girl who notices a group of girls in a park and immediately becomes entranced by them. While Evie certainly has her fair share of freedom, she becomes caught up in the wonder of these girls. They just seem to have a certain way about them -- their unique style of dress, their wild nature, and their no care attitude.

Evie is especially drawn to Suzanne, one of the older girls in the group; and Suzanne introduces her to the cult and their charismatic leader. They live in seclusion in the hills of Northern California; and despite the raggedy nature of the ranch, Evie is mesmerized. Evie begins spending more and more time away from her family, and she eventually gets caught up in this group and their violent behavior.

Readers can't help but feel as if Evie was a member of the Manson Family or a group that is eerily similar. I honestly was expecting a story about the brutal crime but was pleasantly surprised that the novel was more about the dynamic of girls. (I guess the title of the novel could have been a clue!) The novel was extremely insightful, maybe even brilliant at times; and it is a compelling (albeit disturbing) read.

I always credit the author Megan Abbott for "getting" girls and teen behavior, and I have to say that Emma Cline is definitely another writer who gets it! In fact, Ms. Cline is a terrific author -- one that creates memorable characters and a compelling storyline. It's hard to believe that THE GIRLS is her first novel because it's so polished and well written. The way she portrayed the longing that Evie felt for Suzanne was so spot-on, and I suspect that readers will actually understand Evie's behavior... even though at first glance it seems so strange.

I have read quite a few books about the Manson Family, and I honestly have always wondered how a group of people could be so willing to follow a crazy man. It really wracked my brain. What I will say is that THE GIRLS helped me to understand the dynamics of girls who wanted to belong to a group so badly that they were willing to do almost anything. It's a scary (and sad) thing that the desire to be part of a group is that strong for some people.

Needless to say, THE GIRLS would make an excellent book club pick. Almost all of the women in my group have daughters, and I think it would be especially interesting to talk about these girls' behavior with them. There is a reading guide with twelve interesting questions that might help to jump start your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, peer pressure, friendship, insecurity, desire, power and acceptance.

Overall, THE GIRLS is one of the best books I've read this summer. Don't miss it!

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: With Love from the Inside

Summary: Angela Pisel’s poignant debut explores the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter, and their quest to discover the truth and whether or not love can prevail—even from behind bars.

Grace Bradshaw knows the exact minute she will die. On death row for murdering her infant son, her last breath will be taken on February 15 at 12:01 a.m. Eleven years, five months, and twenty-seven days separate her from the last time she heard her precious daughter’s voice and the final moment she’d heard anyone call her Mom. Out of appeals, she can focus on only one thing—reconnecting with her daughter and making sure she knows the truth.

Secrets lurk behind Sophie Logan’s big house and even bigger bank account. Every day when she kisses her husband good-bye, she worries her fabricated life is about to come crumbling down. No one knows the unforgivable things her mother did to tear her family apart—not her husband, who is a prominent plastic surgeon, or her “synthetic” friends who live in her upscale neighborhood.

Grace’s looming execution date forces Sophie to revisit the traumatic events that haunted her childhood. When she returns to her hometown, she discovers new evidence about her baby brother William’s death seventeen years ago—proof that might set her mother free but shatter her marriage forever.

Sophie must quickly decide if her mother is the monster the prosecutor made her out to be or the loving mother she remembers—the one who painted her toenails glittery pink and plastered Post-it notes with inspiring quotes (“100 percent failure rate if you don’t try”) all over Sophie’s bathroom mirror—before their time runs out. -- Putnam

It wasn't until I saw so many Facebook ads for the new novel WITH LOVE FROM THE INSIDE by Angela Pisel that I realized I had this book sitting on my shelf. That could tell you a few things about me... 1) that I have no idea what books I have, or 2) that I have a lot of books on my shelf. Both are probably a little bit true.

WITH LOVE FROM THE INSIDE tells the story of a very difficult relationship between a mother and daughter. Grace is the mother and she has been living on death row in a prison for years for killing her infant son. Her daughter, Sophie, is happily married to a successful doctor, lives in a beautiful home... and hasn't spoken to her mother for over a decade. She is also living a lie because she's never told her husband the truth about her mother.

Grace is desperate for her daughter's forgiveness especially now that she's run out of appeals and has been given the date of her execution. When she returns back to her hometown for some closure, she discovers some new evidence about her baby brother's death. This new information could be exactly what Sophie needs to prove Grace's innocence.

Sophie isn't sure what to make of the past seventeen years. She remembers her mom as a kind, loving mother, but she also knows that the evidence of the baby's death points directly to Grace. She also knows that by telling her husband the truth about her mother after all of these years could put her marriage in jeopardy. Sophie must decide quickly what she wants to do... before it's too late!

I really enjoyed WITH LOVE FROM THE INSIDE, and I was definitely impressed with the debut effort by Ms. Pisel. The novel was a compelling story about a mother and daughter that really touched my heart. I appreciated that there was a touch of a mystery surrounding the death of the baby, and I liked how the secrets were resolved.

I think the strength of this novel was the relationship between Grace and Sophie... even though they weren't really together in many of the scenes. The book alternated between the two women and much of Grace's chapters were letters written to Sophie. As Grace remembered her time bringing up Sophie, I found my heart aching for her. She was obviously a woman of faith who loved her child dearly. She was so concerned with leaving behind her memories and words of wisdom to her daughter.

I was actually surprised by how much I felt while reading this novel. I think that's a testament to the author and the characters she created. I found both Grace and Sophie to be interesting, and I definitely liked both of them too. As the story went on, I found my heart just breaking for both of them -- Sophie because she was so damaged and living a lie and Grace because she was sentenced to death and living in prison. These women were suffering so much and it seemed like neither one was to blame.

I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that I appreciated the ending of the story. I don't know that I'll go so far as to say I liked it though. I appreciated it because it fit with the novel. (That will make more sense if you read the book.) The ending wasn't entirely predictable and it did make me think (which is a very good thing); however, it wasn't entirely the resolution I wanted!

I do think WITH LOVE FROM THE INSIDE would make a great book club pick. There is a reading guide available with eight thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include mother/daughter relationships, guilt, secrets, lies, our legal system, the death penalty, and forgiveness.

Overall, I thought WITH LOVE FROM THE INSIDE is a compelling novel about a very unique mother/daughter relationship. Recommended to fans of women's fiction as well as readers who appreciate stories about dysfunctional families.

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: All the Missing Girls

Summary: Like the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love. -- Simon & Schuster

I am getting to the point where I hate all of the book comparisons to THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE. I realize that publishers are trying to attract fans of those books to read their latest female protagonist thriller; however, it's just not fair. A lot of these books can stand on their own merit. Case in point -- ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by Megan Miranda.

ALL THE MISSING GIRLS tells the story of Nicolette Farrell, a woman who left her hometown ten years ago after her best friend, Corinne, mysteriously disappeared. Now living in Philadelphia with a good job and a fiancé that most would consider quite the catch, she is forced to return home to help with her aging father.

Within days of Nic's return, another local woman named Annaleise goes missing without a trace. Needless to say, Corinne's unsolved case is brought right back in the spotlight. Nic's high school boyfriend Tyler is a suspect -- he was dating Annaleise at the time of her disappearance; however, Nic finds that she's also being looked at by the police along with her brother Daniel. It's hard to argue with the police that there are just too many coincidences in the two disappearances.

I have a feeling this is a "love it" or "hate it" type of book. I read two reviews, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus; and they couldn't have been more different. I actually will side with PW on this one. I thought ALL THE MISSING GIRLS was a well-written, suspenseful story that kept me turning the pages until late in the night.

I certainly found a lot to like in ALL THE MISSING GIRLS. First and foremost, I loved how the story was told. The novel is written in Nic's voice which worked extremely well because it gave readers an insider's look into the story. As I learned more and more about Nic and her past, I actually began to wonder if she was a reliable narrator. In many cases, I feel manipulated by an unreliable female narrator but not so with this novel.

In addition, I loved that the story took place in reverse chronological order. I wasn't entirely sure the author could pull off this trick, but she did so with flying colors. The story begins with the end (which is actually Day 15) and each chapter is the prior day until you reach Day 1. There is actually an ending past Day 15, but you get the drift. I found the presentation to be so clever and effective, and I especially appreciated not knowing what happened in the past whether that was 15 days earlier or 10 years earlier. I will say that there were a few times when I was a little disoriented, but for the most part, I loved how the clues were revealed!

I also found the mystery aspect of this story (or stories) to be extremely well done. I'm not going to lie, I had some idea about Corinne's disappearance; however, I was shocked by the mystery surrounding Annaleise's disappearance. I think the format of the story (working backwards) helped to muddy the waters surrounding Annaleise, but I honestly thought the culprit could have been a number of the characters.

I do think ALL THE MISSING GIRLS would make a great book club pick. I would love to talk with a group to get their feelings about the novel as well as the way the story was written. I think the characters would be somewhat interesting to dissect, although I'm not sure we got a detailed look at any of them except Nic. There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions along with some suggestions for ways to enhance your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family, obligation, love, secrets, regrets, myth, superstition, honesty, deception, morality, and memory.

I found ALL THE MISSING GIRLS to be a treat! Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers and mysteries.

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, August 20, 2016

Kid Konnection: Science with Stuff Books

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 four fantastic science books from Downtown Bookworks!

Summary: Discover fascinating facts about our feathered friends such as:

• which birds are the biggest, fastest, smallest, and more
• why some birds change colors with the seasons
• which bird has poisonous skin and feathers
• who builds the coolest nests
• how the fastest fliers soar -- Downtown Bookworks

Summary: Close-ups of creepy crawlies and incredible facts about the world of insects will keep kids enthralled. A bug in resin is an excellent bonus! -- Downtown Bookworks

Summary: Spectacular pictures and jaw-dropping info make this a must-read. Real space rocks (tektites) make it impossible to pass up! -- Downtown Bookworks

Summary: Fascinating information about prehistory is thrilling for young science fans. A real fossil gives them something to treasure! -- Downtown Bookworks

I am really excited to share with you some wonderful books for youngsters (ages 8 and up) who are interested in science. Unfortunately, Booking Son doesn't like science all that much -- I know, I know; however, he even made an exception for this collection! These books not only have vivid photographs and loads of information, but they also include "stuff" on the front cover that kids can touch.

The very first book that captured Booking Son's attention was BIRD-ACIOUS by Melissa Stewart. This book's subtitle is Yuck! Owl Puke with Bones in it. My daughter's 4th grade class got to dissect owl puke but they discontinued it by the time my son hit fourth grade. He's always wanted to find little bones in an owl pellet and now he can!

This science book describes the different types of birds beginning with a birdasaurus. It also delves into why birds can fly, why male birds strut their stuff, nesting, and types of beaks to name just a few of the topics. The color photographs are beautiful and the information is presented in a fun way that will definitely appeal to kids. The descriptions are brief and written in language that they will relate to. For example, it even explains how birds poop!

And they saved the best for last... the owl pellet. There is an explanation of how the pellet heat-treated as well as specifics for how to dissect the owl pellet. There is even a photo of the various types of bones and teeth you might find in the pellet.

The next book is INSECT-O-MANIA by Allyson Kulavis. This book includes a beetle preserved in resin -- not exactly my idea of fun but I think kids will think it's pretty cool. This book is just as fun and educational as BIRD-ACIOUS. It is chock full of information on insects as well as very interesting close-up photographs. I think parents will especially appreciate the pages devoted to cockroaches! Ha Ha!

Readers who are interested in different insects (or love gross things) will have love this book! I'll even admit that I found the different types of insects to be fascinating.

The next cool book in the series is SPACE-TACULAR by Allyson Kulavis. The book includes real space moon rocks. Booking Son was really interested in this book too -- I guess he doesn't realize that space is still science! Once again, I am really impressed with the quality of photography and details in this book.

There are pages devoted to the sun and the moon, but there are also pages about space shuttles and space food. I thought the section explaining how space technology has impacted the earth was especially interesting. Kids who are interested in outer space and the space program will have a blast with this book! (I couldn't resist!)

And last but certainly not least is the book FOSSIL-ICIOUS by Allyson Kulavis. I was always interested in fossils as a kid, and I was really drawn to this book that includes a real fossil right in the front cover. It won't surprise you that this book has some awesome photographs.

FOSSIL-ICIOUS explores the different eras and what types of animals and plants existed during those times. It also looks at tar pits and fossil hunters which are pretty darn interesting. The last page of the book teaches kids how to identify the fossil that was included with the book. Our copy includes a plant leaf fossil.

Overall, these books are wonderful! These are only four of the Stuff with Science books that are available. There are also ones about the sea called SEA-SATIONAL and sharks called SHARK-TASTIC. I highly recommend this fun and educational series. Plus at $11.99, they make great gifts!

Thanks to the publisher for providng 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, August 17, 2016

Review: If You Left

Summary: A seductive novel about a privileged but damaged Manhattan wife whose main source of stability — her marriage — comes under threat, from forces both without and within.

For most of their marriage, Althea has fluctuated between extreme depressive and manic states — what she calls “the Tombs” and “the Visions” — and Oliver has been the steady hand that guided her to safety. This summer, Althea decides that she will be different from here on. She will be the loving, sexy wife Oliver wants, and the reliable, affectionate mother their nine year-old daughter Clem deserves. Her plan: to bring Clem to their Easthampton home once school is out — with no “summer girl” to care for her this time — and become “normal.”

But Oliver is distant and controlling, and his relationship with their interior decorator seems a bit too close; Clem has learned to be self-sufficient, and getting to know her now feels like very hard work for Althea. Into this scene enters the much younger, David Foster Wallace–reading house painter, who reaches something in Althea that has been long buried.

Fearless, darkly funny, and compulsively readable, If You Left explores the complex dance that is the bipolar marriage, and the possibility that to move forward, we might have to destroy the very things we've worked hardest to build. -- Mariner

I can't really say that I've ever read a novel quite like IF YOU LEFT by Ashley Prentice Norton. Maybe what's even more appropriate to say is I've never encountered a character quite like the main one in this story. Althea is suffers from bi-polar disorder and her once-stable marriage is on the brink of disaster. This summer, she is determined to make things "normal" for her husband and daughter.

In the past, Althea has gone from extremely depressed to manic states. Her husband Oliver has always been there for her. When he sees her approaching a breakdown, he's the one to pack up her suitcase and take her to the hospital. Althea realizes it's difficult for both Oliver and her daughter Clem, and she decides to take matters into her own hands. She will be the perfect wife and mother (no "summer girl" this year for Clem!), and she will also remodel their Easthampton home.

Oliver seems to be reaching the breaking point with Althea. When he's around (which isn't all that often), he also seems entirely too cozy with their interior decorator. As if that's not enough, Althea finds that it's not quite natural for her to be an attentive mom... especially when her daughter is used to having virtually no mommy presence. And then the young, sexy house painter named Maze enters the picture; and Althea discovers that Maze rekindles a desire in her that she didn't even realize still exists.

I'm not really sure how I felt about IF YOU LEFT. I read it in an afternoon, so I guess that says something. While I appreciated the writing and the character development, I didn't really like Althea (or any of the characters for that matter except maybe Clem) all that much; and I never felt as if I related to her. But it was more than just being unlikable, Althea really didn't resonate with me at all.

If I'm being entirely honest, I guess I should have felt sorry for Althea... and I definitely did, but it just wasn't enough. She suffers from a severe mental illness that contributed to her five suicide attempts. She's also on a cocktail of drugs that I'm sure are just awful. In addition, she is losing her husband and daughter; and she realizes that she needs to do something different, but she just can't. But despite all of this, I just didn't didn't care all that much!

That's not to say that IF YOU LEFT didn't have some positive things about it. First and foremost, I thought the writing was pretty darn good. Ms. Norton created an intriguing character in Althea, and I do think she portrayed her very honestly... even if it was brutally so at times. I also think she probably did a very good job with handling the ups and downs of a mental illness. As I was reading this book, I realized how awful living with bipolar disorder would be and just how out-of-control Althea was.

In addition (and this one might surprise you), IF YOU LEFT was an extremely funny novel. I will be the first to admit that many of the themes of this story (mental illness, adultery, parent/child relationships, etc.) delved into some very serious subject matters. However, there was so many truly funny scenes in the novel. Some were awkward and some were shocking (and I really wasn't sure whether I should be laughing), but I most certainly found them amusing.

And lastly, I give credit to the author for exploring some really difficult topics. The author definitely didn't shy away from them. Living with mental illness was a huge theme in the novel, as was a marriage on the brink of collapse. The scenes with Althea and Clem were also extremely painful to read because they showed just how out-of-touch the two were with each other. In many ways, I just felt the tone for most of the novel was almost hopeless... and maybe that's why I had some issues with how the story ended!

I do think IF YOU LEFT would make an interesting book to discuss. In addition to the complex themes I mentioned earlier, the characters and their interactions were pretty darn interesting. I think many women will have difficulties in relating to Althea, and the potential for an exciting discussion is definitely there... especially among moms.

Overall, I'm still confused about IF YOU LEFT. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I do think there were quite a few positives to take away from the novel, so I recommend it to those readers who want something a little different than normal literary fiction fare.

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing a review copy of this novel.