Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Guest Review: Star of the North

Summary: A propulsive and ambitious thriller about a woman trying to rescue her twin sister from captivity in North Korea, and the North Korean citizens with whom she forms an unlikely alliance

Star of the North opens in 1998, when a Korean American teenager is kidnapped from a South Korean beach by North Korean operatives. Twelve years later, her brilliant twin sister, Jenna, is still searching for her, and ends up on the radar of the CIA. When evidence that her sister may still be alive in North Korea comes to light, Jenna will do anything possible to rescue her–including undertaking a daring mission into the heart of the regime. Her story is masterfully braided together with two other narrative threads. In one, a North Korean peasant woman finds a forbidden international aid balloon and uses the valuables inside to launch a dangerously lucrative black-market business. In the other, a high-ranking North Korean official discovers, to his horror, that he may be descended from a traitor, a fact that could mean his death if it is revealed. As the novel progresses, these narrative strands converge and connect in surprising ways, ultimately building to an explosive and unforgettable climax. -- Crown

Booking Pap Pap is back! This time he's reviewing STAR OF THE NORTH by D.B. John. This espionage novel about North Korea is not only very timely, but also very disturbing! Here are his thoughts:

The novel opens in 1998 when 18 year-old Soo-min Williams, born to a South Korean mother and an Afro-American father, vanishes from a South Korea beach and feared drown. The story then moves to 2010 where we meet Jenna Williams, Soo-min’s twin sister, a graduate of Georgetown University working for a defense think tank. Jenna, who has always held out hope that her sister is alive, is recruited by the CIA to rescue her sister. It seems Soo-min was abducted by North Korea in a program known as “The Seed-Bearing Program” which creates spies and assassins who look foreign and are indoctrinated with North Korean teachings.

Author D. B. John introduces two other main characters in addition to Jenna to tell his story. The first is Mrs. Moon, an elderly member of a farm collective, who becomes a black market shopkeeper in order to survive. The second character is Cho Sang-ho, a rising bureaucrat, who is sent to New York to negotiate with the United States for aid in return for abandoning North Korea’s nuclear program. (Sound familiar?) Cho has a dark family secret that if discovered would lead to his execution.

The author carries these three story lines through a chilling account of life in North Korea and merges them neatly at the conclusion of the novel. The story is set in the reign of Kim John-il, second in line of the ruling family and father of current leader Kim Jong un. Giant murals of the grandfather, Kim il Sung hang everywhere. The author depicts a regime that stays in power by utilizing secret police, forbidding religion, starving the masses and keeping the elite in fear of falling from favor and facing death or imprisonment. John depicts a regime so poor that its diplomats finance their costs by using counterfeit money and selling methamphetamines. The account of life in North Korea is so chilling that it actually overrides a very gripping and suspenseful story line. The author’s accounts of life in North Korea is based on observations he made during a personal visit plus several accounts made by escapees and offers the reader an informed look at the corruption, oppression and suffering that is North Korea.

STAR OF THE NORTH is a timely novel that gives us a picture of one of the United States’ scariest adversaries.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kid Konnection: A Home for Leo & 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 picture book!

Summary: Leo grew up in the sea. He has a family of sea lions he loves. He’s happy, but he has always known he was different. Then Leo’s suddenly reunited with his human parents, and he finds he loves them too. But he still feels like a fish out of water. Being from two worlds and having two families isn’t so easy. Leo has a lot to figure out…

Splashed with humor and grounded in heart, this brightly illustrated story explores ideas of family, home, and belonging in a way that’s as relatable as it is unique. -- Two Lions

A HOME FOR LEO by Vin Vogel is a very cute book about a boy who kind of feels like a "fish out of water." Leo grew up living in the sea with a family of sea lions. He was quite happy, but he always knew that he didn't exactly fit in. When a surprise encounter leads him back to his human parents, he feels very lucky to be loved by him... but he still feels as if he doesn't fit in. So, Leo has to find a way to merge both of his worlds!

I thought A HOME FOR LEO was a very cute story with adorable illustrations, and I'm sure young ones are going to love his antics both in the sea and on land. As a mom, I liked the resilience of this little guy -- he really managed to make the best of both situations. I also enjoyed so many of the messages of this book, especially the ones about home, family, and finding your own place in the world!

Check out the book's trailer below:

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

Giveaway: I have a copy of A HOME FOR LEO to share with one lucky Booking Mama reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 27th at 11:59 pm EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Somebody's Daughter

Summary: From USA Today bestselling author Rochelle B. Weinstein comes an emotional novel for mothers, daughters, and anyone who has ever felt imperfect.

Emma and Bobby Ross enjoy a charmed life on the shores of Miami Beach. They are a model family with a successful business, an uncomplicated marriage, and two blessedly typical twin daughters, Zoe and Lily. They are established members of a tight-knit community.

Then, on the night of the girls’ fifteenth birthday party, they learn of Zoe’s heartbreaking mistake—a private and humiliating indiscretion that goes viral and thrusts her and her family into the center of a shocking public scandal.

As the family’s core is shattered by disgrace, judgment, and retribution, the fallout takes its toll. But for Emma, the shame runs deeper. Her daughter’s reckless behavior has stirred memories of her own secrets that could break a marriage and family forever. -- Lake Union

It's ironic that two books with the same title have been published in recent months (or days for one of them!) I have finished SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER by Rochelle B. Weinstein and am still reading the other, but there must be something special about the title SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER. I've found both books to be very entertaining... albeit in very different ways.

For now, I'll just focus on Weinstein's SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER. This book is extremely timely and will resonate with parents (especially mothers) because of the subject matter. The Ross family seemingly has it all. They live on Miami Beach and run a beautiful hotel. The parents, Emma and Bobby, are happily married; and they have two beautiful twin girls, Zoe and Lily. The have a great group of family and friends, and life seems to be about as good as it can get. Until it isn't!

On the evening of the girls' 15th birthday, Bobby and Emma throw the girls a huge party to celebrate. At the end of the evening while Emma is in the restroom, she overhears two girls talking about a viral video with a young girl in a compromising position with a boy. When Emma figures out that the girl is her quiet, introverted daughter Zoe, it tears their family apart!

SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER follows the events that take place in the Ross family in the aftermath of the scandal, and it's not pretty. Naturally, Zoe is embarrassed and devastated and doesn't quite have the skills at 15 to navigate the controversy alone. However, her twin sister Lily also has to deal with the fallout at school and her desire to protect her sister. Bobby has a very difficult time imaging that his daughter would do this, nevertheless that everyone knows about it; however, he is also dealing with issues of his own and the hotel business. Finally, Emma is sympathetic to her daughter because she heart breaks for Zoe, but she has her own secrets from her past that make her even more understanding of Zoe's behavior. Needless to say, this perfect family suddenly finds themselves in a less-than-perfect situation... and it seems like everyone in their circle of friends knows about it!

I enjoyed SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER, but maybe it's better to say that I appreciated it. The subject matter tore me apart. I mean who doesn't make mistakes when they are 15, and because of the internet, Zoe's mistake will always be out there. This book delved into so many topics that I think mothers will relate to -- from how to parent in difficult situations to how to act when your husband is shutting you out; and most importantly, how to keep your family from falling apart.

This is the first novel I've read by Ms. Weinstein, and I definitely wouldn't hesitate to read another one. I felt as if she truly captured the pain of his family, while also covering relevant issues in today's society. Her portrayals of all four family members, as well as their friends, seemed very realistic to me; and I especially enjoyed how she developed the secondary characters including the boy's parents and Zoe's friends.

The entire time I was reading SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER, I thought it would make the ideal book club selection. I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide, but rest assured, you won't need one. My book club has spoken about many of these issues over the past few years, and this novel brings them to to forefront in a variety of ways. Some of the themes you will want to discuss include cyber bullying, actions and repercussions, mother/daughter relationships, marriage, sibling love/rivalry, guilt, forgiveness, and second chances. It truly is an important and thought-provoking story.

I think fans of women's fiction will very much enjoy SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER. I highly recommend it to book clubs and moms!

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: Baby Teeth

Summary: Afflicted with a chronic debilitating condition, Suzette Jensen knew having children would wreak havoc on her already fragile body. Nevertheless, she brought Hanna into the world, pleased and proud to start a family with her husband Alex. Estranged from her own mother, Suzette is determined to raise her beautiful daughter with the love, care, and support she was denied.

But Hanna proves to be a difficult child. Now seven-years-old, she has yet to utter a word, despite being able to read and write. Defiant and anti-social, she refuses to behave in kindergarten classes, forcing Suzette to homeschool her. Resentful of her mother’s rules and attentions, Hanna lashes out in anger, becoming more aggressive every day. The only time Hanna is truly happy is when she’s with her father. To Alex, she’s willful and precocious but otherwise the perfect little girl, doing what she’s told.

Suzette knows her clever and manipulative daughter doesn’t love her. She can see the hatred and jealousy in her eyes. And as Hanna’s subtle acts of cruelty threaten to tear her and Alex apart, Suzette fears her very life may be in grave danger… - St. Martin's Press

When Kathy and I met up in late May for BEA, she was very excited about a book she was reading on the plane. It was clear that she was shocked by some things that had happened in this novel and that she desperately wanted someone to talk to about it. That book was BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage.

So of course, I had to pick up BABY TEETH, right? My best friend couldn't stop talking about it, and despite her description of the book (it wasn't really up my alley), I decided to give it a try. Wow! I really don't have much more to say than that. (Yeah right!) It was one disturbing book about one scary little girl.

BABY TEETH tells the story of one out-of-sorts family. Suzette and Alex Jensen decide to have a child even though Suzette's body is already dealing with a chronic illness. They are determined to be good parents (especially Suzette who didn't have the best upbringing); however, their young daughter Hanna is quite the challenge -- and that's saying it nicely!

Hanna is seven years old and a holy terror. She has never said a single work, but she's clearly bright because she can read and write. She refuses to socialize with other kids and has even been kicked out of schools. As a result, Suzette is forced to homeschool her... and spend an awful amount of alone time with this difficult child.

It's clear that Hanna's behavior is getting worse. She lashes out and her mother and even starts deliberately trying to hurt her. The only time Hanna is even slightly sweet is when her father is around. He just sees his little girl as a strong-willed child, and he doesn't even come close to realizing how challenging Hanna is for his wife.

Things are tense in the Jensen house with Hanna causing the vast majority of the pain. However, Hanna's treatment of her mother escalates until it becomes a life-or-death situation for Suzette!

Now that you've read this description you are probably scratching your head a bit. Or at least that's what I did after Kathy told me about this book. It's creepy, right? But if you're a mom who had a strong-willed child, then this book is like your worst nightmare. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to enjoy this book, but I definitely wanted to see what it was all about.

Truth be told, I only liked this book (and liked is probably the wrong word.) While I didn't love this book, I was certainly intrigued (and scared as hell). BABY TEETH is a page turner -- no doubt about it. With alternating narratives between Suzette and Hanna, it's extremely interesting to follow their stories... and see how each one interprets similar events.

I have to wonder about the twisted nature of this story and what it says about the readers who like it. I'M JUST KIDDING, KATHY! There is a great deal to like about this novel from the writing, to the character development, to the pace of the novel, to the suspense. It all is quite well done, especially for a debut author. I just thought it was all a little uncomfortable, but then again, I'm not usually one to read creepy books (or watch creepy movies for that matter.)

And that brings me to my next point... I do think BABY TEETH would make a fantastically, scary movie. The novel even read and moved a bit like a movie. It was fast-paced with lots of action, and there were quite a few surprises in store for the readers. This is probably a testament to Ms. Stage, but I could visualize this little devil and her petrified mother perfectly!

One thing that left me scratching my head was the ending. It was not quite what I expected; and I'm not sure if, because of that, I liked it or not. I'm still trying to figure that out. Either way, I do think the author set us up for a potential sequel to Hanna's story. And I think that's a good thing because Hanna is one of those characters that you just want to understand... and see what other horrible things she can think of to do!

So... I had mixed feelings about BABY TEETH but I do think it's a well-written engaging story about a horrible child. I definitely recommend it to fans of thrillers and horror.

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 7, 2018

Kid Konnection: Baby Code! 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 a cute series of board books!

Summary: It’s never too early to get little ones interested in computer coding with this unique series of board books!

How do you explain coding to a baby? By showing how it’s all around them, and how they can take part in it, of course! By using items common in a baby’s world, like a teddy bear and electric train, this charming board book full of bright, colorful illustrations is the perfect introduction to coding for babies and their caregivers–and is sure to leave them wanting to learn more! -- Penguin Workshop

Summary: How do you explain coding in playtime to a baby? By showing how it’s all around them, and how they can take part in it, of course! By using items and experiences in a baby’s world, like an electric swing or a ride at the amusement park, this charming board book full of bright, colorful illustrations is the perfect introduction to coding in active play for babies and their caregivers–and is sure to leave them wanting to learn more! -- Penguin Workshop

Summary:& How do you explain coding in music to a baby? By showing how it’s all around them, and how they can take part in it, of course! By using experiences common in a baby’s world, like hearing a melody from a mobile or tapping on an electronic xylophone, this charming board book full of bright, colorful illustrations is the perfect introduction to coding in music for babies and their caregivers–and is sure to leave them wanting to learn more! -- Penguin Workshop

Summary: How do you explain coding in art to a baby? By showing how it’s all around them, and how they can take part in it, of course! By using items in a baby’s world, like a camera or a block made from a 3D printer, this charming board book full of bright, colorful illustrations is the perfect introduction to coding in art for babies and their caregivers–and is sure to leave them wanting to learn more! -- Penguin Workshop

Of course, I love featuring new books but every once in awhile I get really excited about sharing them with you. Case in point are the BABY CODE! books Sandra Horning and art by Melissa Crowton. These four board books will be available later this month and they are positively adorable.

THE BABY CODE! board books consist of the following: BABY CODE!BABY CODE! PLAYBABY CODE! MUSIC, and BABY CODE! ART. Honestly, they are all super cute so I can't really say I have a favorite. BABY CODE! introduces the concept of coding by relating it to everyday objects like playing with pets, answering phones, and counting toys. BABY CODE! PLAY shows how coding is used to enhance a baby's world through rides at amusement parks and capturing baby's special moments. BABY CODE! MUSIC demonstrates how coding is used to record voices, set musical phone ring tones, and more. While BABY CODE! ART shows how coding is used to make art from 3D printers and cameras. All four books even include examples of real coding!

As cute as the concept of coding is in board books, I should also mention just how precious the illustrations are. They are both simple and interesting with the bright colors and patterned textures. The babies faces and expressions are especially cute and certain to keep even the youngest of toddlers interested.

I love the entire concept surrounding not only these four board books but partnership between Penguin Young Readers and Girls Who Code. Together, these two have a multi-format, cross-imprint set of books that encourage youngsters (no matter the age!) the value of learning the importance of coding and how it fits into our world. (Make sure to check out other books in the series if you have kids who are past the board book stage!)

BABY CODE! books are both cute and educational. Highly recommended for future coders!

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!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Kid Konnection: The Ultimate Book of Sharks

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 book that's perfect for Shark Week which is only a few weeks away!

Summary: Dive into the wild world of sharks! Get up close to learn the truth behind these fantastic, ferocious fish with famed National Geographic photographer and explorer Brian Skerry. Join this amazing underwater adventure to track the sharks of the world, from the teeniest dogfish to the everfeared great white. This ultimate book features every species of shark on the planet, with awesome photos, fascinating facts, the latest science, and firsthand stories of real-life encounters with these incredible creatures. Learn how sharks live, how they eat, the challenges they face, and whether or not you are actually on the menu! -- National Geographic Kids

THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF SHARKS:YOUR GUIDE TO THESE FIERCE AND FANTASTIC FISH by Brian Skerry is one of those books that doesn't exactly appeal to me... because I am terrified of sharks. However, if I put aside my irrational fears, I have to admit that this is one very cool book!

THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF SHARKS is a gorgeous (yes gorgeous!) oversized, hardcover book that has more information about sharks than you could ever imagine... making it perfect for kids who want to learn more about this fascinating animals. This book also has hundreds of shark photographs throughout which are truly incredible (although I've come to almost expect that from a National Geographic book.)

The author, Brian Skerry, is a National Geographic photographer and explorer; and it truly feels as if he's taking readers on an underwater adventure to learn more about every species of shark in the world. Naturally, there are details on the different varieties of sharks, but there are also interesting sections on shark conservation and real-life encounters by the author.

I really liked how THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF SHARKS was organized. Rather than have a page detailing each shark variety (which could get a little redundant), the book is divided into the following chapters: Spectacular Sharks, Exploring Shark Anatomy, The Secret Lives of Sharks, The Fintastic Ten, Shark Myths Busted!, Colossal Fossils, Super Sharks, and Be a Shark Defender. Readers will find information about their favorite (or not-so-favorite!) varieties, but they will also learn about general shark anatomy and the extreme sharks including the largest, the deadliest, and the funkiest!

I decided to give this book a try despite not being entirely comfortable seeing so many photos of these creatures. I have to say that this is one excellent resource for anything and everything sharks. The information is presented in clear, concise way, but it's also fun and easy-to-read either straight through or in snippets. Of course, the photographs are breath-taking (as are the stories about the author's interactions with sharks which are captured in Skerry Encounters sections!). And I think many kids will enjoy the statistics, the interesting details, and the stranger but true stories about the amazing animals!

THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF SHARKS is a must-read for kids who love sharks and are excited about Shark Week. However, I also think school libraries and classrooms need this book on their shelves.

Thanks to Media Masters Publicity 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, June 27, 2018

Review: Lighthouse Beach

Summary: From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shelley Noble comes a heartrending and uplifting novel about friendship, love, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for our dreams. What was supposed to be an idyllic wedding leads to an unexpected journey of self-discovery…

When Lillo Gray pulls up to Kennebunkport’s most exclusive hotel wearing a borrowed dress and driving a borrowed VW van, she knows she’s made a big mistake. She’s not even sure why Jessica Parker invited her to her posh wedding. They haven’t seen each other since they were unhappy fourteen-year-old girls at fat camp. And now they’re from two completely different worlds. There’s no way Lillo fits in the rarefied circles Jessica travels in.

Jess isn’t sure she’s ready to go through with this wedding, but she’s been too busy making everyone else happy to think about what she wants. But when she and her two closest friends, Allie and Diana, along with Lillo, discover her fiancĂ© with his pants down in the hotel parking lot, she’s humiliated…and slightly relieved. In a rush to escape her crumbling life, Jess, Allie, and Diana pile into Lillo’s beat-up old van and head up the coast to Lighthouse Island. Once there, she hopes to figure out the next chapter in her life.

Nursing broken hearts and broken dreams, four lost women embark on a journey to find their way back into happiness with new love, friendship, and the healing power of Lighthouse Beach. -- William Morrow

Last week, I was in the Outer Banks. I always get a lot of reading done, and it's a great opportunity for me to read some books that I might not pickup at home in Central PA... especially "beachy books." One of those books was LIGHTHOUSE BEACH by Shelley Noble. This novel takes place on the coast of Maine, and it was a heartwarming story about self-discovery.

LIGHTHOUSE BEACH begins when Lillo Gray shows up to a posh Kennebunkport hotel for a childhood friend's wedding. She doesn't exactly fit in with her beat up, borrowed van and her borrowed dresses; and truth be told, she's not even sure why she was invited because she hasn't seen Jessica since they were teens at summer camp.

Every summer, Jessica came to a summer camp for fat kids that Lillo's parents ran; and she was a bit of a lost soul. Her parents were extremely critical (and still are), and the saving grace was getting to hang out with Lillo. So when it came time for her to get married (to a man she isn't sure is right for her but her parents adore), she wants her old friend there to help her get through it.

Well, it's a good thing Lillo came because the first night she is there, they see Jess's fiance "with" a waitress in the hotel parking lot! Between Lillo and Jess's friends Allie and Diana, they convince her to not go through with the wedding. Much to Jess's parent's dismay, all four hop in Lillo's beat up van and head to Lillo's house on Lighthouse Island.

These four woman are a somewhat unlikely set of "friends," and Lillo isn't really sure she's ready to let anyone into her some after everything she's been through. However, within a few days, these four become extremely close, and they all learn some important things about themselves in the process.

I liked LIGHTHOUSE BEACH and I did have the ideal setting to read this "beachy book." I don't know if I'd go so far as to say I loved it, but it was a fun and quick read with some good messages. All four of these women had some serious issues in their lives, and it was through the healing effects of Lighthouse Beach and friendship that helped them find hope and move forward.

Lillo was definitely the main character in this story, but Jess, Allie, and Diana were also fun (and likable) characters. Lillo didn't fit in at all with these women, and she was still reeling from a past trauma that isn't apparent to the readers until later in the story. When it's finally revealed, it's a doozy; and it's no wonder that she was hesitant to forgive herself and truly live again.

Jess, Allie, and Diana all had their far share of problems too, and it was interesting to see how they worked through them. Jess learned to finally stand up for herself and follow her dreams, while Allie was eventually able to move on after the early loss of her husband. Diana was a piece of work who provided some humor in the book, but I think it's safe to say that she found her softer side and maybe even love.

Another wonderful aspect of LIGHTHOUSE BEACH was the setting of the novel. I loved how the author brought this area of Maine to life. It's not your typical beach locale because the economy is depressed, but the beauty of the area was still apparent. I especially appreciated how the author focused on the social problems of this town and how so many of the town's residents were helping to keep their town (and the children who live there) alive and well.

All in all, LIGHTHOUSE BEACH was a fun vacation read that also had some depth. It warmed my heart in a time when it's nice to see the good in people, and the resounding message of hope is one that is always welcome!

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