Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guest Review: Dead Wake

Summary: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. -- Crown

I remember when DEAD WAKE: THE LAST CROSSING OF THE LUSITANIA by Erik Larson came out a few years ago. I immediately thought my dad might enjoy it. Here are his thoughts:

In studying world history in high school I learned that the Lusitania passenger ship was sunk by the Germans on May 7, 1915 and was the cause for the United States entry into World War I. But that's not the whole story. In DEAD WAKE, The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania, author Erik Larson goes into great detail in describing the crossing from New York to Liverpool.

He begins the story by pointing out the warnings that Germany posted in the New York papers the morning the Lusitania was to embark on her voyage. Germany reminded readers of the existence of a war zone and that any ship flying the Flag of Great Britain or its allies is at risk of destruction. Even after receiving information of U-boat activity off the Irish coast, ship captain William Turner assured the passengers that the Lusitania was too fast for any German war vessel and was the safest boat on the sea. Larson goes on to give the reader a history of Captain Turner's career and describes many of the more prominent passengers, mainly Americans, traveling on the Lusitania.

At the same time Larson focuses on three additional story lines. First he gives the the reader an insight into President Woodrow Wilson's state of mind at the time. He had lost his wife within the past year and was now smitten by Edith Galt, who would later become his second wife. Wilson also struggled with maintaining the United States position of neutrality? Larson also focuses on submarine U-20 and it's captain Walter Schwieger. U-20 was the submarine that sunk the Lusitania. Larson provides interesting details on the German U-boat warfare at the time. A third and very interesting story line focuses on Great Britain's codebreakers, referred to in the book as Room 40. At the time they were intercepting all communication to and from Germany's U-boats but were very careful not to release so much information that the Germans would become aware of their activity. In telling these stories Larson switches the scene back and forth from New York to Washington to Berlin to London to submarine U-20 and to the Lusitania.

The author gives the reader dramatic detail of the actual torpedo attack and the chaos that followed. He describes the disasters with safety vests and the launching of the life boats. The Lusitania was only 12 miles from shore and amazingly sunk in less than 20 minutes. The author proceeds to discuss several of the 1198 people (123 Americans) who died and actually provides a few stories about some of the survivors and the aftermath of investigations.

Larson describes many factors that had to come together for this disaster to happen. For example a late start from New York, the calm seas, the reduced speed of the Lusitania and lack of a Royal Navy escort and lack of information from Room 40 warning of the submarine U-20 in its path. Larson presents a theory that the latter two issues may have been purposeful actions to draw the United States into the war. If so, it didn't work since the United States did not enter the war until two years after the Lusitania was sunk.

DEAD WAKE is a well written account of the sinking of the Lusitania and will be of interest to anyone who enjoys reading history.

I was happy to see that there's a reading guide for DEAD WAKE. I don't always find them for history/nonfiction books, but this one sounds like it might be interesting to discuss!

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review: Blood Sisters

Summary: Three little girls. One accident. A lifetime of lies. From the bestselling author of MY HUSBAND’S WIFE.

Three little girls set off to school one sunny morning. Within an hour, one of them is dead.

Fifteen years later, Kitty can’t speak and has no memory of the accident that’s to blame. She lives in an institution, unlikely ever to leave. But that doesn’t keep her from being frightened when she encounters an eerily familiar face.

Art teacher Alison looks fine on the surface. But the surface is a lie. She’s struggling to make ends meet and to forget the past. When a teaching job at a prison opens up, she takes it, despite her fears. Maybe this is her chance to set things right. Then she starts to receive alarming notes; next, her classroom erupts in violence.

Meanwhile, someone is watching both Kitty and Alison. Someone who never forgot what happened that day. Someone who wants revenge. And only another life will do. . . -- Pamela Dorman Books

I was excited to read BLOOD SISTERS by Jane Corry. I had enjoyed her earlier novel MY HUSBAND'S WIFE, and I was hoping this one was as good. I thought Ms. Corry did a good job with creating interesting characters as well as weaving a suspenseful story, and I knew this novel had already received some good reviews. 

BLOOD SISTERS tells the story of two sisters and how their lives were forever changed after an accident that occurred 15 years ago. Kitty lives in an institution and can no longer speak or even complete the simplest tasks by herself, and she is hard to control because she's prone to violent fits. She doesn't remember the accident but she does have occasional flashbacks that something bad happened to her... especially when she sees a man that seems kind of familiar.

Meanwhile, her older sister Alison is a struggling art teacher who agrees to take a job in a prison to help pay the bills. She's not exactly comfortable with working with the male prisoners, but she's hoping she can make amends for the accident from her past -- one that she believes she's responsible for. It doesn't take long before she starts getting some scary messages, and then violence breaks out in her classroom. 

Both sisters are still haunted by whatever occurred in the past in very different ways, and it seems like someone doesn't want to let them forget....

All in all, I liked BLOOD SISTERS but I'm not sure I loved it. It was a very well written novel with complex characters but something just didn't resonate with me. (I am definitely the odd one out with these feelings.) It's been a few days since I've finished this book, and I still don't know what my problem was. Honestly, I think I might be in a bit of a reading funk.

Having said that, I did appreciate BLOOD SISTERS and I definitely want to give kudos to the author. Ms. Corry wrote a suspenseful novel with quite a few twists, and I thought the pacing of the story was very good. The two sisters' characters were well developed and very interesting, and their relationship (both in the present and the past) was complex.

One of my favorite things about this novel was Kitty's story. She was a sad character, albeit full of anger and frustration, who wasn't able to really know what happened to her... and definitely wasn't able to communicate what she did remember. Her sister Alison, while guilt ridden about her role in the accident, was actually "happy" that her sister couldn't share what happened. When a new technology became available that might help Kitty remember and communicate better, Alison was obviously nervous. As a reader, I enjoyed how the author built the tension and suspense; and I was anxious to learn the secrets from the past!

When the secrets were finally revealed, it was a bit of a disappointment. I don't mean that in a negative way, but I immediately suspected that there was a bit more to the sisters' story... and actually the novel. I was right! There were a few more twists thrown in and one managed to really catch me by surprise. The story ended up being complicated (in a good way!) and I thought the entire book was  well done.

Fans of suspense and mysteries will enjoy THE BLOOD SISTERS. It's a smart mystery with intriguing characters that should keep most readers guessing until the very end.

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, February 17, 2018

Kid Konnection: Toy Academy

Summary: Playing is serious business. Welcome to Toy Academy: where toys learn to play. This is where action figures train to battle, stuffed animals study the art of the hug, and collectibles practice standing very, very still.

Though Grumbolt isn't really any of those things, he's determined to fit in. But when the Evil Toy Academy threatens to bring down his school, it's up to Grumbolt to go where no good toy has gone before and prove he's truly a great toy after all.

This laugh–out–loud chapter book by Brian Lynch, the writer of Minions and a writer of The Secret Life of Pets, is a classic in the making. -- Scholastic

I have to admit that the gift box that came with the book TOY ADADEMY: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED by Brian Lynch and illustrated Edwardian Taylor was absolutely adorable. It included a yoyo, lego bricks, a slinky, and a colorful lollipop. I figured it the promo materials were this fun, then the book had to be too. Hint: it was!
TOY ACADEMY is a fantastic new book written by a screenwriter who has worked on some pretty incredible movies including The Secret Life of Pets, Minions, Puss in Boots, and Hop. He has also written some comic books (but I'm not as familiar with them!) It is a hilarious story about a toy academy where toys learn to play. The academy trains action figures so they can battle, stuffed animals so they can hug, and collectibles so they can stand still. Great concept, right?

Grumbolt isn't really certain what type of toy he is. He's kind of a misfit (in the best possible way). A little girl sewed him but he has two different length arms (which make it hard to hug) and two different ears (so he doesn't really fit in with the cats.) He is determined to become the best toy possible for a little kid.

When the Evil Toy Academy starts sabotaging the Toy Academy, Grumbolt wants to help. He decides to sneak into the "evil empire" and save the say... and in the process, be the best toy ever!

I loved TOY ACADEMY. It is the first book in a new series, and I can't wait until the next one! These toys are awesome characters! The book is very funny and even has a few good messages thrown in. It's extremely fast-paced and certain to keep even reluctant readers attentions. It has a fairly large font and lots of adorable illustrations throughout.

The humor in this book is definitely the best part! It's truly a laugh out loud story that even parents will love. In fact, much of the humor is geared towards adults (and might even fly over kids' heads!) I can't rave enough about how creative this book was. The way the author describes these characters is so darn funny. For example, there are wisecracking jokes about the quality of the plastic as well as how long it takes for a transformer-like toy to switch to its other mode.

I loved TOY ACADEMY as a book but I also think this book would make an excellent movie -- let's hope! Highly recommended to middle grade readers!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book (and the fun toys!)

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, February 14, 2018

Guest Review: The Whites

Summary: Back in the 1990s, when Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a ten-year-old boy while stopping an angel-dusted berserker in the street. Branded as a cowboy, Billy spent years in one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he is a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a team of detectives that responds to all felonies from Wall Street to Harlem between one a.m. and eight a.m.

Billy’s work is mostly routine, but when Night Watch is called to the four a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station, his investigation moves beyond the usual handoff to the day shift. And when he discovers that the victim was once a suspect in an unsolved murder—a brutal case with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese—the bad old days are back in Billy’s life with a vengeance. -- Picador

Booking Pap Pap is spending the winter in Florida and he's managing to get a little reading done. One book that he recently read has been out for a few years, but it sounds like it was worth the wait.  It's called THE WHITES by Richard Price; and it has won lots of awards including an NPR Best Book of the Year, a New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, a Washington Post Best Books of the Year, an Best Books of the Year, and an L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist. It sounds like Booking Pap Pap agrees. Here are his thoughts:

THE WHITES is an entertaining story about police work in New York City. Story begins when lead character Sergeant Billy Graham is sent to investigate a slasher case at Penn Station. Graham runs the night watch, a shift that runs from midnight to 8 am. He typically files his paperwork and turns the cases over to the daylight shift, never to be involved again.

But this case is different. Billy recognizes the victim from his days as a member of the Wild Geese in the mid-1990s before he accidentally killed a young boy and sent his career into a downward spiral. The Wild Geese was a self proclaimed name for seven young, bold cops serving in the South Bronx. The victim was Jeffrey Bannon, a criminal referred to as a White by the Wild Geese. They define a White as one who committed a major crime on their watch and never faced justice. It seems each member is haunted by a personnel White even in retirement. The case spurs Graves to renew contact with the 4 remaining Wild Geese, all retired and active in other occupations. When other Whites begin to perish, Graves begin thinking about the possibility of vigilante justice and is torn as to what to do about it.

The author presents a second narrative that pits Detective Milton Ramos against Graves. They don't know each other but Ramos poses a threat to Graves' family over an incident with his wife many years ago. The storyline builds as Ramos starts playing subtle games with various family members and gradually increases the pressure until he and Graves end up in a confrontation. Author Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt blends the two storylines nicely by using alternating chapters to bring both narratives along simultaneously. The reader gets a good understanding of the pressures building in Graves.

 THE WHITES is a very realistic depiction of the work of policemen. The reader is confronted with the reality that the police work in a very ugly world, and it's not unrealistic to assume some of that ugliness remains with the police. In addition to the police drama, the author utilizes great dialog, good character development, surprises, and some humor to deliver a very entertaining story.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Anatomy of a Scandal

Summary: An astonishingly incisive and suspenseful novel about a scandal amongst Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake.

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart.

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. 

What would she think, if she knew the truth? -- Atria/Emily Bestler

ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL by Sarah Vaughan is a suspense-filled courtroom drama that delves into the complex issue of rape. It's a timely novel that asks some difficult questions about consent and rape; and it also has a few twists thrown in for fans of mysteries. This book has some amazing reviews (including starred ones!); and while I liked it, I'm not entirely sure I loved it.

In ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, Sophie, a wealthy woman who seemingly has it all finds her life turned upside-down. She is married to James, a loving father and a successful man who is a junior minister in the British Home Office, and mother to two great kids. However, when James comes home late one night and tells her he's been having an affair with his assistant Olivia, she's devastated. To make matters worse, a few days later James is arrested and Olivia claims that he has raped her.

Kate is the barrister who takes on the prosecution of James. She's considered an expert in prosecuting sex crimes but that hasn't come without its toll. She's 41, divorced and pretty much a workaholic... and she's determined that justice be served to James. While Kate always takes her job seriously, it almost seems as if this crime is personal to her.

This novel takes readers through the courtroom drama that is a bit of a he said/she said; however, it also touches upon some serious issues including the debate between what's consent and what's rape. The story is told through the eyes of Sophie, Kate and James; and it's interesting to see how the story unfolds. In addition, there are flashbacks to Sophie and James' college days when a tragedy occurred that has formed a life-long bond between James and his best friend and current Prime Minister.

Tensions rise throughout the story between all of the characters, and a surprising twist is revealed... although I didn't think it was much of a surprise. In fact, I wouldn't say that the mystery or suspense aspects of this novel are its strong points. Rather, I think the writing and the character development  are the strengths. The mystery of the rape was almost secondary to what happened in the past, and I think the book explored some serious and timely issues (including a political scandal) that will cause readers to think.

Having said that, ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL would make an outstanding book club selection. There is a reading guide with fourteen interesting questions. Some of the themes your group might want to discuss include trust, honestly, secrets, class structure, and choices.

I enjoyed and appreciated ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL and I do think fans of courtroom dramas and literary suspense will enjoy it.

I received an e-copy of this novel from the publisher.

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, February 10, 2018

Kid Konnection: Valentine's Day Edition

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 is perfect for the upcoming holiday.

Summary: The first day of Valentine’s starts with ONE warm, fuzzy hug. On the second day, the crafts begin with TWO cups of sparkles. On the third day, let’s make our cards with THREE pink pens! Each of the 12 busy days leading up to Valentine’s Day are celebrated in this cumulative rhyming storybook based on “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Kids will love spotting all the fun ways a family gets ready for Valentine’s Day. And the book includes stickers—perfect treats for each of the 12 days. -- Random House

THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S by Jenna Lettice and illustrated by Colleen Madden is such a fun way to celebrate Valentine's Day with the little one in your life. This softcover picture book is absolutely adorable with its sweet illustrations and cumulative rhyming story. It kind of reminded me of the Christmas song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Speaking of which, THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S is the third book in this fun series. There is also THE 12 DAYS OF KINDERGARTEN and THE 12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN. I've seen these books too, and I promise they are just as cute as THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S.

THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S is geared to children ages three to seven years old, but I do think kids on the younger side of this range will appreciate this book the most. I think youngsters will enjoy the repetition (even when parents might not!), but because the story builds on each page, the last few pages do run a little long for toddlers. However, the sweet illustrations and stickers (did I mention stickers?) will help to keep them entertained throughout the entire book.

As a mom, I also like that this book is both entertaining and educational. The book features a busy family preparing for the holiday. Children will love identifying all of the different ways to get ready for Valentine's Day. And because it is so repetitive, it reinforces numbers and counting. For example, the book starts with 1 warm hug, 2 cups of sparkles and goes the whole way through the twelve days until 12 friends smiling.

I think THE 12 DAYS OF VALENTINE'S (and the entire series of books!) is precious. 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!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: Tell Me More (Audio)

Summary: It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here. In her New York Times bestselling memoirs, Corrigan distilled our core relationships to their essences, showcasing a warm, easy storytelling style. Now, in Tell Me More, she’s back with a deeply personal, unfailingly honest, and often hilarious examination of the essential phrases that turn the wheel of life. 

In “I Don’t Know,” Corrigan wrestles to make peace with uncertainty, whether it’s over invitations that never came or a friend’s agonizing infertility. In “No,” she admires her mother’s ability to set boundaries and her liberating willingness to be unpopular. In “Tell Me More,” a facialist named Tish teaches her something important about listening. And in “I Was Wrong,” she comes clean about her disastrous role in a family fight—and explains why saying sorry may not be enough. With refreshing candor, a deep well of empathy, and her signature desire to understand “the thing behind the thing,” Corrigan swings between meditations on life with a preoccupied husband and two mercurial teenage daughters to profound observations on love and loss. 

With the streetwise, ever-relatable voice that defines Corrigan’s work, Tell Me More is a moving and meaningful take on the power of the right words at the right moment to change everything. -- Random House Audio

I decided to listen to TELL ME MORE: STORIES ABOUT THE 12 HARDEST THINGS I'M LEARNING TO SAY by Kelly Corrigan after Kathy's (aka Bermudaonion's) review of it. I have been running more lately and I like to listen to audiobooks while I exercise; however, I usually listen to thrillers. In fact, I rarely listen to (or read for that matter) books like this... but I am so glad I did.

TELL ME MORE was exactly the right book for me at the right time. In this book, Ms. Corrigan chooses phrases that make a difference in her life... and it translates well into readers' lives too. Her book is oh so ever honest -- painfully so at times; and as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend, I could totally relate to her stories. I absolutely love that this book made me laugh and cry (and oh boy did I ever cry!) Honestly, I can't rave enough about this book.

The book is divided into sections by certain phrases that are essential to Ms. Corrigan's life including "I Don't Know," "No", and "I Was Wrong." You might notice that the three phrases I mentioned are ones that aren't always easy to say, but so important to keep the important relationships in our lives running smoothly. For each phrase, Ms. Corrigan told stories from her personal life including hilarious ones about her mother, her daughters and husband, and even her childhood. However, the real beauty of this book was in the touching stories about her friend and her father in their final days.

Ms. Corrigan lost her best friend and her father within a short time period, and as a reader, I could tell that these events rocked her world. I love that, after these losses, she decided to evaluate her own life. It makes me feel like there's hope even after horrible things happen. And because Ms. Corrigan is so insightful and witty, her words made me evaluate my own life. Can you really ask more from a book?

I read a past memoir about Ms. Corrigan's diagnosis of cancer with two little kids; however, I think TELL ME MORE just resonated with me more. I also think that listening to the audio version of the book made a huge difference for me. Ms. Corrigan narrated her story and she did an outstanding job. I think Kathy said it best when she said it felt like a friend sharing her story with her. I appreciated Ms. Corrigan's candor and emotion when it came to her observations on life, and I loved her sense of humor too. All of these things came through loud and clear through the audiobook version.

TELL ME MORE is a wonderful memoir and just might go down as one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommended!

I downloaded this audiobook from Volumes.