Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Club: This is Where I Leave You & Giveaway

Summary: The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she’s pregnant. This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper’s (One Last Thing Before I Go) most accomplished work to date, and a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not. -- Plume

Remember when I received this little goodie box in the mail? 
Last night, my book club finally met to discuss THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper. I absolutely loved this novel (both times I read it), and I couldn't wait to share  to share it with my friends. I wasn't alone in my admiration of this book -- all of my friends loved it too!

Because THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is near and dear to my heart, I thought I should host an event "worthy" of this book. We had an absolute crazy weekend, but I managed to throw together a pretty decent feast if I do say so myself. We had the Barefoot Contessa Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp with vanilla ice cream, pumpkin cream puffs, a variety of cheese and crackers, fresh berries, and a delicious Layered Hot Artichoke and Feta Dip. We also had mint iced tea and wine!
I had the discussion questions available just in case we needed them, but we had no problem finding things to talk about. This guide includes a great interview with the author along with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes we focused on include family dynamics, parenting, love, marriage, tragedies, sibling rivalry, resentment, selfishness, and forgiveness. It was also interesting to discuss Judd's recurring dream sequences although I'm not entirely sure any of us were one hundred percent sure what they meant!

If I'm being honest, my book club tends to get off track quite a bit when we discuss our monthly books. However, our conversation for THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU was really, really good. In fact, we discussed THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU for over two hours and that's a really long time for us. We covered almost all of the topics in the discussion questions, and we managed to have a great time sharing wacky experiences with our own families. I think that's one of the reasons that this book is so perfect for book clubs -- it reminds us of our own families... and makes us feel more normal!

I planned on taking pictures of my group discussing the book or even a group photo of us holding the book, and I totally forgot! So all I have is this picture of me with the book!
Of course, we can't wait to see This is Where I Leave You in the theaters; and fortunately, we don't have to wait very long. This is Where I Leave You is in theaters September 19th -- just a few more days; and this movie is getting some terrific reviews. With a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Jane Fonda, there is no doubt that the acting will be a treat. Here's a little more about the movie:

The dramatic comedy “This is Where I Leave You” is directed by Shawn Levy, and based on the hilarious and poignant best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper. It features a starring ensemble cast including Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”); Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Tina Fey (“30 Rock”); and two-time Oscar® winner, multiple Golden Globe honoree and 2013 Emmy Award nominee Jane Fonda (“Klute,” “Coming Home,” HBO’s “The Newsroom”). 

When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide—driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.

Genre: Dramatic Comedy
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard and Jane Fonda
Directed By: Shawn Levy
Screenplay By: Screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, Based on the novel "This Is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper
Produced By: Paula Weinstein, Shawn Levy, Jeffrey Levine; Executive Producers Mary McLaglen, Jonathan Tropper

Official Links
Visit the official website
Like This is Where I Leave You on Facebook
Follow @wbpictures on Twitter and Instagram

Giveaway alert: I have a $25 Visa gift card for you to see the film in theaters along with a copy of the book. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 28th 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!

Post sponsored by Warner Brothers.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kid Konnection: Precious Ramotswe Mysteries

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 terrific series for young middle grade readers.

Summary: Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea.

Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective?

This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is Precious.

When a piece of cake goes missing from her classroom, a traditionally built young boy is tagged as the culprit. Precious, however, is not convinced. She sets out to find the real thief. Along the way she learns that your first guess isn’t always right. She also learns how to be a detective. -- Anchor Books

Summary: Precious wants to be a detective when she grows up. She is always practicing at being a detective by asking questions and finding out about other people’s lives. There are two new students in her class, a girl called Teb and a boy called Pontsho. She learns that they are brother and sister, and—even more exciting—that Pontsho has a clever pet meerkat named Kosi.

One day, Teb and Pontsho’s family’s cow disappears. Precious helps them look for clues to find the cow. But getting the cow back home will require some quick thinking and help from an unexpected source. -- Anchor

Summary: Young Precious gets a very special treat. She gets a trip to visit her Aunty Bee at a safari camp. While there she makes a new friend, a boy named Khumo, and meets an actor-lion named Teddy, who is starring in a film. When Teddy disappears, Khumo and Precious will brave hippos and crocodiles as they search for the missing lion. -- Anchor

I have been meaning to share my thoughts about the Precious Ramotswe Mysteries by Alexander McCall Smith and illustrated by Iain McIntosh for some time, and since the third book is coming out next month, I figured now is as good as a time as any! I have read all three books in this series, THE GREAT CAKE MYSTERY: PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE'S VERY FIRST CASETHE MYSTERY OF MEERKAT HILL, and THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING LION; and I have to say that these books are positively delightful for young middle grade readers. Of course, I'm a huge fan of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books that are written for adults, so it's not a stretch to think I'd like reading about Precious when she was a budding childhood detective!

There are many things that make the books in this series special so it's hard to focus on just a few; however, Precious is certainly one of them. Precious is a wonderful character. She is extremely likable and I'm certain kids will enjoy her insights as well as her ability to think through problems and solve mysteries. It's just adorable to see Precious developing her detective skills, and I can see all of her adult personality traits being formed. I especially loved Precious's compassion towards others which is evident in all three books.

In addition, I love how educational these books are. Maybe that's the mom in me talking, but these books definitely teach children about Africa and its culture. The actual story has some interesting tidbits thrown in about Botswana, and kids won't even notice that they are actually learning something! However, there is also a section in the back of the books that explains things about the geography, people, and animals of Botswana.

I also appreciate the artwork in these books. The pictures are terrific and a perfect complement to the stories, but they also serve another purpose as far as I'm concerned -- they break up the text for readers who might be intimidated by all of the words. I remember when Booking Son was afraid to read anything without pictures and would get bored with this type of book.

The mysteries in these books are too cute and perfect for young readers -- no murder mysteries here! One has cakes that mysteriously disappear, one has a cow who is missing, and one has a lion that goes missing. Booking Son read THE GREAT CAKE MYSTERY and was able to figure out the mystery given the clues, so I suspect that most kids, especially those who appreciate mysteries, will have fun figuring out what happened in these books.

One of the best things about these books, though, is that there are discussion questions available for all of them. The Great Cake Mystery Guide is available on-line, but the other guides are included in the back of the books. In addition to the questions, there are pre-reading activities, recipes, and curriculum connections. For example, there are questions and suggested activities tied to Geography, Science/Biology, Language Arts, and Social Studies. These books are a natural fit for mother/daughter book clubs, and they are also perfect for classrooms!

I truly can't rave enough about the Precious Ramotswe Mysteries for Young Readers. Highly recommended for children interested in mysteries as well as African culture.

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!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Giveaway: The Partner Track

Summary: Ingrid Yung’s life is full of firsts. A first-generation Chinese American, the first lawyer in her family, she’s about to collect the holy grail of "firsts" and become the first minority woman to make partner at the venerable old law firm Parsons Valentine & Hunt. Ingrid has perfected the art of "passing" and seamlessly blends into the old-boy corporate culture. She gamely banters in the corporate cafeteria, plays in the firm softball league, and earnestly racks up her billable hours. But when an offensive incident at the summer outing threatens the firm’s reputation, Ingrid’s outsider status is suddenly thrown into sharp relief. Scrambling to do damage control, Parsons Valentine announces a new Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, commanding Ingrid to spearhead the effort. Only she’s about to close an enormous transaction that was to be her final step in securing partnership.

For the first time, Ingrid must question her place in the firm. Pitted against her colleagues, including her golden-boy boyfriend, Ingrid begins to wonder whether the prestige of partnership is worth breaching her ethics. But can she risk throwing away the American dream that is finally within her reach? -- St. Martin's Griffin

THE PARTNER TRACK by Helen Wan is now available in paperback -- isn't the cover gorgeous? This novel follows Ingrid Yung, a young lawyer at a renowned NYC law firm who must play games with the “old-boys network” to become partner. When an incident at the summer outing, Helen finds herself at odds with her colleagues, including her golden-boy boyfriend, and must choose between becoming a partner and doing the right thing.

I can't wait to read this book -- it sounds terrific, but in the meantime, I have a copy of THE PARTNER TRACK, courtesy of the publisher, to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 25th 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!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Safe With Me (Audio)

Summary: The screech of tires brought Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it to a devastating end. A year after she signed the papers to donate her daughter’s organs, Hannah is still reeling with grief when she unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the Bell family, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Maddie, survived only because Hannah’s daughter had died. Mesmerized by this fragile connection to her own daughter and afraid to reveal who she actually is, Hannah develops a surprising friendship with Maddie’s mother, Olivia.

The Bells, however, have problems of their own. Once on the verge of leaving her wealthy but abusive husband, Olivia now finds herself bound to him in the wake of the transplant that saved their daughter’s life. Meanwhile, Maddie, tired of the limits her poor health puts upon her and fearful of her father’s increasing rage, regularly escapes into the one place where she can be anyone she wants: the Internet. But when she is finally healthy enough to return to school, the real world proves to be just as complicated as the isolated bubble she had been so eager to escape.

A masterful narrative shaped by nuanced characters whose delicate bonds are on a collision course with the truth, Safe with Me is a riveting triumph. -- Simon & Schuster Audio

I actually listened to SAFE WITH ME by Amy Hatvany a long time ago and forgot to write a review. I probably shouldn't admit that to you, but I think what's important here is that I still remember enough details about this novel to sit down a few months later and write my thoughts. As far as I'm concerned, that's a sign of a powerful story.

At its simplest, SAFE WITH ME is a story about women, friendship, and other relevant issues. Hannah Scott is a young mother who lost her daughter in an accident about a year ago. She decided to donate her organs to help others, but she's still unable to handle the grief (and guilt) of losing her only child. And then she meets the Bell family. Hannah immediately develops a friendship with Olivia, a woman who seemingly has it all, and her 15 year old daughter Maddie. Olivia is beautiful and financially secure; however, it's apparent that she has some dark secrets concerning her marriage. Maddie also has some problems with her father, her constant struggle with her health, and her re-entry into the real world of high school.

As Hannah becomes closer to the Bells, she begins to realize that Maddie is alive because of her daughter. She suspects that Maddie's organ transplant was actually her daughter's liver, yet she's not willing to share her thoughts with either Olivia or Maddie.

All three of these women are dealing with some very serious issues, and they try to handle them in the best way they can... which, of course, isn't always the ideal way. Despite keeping secrets from each other, they discover the importance of friendship and safety.

I thought SAFE WITH ME was a very good book, but I've come to expect that from Ms. Hatvany. I always seem to enjoy her novels which explore female relationships and give insight into some complicated (and relevant) issues. I especially appreciate her character development, and I like how she manages to create some very real characters that also manage to capture my heart.

Ms. Hatvany is not afraid to take on some complicated and controversial issues in her books -- that's for sure. This novel actually did take on quite a bit... organ donation, social media, loss of a child, and domestic abuse to name a few, and I admit that I was concerned that it might be too much for one book. However, I can now say that the author did handle all of these issues in a compassionate and fair manner. I was impressed that she could pull it off!

One thing in particular that I appreciated about this novel was the recurring theme of safety. She did a marvelous job of exploring this theme through many of the characters' actions and motivations. For example, Hannah was distraught with grief for not being able to keep her young daughter safe; and Olivia was dealing with trying to protect her daughter, and at the same time, deal with an abusive husband. Maddie was attempting to reconnect with society not only at school but also through social media -- which as you know has its own share of risk for teens. I really liked how all of these women's stories tied together and had the idea of safety/security running through them.

The audio version of SAFE WITH ME was read by Joy Osmanski, Cassandra Campbell and Rebekkah Ross. I thought it was very, very good. Since the story was written with through the three main characters' viewpoints, the audio book alternated between these three narrators. I thought they did an outstanding job... enough so that I would search out other audio books that they've written.

SAFE WITH ME would make a wonderful book club selection especially for groups made up of women! Not only is it a touching story that is also very readable, but there are many things to discuss.  There is a reading guide with eleven questions as well as a few ideas for ways to enhance your book club. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include friendship, grief, loss, secrets, marriage, domestic abuse, technology, death, illness, organ donation, and parenting.

Overall, despite the predictable ending, I really enjoyed SAFE WITH ME. Recommended for fans of women's fiction.

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: The First Affair

Summary: The #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries return with “a convincing portrait of a damaged young woman whose head is turned by the attentions of a dashing and powerful political figure.…An utterly absorbing page-turner” (Booklist).

I was twenty-two years old only three weeks out of college.
I thought my whole life was beginning...then he kissed me.

Jamie McAlister has resigned herself to the fact that in this job market, her painfully expensive degree might only get her a position at Starbucks, when she suddenly lands a prestigious internship at the White House. Although she doesn’t hit it off with the other interns—who come from so much money that ten weeks without a paycheck doesn’t faze them—she is eager to work hard and make the best of the opportunity while it lasts.

An unexpected encounter late one evening with the charismatic President Gregory Rutland seems like just a fleeting flirtation, but when he orchestrates clandestine meetings and late-night phone calls, their relationship quickly escalates. Jamie knows what she is doing is wrong: he’s married, he has kids, he’s the President. Yet each time she tries to extricate herself, Greg pulls her back in.

With the conflicted desires of the most powerful man in the world driving her to her breaking point, Jamie can’t help but divulge intimate details to those closest to her. But she must have confided in the wrong person, because she soon finds herself, and everyone she cares about, facing calculated public destruction at the hands of Greg’s political enemies, and—perhaps no matter how much he cares about her—at the hands of Greg himself. -- Atria

I don't know what made me pick up THE FIRST AFFAIR by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. When I look back on the description, it's not a book that I normally would read. All I can figure is that I was in the mood for a light, chick-lit type of story; and these two authors have written a few books that I've enjoyed in the past so I figured, "Why not?" After reading THE FIRST AFFAIR, I have to say that I didn't love it. I think maybe it just wasn't a good fit for me.

THE FIRST AFFAIR tells the story of Jamie McAlister, a recent college graduate who found herself interning at the White House when she couldn't get a "real job" because of the stagnant economy. She doesn't really fit in with the other interns, but she's determined to make the best of it.

When the government shuts down due to a budget impasse, Jamie finds herself working late nights at the White House. One evening, she finds herself alone with the President and there is a mutual attraction. The flirting begins and it turns into a full-fledged affair. At this point, the story should sound somewhat familiar, right?

Jamie knows what she's doing is wrong but she can't seem to separate herself from the charismatic president. Of course, their secret is eventually revealed (you really can't trust anyone!) and Jamie's life is turned upside-down and never the same!

THE FIRST AFFAIR wasn't my cup of tea. I can't say that anything was wrong with the novel, but I just didn't love the story. In fact, I can't even tell you why I didn't appreciate this novel like I had hoped. It definitely wasn't the writing or the character development -- I just think this book wasn't for me. As a result, I waited months to write this review and wasn't even sure if I should write it. I'm not entirely sure my opinion is a fair one!

One of my main problems with this story was that I didn't really like Jamie. She wasn't a character that garnered my sympathy, and I don't think I cared about her enough to become fully vested in her story. I wanted to like her (and even root for her) when everything went down, but I just wasn't able to feel that way. I do believe that if she had resonated with me more, I probably would have ended up liking this novel.

Having said that, I did find Jamie kind of interesting and I think the authors did a good job of creating a complex character. Jamie was a tough nut to crack for me and I didn't always understand her, but I appreciated that about her in an odd way. Naturally, I couldn't help but compare her to Monica Lewinsky, and I admit that this novel caused me to see a few things differently about that whole situation.

Lastly, I did like that this novel was deeper than your typical chick-lit story. I was pleasantly surprised by how the authors handled the relationship and the eventual fall-out. And I do think, they gave readers some food for thought.

THE FIRST AFFAIR might make an interesting book club selection for some groups. There is a reading guide with twelve questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include adultery, secrets, trust, relationships, honestly, power, and sex.

While THE FIRST AFFAIR wasn't a book that I loved, there are definitely readers out there who will appreciate this story. Recommended to fans of chick lit and readers who were interesting in the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: Dollbaby

Summary: When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts. -- Pam Dorman Books

DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal is being compared to two fantastic books, SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE HELP. On one hand, that will definitely pique many readers' interest because those books were huge; however, on the other hand, that sets expectations for DOLLBABY mighty high. While I enjoyed DOLLBABY quite a bit, I'm not sure I rank DOLLBABY up there with those books, but it is a good one and a very worthwhile read.

DOLLBABY is an insightful look into New Orleans, the South, and the Civil Rights Movement, but it's also a heart-warming story about family and friendship. The novel begins when Ibby Bell, a twelve year old girl whose father has recently died, is dropped off at her grandmother Fannie's house with little explanation. Fannie is quite the woman and some might say a little strange. She lives in an huge house in New Orleans that has its fair share of secrets, and she also tends to "visit" the local asylum on a pretty regular basis. Ibby is fortunate to have Fannie's black cook Queenie and her daughter Dollbaby to watch out for her and teach her the ways of the South.

Ibby learns to follow Fannie's rules (even if they don't always make sense), and she also becomes friends with Birdelia, Dollbaby's daughter. Ibby quickly learns that things are different in the South especially as it pertains to the differences between how blacks and whites live. As Ibby grows into her teenage years, she sees how the South changes -- lunch counter sit-ins, the Vietnam War, and even the passing of the Civil Rights Act. However, she also begins to understand Fannie's quirky behavior and even appreciate her eccentric grandmother.

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed DOLLBABY but I don't know if I loved it like I had hoped. I did appreciate that this was the author's debut novel, and it definitely shows that Ms. McNeal has a lot of promise as an author. The story was interesting, as were the characters; and I loved how well the author brought the South, and especially New Orleans, to life.

I don't know if what I'm going to say next will make much sense, but I almost think DOLLBABY just had too much going on. There were a lot of historical issues, along with the many family secrets; and they didn't always flow smoothly. While I did appreciate the pace of this novel (it was a very quick read for me), I just felt as if a lot of the events were skimmed over.

Having said that, I think what I enjoyed most about DOLLBABY was how it made me feel. This book certainly delves into some complicated (and not altogether happy) issues, but it still managed to have a heartwarming message about family and friends. I would consider DOLLBABY to be a coming-of-age story, and I admit I'm a sucker for those types of books, especially when they take place in the South during a time when so much was going on. Ibby learned so much about her family, her friends, and even herself; and it was touching to see how much she grew throughout the course of the novel.

DOLLBABY would make a wonderful book club selection especially for those groups, like mine, who enjoyed discussing SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT and THE HELP. There is a reading guide available with nine thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family, secrets, race, class, change, risk, and friendship. I could also see many groups turning the meeting into a themed one with southern food and drinks!

DOLLBABY is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate stories about the South and the Civil Rights Movement.

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: The Secret Place

Summary: The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption saysI KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series. -- Viking

Last week at this time, I was vacationing in Dublin, Ireland. Prior to leaving, I decided to pack Tana French's new novel THE SECRET PLACE. I knew I had a lot of travel time on planes, trains, and buses; and I figured a novel that is written by a writer who lives in Dublin and a book that takes place in that city would be perfect for the trip. Plus, how could I go wrong with Tana French?

Truth be told, the book pretty much takes place in a 24 hour period on the grounds of a boarding school, so I didn't get a "taste" of Dublin in this story like I was hoping; however, it was still a great choice to pack if I do say so myself. Ms. French has done it again. She's managed to write a riveting literary mystery that kept me guessing until the very end, and she successfully delved into some complex themes including friendship and loyalty. I think it's safe to say that I'm a bit in awe of this woman and her writing skills!

THE SECRET PLACE is another novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series and feathers Detective Stephen Moran as the narrator. Moran is desperate to get into the Murder Squad and sees his chance when Holly, a student at St. Kilda's School and a blast from Moran's past, brings him a card that was anonymously posted in "The Secret Place." "The Secret Place" is a bulletin board at the school where girls can post photos, pictures, etc. and allows them to vent; and this particular posting claimed that someone out there knew who murdered Chris Harper, a popular teen from a neighboring school. Chris' murder occurred about a year ago and was now considered a cold case, so Moran reckoned if he could solve Chris' murder, he just might be accepted on the Murder Squad.

He approaches the prickly Antoinette Conway, the woman who was in charge of the investigation; and she agrees to let him help her interview the girls at St. Kilda's. Once Moran arrives at the school, he quickly realizes that it's not going to be easy to get anything helpful from the girls. Holly and her friends have ties to Chris, but their rivals do as well. No one is willing to give much, and the detectives aren't sure who or what to believe.

Moran and Conway attempt to get to the bottom of this murder mystery, but everything they learn seems to lead to more questions. They begin to doubt everyone (even each other) as they encounter eight teenage girls who are willing to say anything to protect those they love... and hurt their rivals.

THE SECRET PLACE is nothing short of amazing! I truly am blown away by Ms. French's ability to not only create an intriguing mystery, but also her character development and literary skills. She manages to provide almost a two-in-one deal for her books, pleasing both fans of mysteries and literary novels. I am almost embarrassed to say that I've only read two of her novels, but I'm more certain than ever that I need to remedy that immediately. (Plus, I want to read more stories that take place in Dublin!)

Truly, THE SECRET PLACE kept me guessing and had more than it's fair share of twists. Like the detectives in charge of the case, I had absolutely no idea who was responsible for Chris' murder. It could have been any of them; and at times, I thought maybe none of them or even a combination of a few girls. While I appreciated being surprised by the culprit and the intricacies of the murder, I have to say that it was how the author told this story and her ability to explore some very serious issues that brought this book to the next level for me.

One thing I absolutely loved about THE SECRET PLACE was how Ms. French delivered the story. For half the story, Moran was the narrator of the novel and I really appreciated his character. He was both intelligent and rather complex with his insecurities and his desire to prove himself. The other half of the story was the girls' viewpoints on the events leading up to the murder and even what happened after the murder. I loved how she juxtaposed Moran's story and the girls', and it was an excellent way to receive the information from all sources.

In addition, I loved how the author created some very memorable characters. I really liked Moran and his "issues," and I thought the relationship between Moran and Conway was interesting to say the least. I also liked how Moran interacted with his other co-worker (Holly's father) as well as how he managed to get close to the girls for information purposes. However, I also really appreciated the eight girls that the author created. A few of these girls give new meaning to the term mean girl; and unfortunately, I could see realistic aspects of teenage girls (good and bad, but mainly bad) in each of them.

What really impressed me about THE SECRET PLACE was how it explored relationships, especially friendships. The two groups of teenage girls both had solid friendships that were very different from each other, so I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed. In addition, Moran and his fellow police officers also had some intriguing aspects of "friendship" that often times mirrored the girls' relationships. I loved how the theme of friendship was explored with all of its complexities as well as how loyalty and betrayal were presented.

I can't think of a better book to select for your next book club that THE SECRET PLACE. Fortunately, I found this reading guide with eleven questions. Some of the things you might want to discuss include friendships, relationships, parent/child relationships, secrets, loyalty, betrayal, mean girls, peer pressure, jealousy, and wealth. My book club is made up primarily of mom to teenage girls, so I can only imagine how much fun we'd have discussing this novel!

THE SECRET PLACE is a must-read for fans of literary mysteries. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.