Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kid Konnection: Bone Soup


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 book that's will get you ready for Halloween!

Summary: Three little witches and a bunch of spooky characters come together to prepare a delicious batch of Bone Soup in this Halloween tale based on the beloved fable, Stone Soup. This just-scary-enough picture book comes with a recipe for Bone Soup—perfect for Halloween eating.

Trick-or-treat? Trick-or-treat!

We’ve something usually good to eat!

One Halloween morning three witches are looking for a tasty treat and they find only a small bone in their cupboard. So they decide to go from door to door in their village to find just the right ingredients for their Bone Soup. No one in the village is convinced that soup can be made from a bone, until the littlest monster reveals just what the special ingredient should be. -- Simon and Schuster

It's never to early to share a Halloween book, right? Pumpkin Spice Lattes have been available at Starbucks for a few weeks, so I figure that means fall is here even though the weather doesn't feel like it!

BONE SOUP: A SPOOKY TASTY TALE by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and pictures by Tom Knight is an adorable picture book for kids ages 4 - 8. Three hungry witches were ready to eat, but they couldn't find anything in their cupboards. So what do they decide to do, you might ask? They decide to make some Bone Soup -- the perfect Halloween treat.

The witches go from door to door "trick or treating," but in this case they collect a variety of items to make their soup including wrinkled fingers, old toenails, a lizard's tale, and more. No one in the village really believes that Bone Soup will come of this strange concoction... but with the help of one little monster, a wonderful brew was created!

I thought BONE SOUP was adorable and perfect for Halloween read-alongs! This story is based on the traditional folktale Stone Soup and conveys the idea that something great can come when people work together. It's a fun story with adorable illustrations, and it has a fantastic message too.

The last page of BONE SOUP made the story even more special. Not only is there a note from the author about what the soup (and writing!) represent in the story, there's also a fun recipe for Naggy Witch's Bone Soup. Of course, we don't have toenails, claws, and colored flies readily available, so the authors found some substitutes that might be more palatable to the reader like cannellini beans, cloves of garlic, and red pepper flakes. I think kids and parents will have a great time making a batch of Bone Soup!

BONE SOUP is an entertaining picture book that's sure to get everyone in the mood for Halloween... and dinner!

Thanks to the Blue Slip Media 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, September 19, 2018

Guest Review: City of Devils

Summary: From Paul French, the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking—winner of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction—comes City of Devils, a rags-to-riches tale of two self-made men set against a backdrop of crime and vice in the sprawling badlands of Shanghai. 

Shanghai, 1930s: It was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, and fortunes made—and lost. 

“Lucky” Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex–U.S. Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison and rose to become the Slots King of Shanghai. “Dapper” Joe Farren—a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto—ruled the nightclubs. His chorus lines rivaled Ziegfeld’s. 

In 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation, and war. They thought they ruled Shanghai, but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams could come true. -- Picador

I am starting a full time job this week, so it's a great time for a review from my dad! He recently finished CITY OF DEVILS, THE TWO MEN WHO RULED THE UNDERWORLD OF OLD SHANGHAI by Paul French. It seems like an interesting true crime book about gangsters in Shanghai in the 1930s. Here are his thoughts:

CITY OF DEVILS, THE TWO MEN WHO RULED THE UNDERWORLD OF OLD SHANGHAI is a true crime book covering life in Shanghai in the period from 1930 until 1941. It is a story about Jack Riley, who ruled the gambling empire in Shanghai and Joe Farren who ruled Shanghai’s nightclub scene. It is a story about their rise to power, their ultimate downfall and the trail of destruction they left behind. It is also a story about old Shanghai and its Badlands and the International Settlement (under British, French and American control) as it struggled with the Great Depression, the Sino-Japanese War that raged around them and the effects of World War II. People came to Shanghai from America, Russia and other areas; some escaping the war, some outlaws looking to get rich.

“Lucky” Jack Riley was an orphan, an escapee from an Oklahoma prison and an ex-navy boxing champion who found his way to Shanghai and became the “Slots King” of Shanghai. “Dapper” Joe Farren from Vienna’s Jewish ghetto became a great showman who produced grand chorus lines and nightclub entertainment for Shanghai’s elite. Both men were involved with show girls, gambling, prostitution, alcohol, drugs, mobsters and anything else involved with the Shanghai underworld. Jack and John were enemies, then business partners, then enemies. They were very poor, then very rich, then very poor.

Author Paul French, through an enormous amount of research and an amazing writing ability, brought Old Shanghai to life in CITY OF DEVILS. He characterized in great detail how the Badlands operated during this period. He profiled many characters who revolved around Jack Riley and Joe Farren. Sadly there were no good characters, only bad ones. Even the lawmen, whether Chinese, Japanese or American, were corrupt. As I read the book it was easy to picture the events, people and scenes that French was describing. It was amazing to read how the underworld survived even as Japan and China fought, people starved and poverty prevailed all around them. The end came for Jack Riley and Joe Farren as U.S. lawmen squeezed them and Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into the war. As a result of the war, Japan left nothing of Old Shanghai standing.

CITY OF DEVILS gave me an interesting perspective of war and how life goes on around it. It also showed how some people profit from war. If you enjoy reading about world history then I think you will enjoy the small piece of it displayed in CITY OF DEVILS.

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Button Man

Summary: After a string of New York Times bestselling suburban thrillers, Andrew Gross has reinvented himself as a writer of historical thrillers. In his latest novel, Button Man, he delivers a stirring story of a Jewish family brought together in the dawn of the women's garment business and torn apart by the birth of organized crime in New York City in the 1930s.

Morris, Sol, and Harry Rabishevsky grew up poor and rough in a tiny flat on the Lower East Side, until the death of their father thrust them into having to fend for themselves and support their large family. Morris, the youngest, dropped out of school at twelve years old and apprenticed himself to a garment cutter in a clothing factory; Sol headed to accounting school; but Harry, scarred by a family tragedy, fell in with a gang of thugs as a teenager. Morris steadily climbs through the ranks at the factory until at twenty-one he finally goes out on his own, convincing Sol to come work with him. But Harry can't be lured away from the glamour, the power, and the money that come from his association with Louis Buchalter, whom Morris has battled with since his youth and who has risen to become the most ruthless mobster in New York. And when Buchalter sets his sights on the unions that staff the garment makers' factories, a fatal showdown is inevitable, pitting brother against brother.

This new novel is equal parts historical thriller, rich with the detail of a vibrant New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, and family saga, based on Andrew Gross's own family story and on the history of the era, complete with appearances by real-life characters like mobsters Louis Lepke and Dutch Schultz and special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, and cements Gross's reputation as today's most atmospheric and original historical thriller writer. -- Minotaur Books

I'm pretty sure that I've never reviewed a book quite like BUTTON MAN by Andrew Gross for my  Mystery Mondays feature. However, this book is being called a historical thriller... and therefore it counts. (It's my weekly feature so I can determine that, right?) As the description above says, BUTTON MAN is part historical thriller and part family drama -- two of my favorite genres!

BUTTON MAN tells the story of a Jewish family in the 1920s and 30s whose lives are turned upside down when the Jewish mob inserts itself into their lives. Morris, Sol and Harry are three brothers in the Rabishevsky family. The Rabishevsky family was poor; and Morris, the youngest brother, was forced to quit school and start working at a clothing factory when he was only twelve years old. Sol, the eldest brother went to accounting school, while Harry fell in with a neighborhood gang.

When Morris reached 21, he decided to go into business with Sol making economical women's coats; however, Harry felt more comfortable with the mobster Louis Buchalter, Morris' enemy from childhood. Eventually, Harry joins his brothers but he still is drawn to the money and power of the mobsters.

The Jew mob has set its sight on garment workers, and Morris and Sol have stood up to them time and time again... even when their friends are getting hurt by these same mobsters. As tensions rise, it becomes clear that Harry will have to make a difficult decision that will affect not only the company but his brothers as well.

I enjoyed BUTTON MAN quite a bit. It reminded me a bit of some books that I read years ago when I was obsessed with reading anything (fiction or non-fiction) about New York mobsters. I found the history of the garment workers, the unions, and the mobsters to be fascinating; and I appreciated how the author incorporated so many real characters into the story. The historical aspect alone of this novel made it a worthwhile read.

However, what brought BUTTON MAN to the next level for me was the family saga part of the plot. I appreciated how the author developed these characters by providing some background stories about their childhood, and I enjoyed the interactions between the three very different brothers. I especially liked Morris' strength and determination and found his rags to riches story to symbolize the American Dream.

BUTTON MAN was an entertaining (and educational!) read. I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction as well as readers who enjoy family sagas and mob stories!

Thanks to Tandem Literary 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, September 15, 2018

Kid Konnection: Little Scientist Board 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 set of tiny board books that are terrific!
Summary: Mudpuppy’s Little Scientist Board Book Set is comprised of colorfully illustrated portraits of scientists who have made a historical impact on the world. Illustrations by Lydia Ortiz and words by Emily Kleinman introduce children to these important people in history with images that are fun for youngsters and also realistic. The Board Book Set includes 4 mini board books, 8 chunky pages per book, packaged in a slipcase box. -- Mudpuppy

I know it's a little early to start thinking about stocking stuffers, but the LITTLE SCIENTIST BOARD BOOK SET would make a great one! This cube-shaped box of four little board books about famous scientists is so cute... and it's educational too!

The LITTLE SCIENTIST BOARD BOOK SET includes four small and sturdy board books that are perfect for toddlers. These books are first and foremost durable! However, it's what between the pages of these cardboard pages that makes these books great. The four books cover a wide variety of scientists: LITTLE SCIENTIST ASTRONOMERS, LITTLE SCIENTIST PHYSICISTS, LITTLE SCIENTIST CHEMISTS, and LITTLE SCIENTIST EARTH & LIFE SCIENTIST.

These small books are made up of eight pages so they don't require much attention span, thereby making them ideal for little ones. Each page spread provides a sentence about a famous scientist. For example, LITTLE SCIENTIST ASTRONOMERS is about Carl Sagan, Carolyn Porco, Vera Rubin, and Edwin Hubble. As someone who doesn't follow astronomy much at all since my difficult freshman class in college, I admit that I learned a thing or two. I probably shouldn't admit that in books that are geared towards kids ages 1-5, right?

There are a few things that I really appreciated about the LITTLE SCIENTIST BOARD BOOK SET. I love that the books were about both men and women who were successful in their fields. (This publisher definitely gets it -- their first collection was the LITTLE FEMINIST BOARD BOOK SET.) In addition, I really like that the books' illustrations are so adorable and fun. They are just cute enough to engage little ones, but they also teach them by introducing some famous and very important scientists.

I can't rave enough about this collection of board books. Highly recommended!

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!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review: Copycat Cooking

Summary: OVERVIEW The popular Six Sisters’ Stuff bloggers come to the rescue with a new collection of more than 100 easy-to-make recipes of popular restaurant dishes and takeout favorites for busy families.

With more than fifty recipes that you can make in 30 minutes or less, this cookbook can help make meal planning a breeze as you mix-and-match side dishes from one restaurant with main courses from another and finish it off with a dessert from a third.

Save money while spending more time with your family. Change dining-out to dining-in for a memorable experience your whole family will enjoy.

Includes copycat recipes for Texas Roadhouse Cactus Blossom, Panda Express Orange Chicken, Olive Garden Chicken Parmesan, Disneyland Monte Cristo Sandwich, Chili’s Molten Hot Lave Cake, Sprinkles Red Velvet Cupcakes, and Universal Studios Butterbeer. -- Shadow Mountain Publishing

When I received an email about the new cookbook SIX SISTERS' STUFF COPYCAT COOKING: 100+ POPULAR RESTAURANT MEALS YOU CAN MAKE AT HOME, I jumped at the opportunity to take a look at it. For one thing, I've saved (and made) quite a few recipes from the Six Sisters' blog over the years. But I also love the concept of a copycat cookbook based on some popular restaurants' most well-known dishes.

COPYCAT COOKING is fantastic! I absolutely love this cookbook. Not only do the recipes look terrific, but the cookbook itself is fun to look at. (I have a thing for browsing through cookbooks. I inherited it from my grandma!) There are plenty of full page color photographs of the finished product (which is a must in a cookbook, right?), and I was thrilled to see that over half the recipes are 30 minutes or less.

One great feature of this cookbook is that it makes eating some of the delicious meals actually affordable. I don't know about you, but I think it's expensive to take the entire family out of dinner. But what's equally great about COPYCAT COOKING is that you can eat these meals even if you don't live near the restaurants! For example, there is a recipe for Butterbeer from Harry Potter World at Universal Studios and a Monte Cristo Sandwich from Disneyland.

I can't wait to make a few of these recipes... especially since I don't live near a Cheesecake Factory or a P.F. Changs.  In addition to these popular restaurants, this cookbook also has recipes from Chili's, KFC, TGI Fridays, Outback, Chick-Fil-A, Sonic, Starbucks, and many more! There really is something for everyone in this cookbook!

COPYCAT COOKING is divided into normal chapters -- Copycat Appetizers & Side Dishes, Copycat Main Dishes, Copycat Desserts, and Copycat Drinks; and each section is chock full of recipes. Every single recipe has a full page photograph -- of course, my finished meals never look quite like theirs, but still....

As you might imagine, the recipes in this cookbook aren't for the individual who is dieting. Most of the recipes are exactly what you'd expect - lots of fat and calories, but I would argue that a low-fat copycat cookbook just wouldn't meet anyone's expectations! There isn't even nutritional information listed, but that's ok... Most of us aren't calorie-counting when ordering food like this in a restaurant either!

Before I finish this review, I thought I'd give you a little idea of the recipes in this cookbook. This is just scratching the surface, but here are a few that appealed to me: Chick-Fil-A Chicken Nuggets, P.F. Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Applebee's Honey Grilled Salmon, Chili's Cajun Chicken Pasta, and Starbucks' Lemon Poundcake. This list is far from complete, but it does give you an idea of the assortment.

I think COPYCAT COOKING is a great cookbook with 100+ delicious copycat recipes. Highly recommended to people who want to replicate popular restaurants' dishes anytime from their home and without breaking the bank.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Trust Me

Summary: Trust Me is the chilling standalone novel of psychological suspense and manipulation that award-winning author and renowned investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan was born to write.

CAN YOU SPOT THE LIAR? An accused killer insists she's innocent of a heinous murder.

A grieving journalist surfaces from the wreckage of her shattered life.

Their unlikely alliance leads to a dangerous cat and mouse game that will leave you breathless.

Who can you trust when you can't trust yourself? -- Forge

TRUST ME, the new psychological suspense novel, by Hank Phillippi Ryan is certainly a novel that will make you question... well, everything. I just finished this book a few minutes ago, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. There was a lot going on and more twists than I could count, and I probably should have waited a few days to process everything that happened.

TRUST ME is one of the most convoluted thrillers that I've ever read, and I mean that in a good way. It's already received a ton of great buzz including the Amazon Editors' Pick Best Mystery/Thriller of the Month and a Booklist Starred review. It's also a Real Simple Magazine Top Thriller of 2018, a Book Bub Top Summer Thriller of 2018, a POPSUGAR Top Summer Thriller, a CrimeReads Most Anticipated Thriller of 2018, and a New York Post Best Thriller of the Summer!

Mercer Hennessy is a journalist/writer who is deeply traumatized from an accident that took her husband and young daughter's lives. She is still counting the days since their deaths and isn't doing much of anything with her her life. She ends up accepting a job to write about a book about the trial of the "Baby Boston" case, and she is determined to tell the story of the little girl's mother, Ashlyn Bryant, whom Mercer is sure killed her daughter. (Think the Casey Anthony story!)

Mercer is following the trial and working diligently on the book, even though it's difficult to cover a story about the death of a little girl. Mercer is one hundred percent sure that Ashlyn is guilty; however, things begin to get complicated when the jury finds Ashlyn not guilty of the crime.

Mercer is forced to examine her initial reaction to the crime and Ashlyn; and what she begins to learn after talking with Ashlyn makes her question everything about not only the crime itself, but her own life!

Nothing is what it seems in this book. Absolutely nothing! I had my doubts about Mercer as the narrator because she was still reeling from her family's deaths, but she seemed like she had a decent grip on the Ashlyn. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that Mercer was actually one of the most unreliable narrators I've ever encountered in a psychological thriller. After about a hundred or so pages, everything I thought she knew was upended... and everything I thought I knew was thrown out the window!

The author does a great job of blurring reality for the reader; and most of the time, I really appreciated the twists and turns. Having said that, there were times I felt a little manipulated. (But if you follow my reviews, you know that I'm super-sensitive to unreliable narrators.) All in all, I'd say that the surprises and the deceptions made for a fun and interesting read!

Another thing I really liked about TRUST ME was how Ms. Phillippi Ryan explored the concept of truth. There were lots of insights into what is truth and how we define it in our lives that made this book a little more special than a typical psychological thriller.

TRUST ME is an entertaining "roller coaster ride" of a book. Highly recommended!

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, September 8, 2018

Kid Konnection: Eliza


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 soon-to-be-released picture book about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.

Summary: For fans of the musical Hamilton, here is a stunning picture book biography about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s extraordinary wife and an important figure in her own right.

We all know the story of scrappy Alexander Hamilton and his rise in American politics–but how much do we know about his workmate, inspiration, and stabilizing force, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton? Margaret McNamara employs the letter-writing style of the period to tell the story of Eliza Hamilton, who was born into a family of considerable wealth, power, and influence in Albany, New York, in 1757. Eliza was expected to marry into a similarly powerful family . . . until she met and fell in love with the charismatic Hamilton. She stood by him throughout his tumultuous life, and after his death, she single-handedly collected his papers and preserved them for historians and musical-theater writers of the future. Eliza outlived Hamilton by fifty years; during that time she founded the first orphanage in New York State, raised funds for the Washington Monument, and kept the flame of her husband’s memory and achievements alive. Featuring Esme Shapiro’s exquisite, thoroughly researched art, which mirrors paintings from 18th-century America, this is a beautiful and informative biography with extensive back matter. -- Schwartz & Wade

ELIZA: THE STORY OF ELIZABETH SCHUYLER HAMILTON isn't available until October 2nd, but I loved this book so much that I didn't want to wait to share with you! ELIZA is a picture book biography about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton with words by Margaret McNamara and artwork by Esme Shapiro, and it's very special. I knew next to nothing about Eliza Hamilton, and I found this book to be extremely interesting. In fact, it piqued my interest so much that I want to read some more about this fascinating woman.

ELIZA was married to Alexander Hamilton and is only now getting the credit and fame she deserves. This picture book is written as a letter from Eliza to her unborn grand-daughter, and it details the major highlights of her life. She begins the letter with her birth to a wealthy family and then follows the story through her childhood and her marriage to Hamilton. She even shares some of the major things she contributed to our society after her husband's death. (She ended up outliving him by 50 years!)

Since I really knew very little about Eliza Hamilton, I was stunned to learn that she was the one responsible for keeping all of her husband's letters for future generations. She also raised money for the building of the Washington Monument as well as finding the first orphanage in the state of New York. She even met with all fourteen presidents. Eliza Hamilton sounds like she was one strong and amazing woman!

As much as I enjoyed this story in ELIZA, I also loved the artwork. The illustrator, Esme Shapiro, tried to make the pictures look like 18th-century paintings. How cool is that? These gorgeous illustrations really contributed to the overall "feel" of the book.

The picture book includes an afterword from Phillipa Soo, the original Eliza in the Broadway musical Hamilton: An American Musical, where she describes how she researched her famous role. It also has some additional details about Eliza's life that fill in some of the information provided in this picture book.

ELIZA is a terrific picture book that kids, especially fans of Hamilton, will love. Highly recommended for both classroom and home libraries!

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!