Saturday, April 19, 2014

Kid Konnection: Summer State of Mind

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 novel that's both fun and full of great messages.

Summary: Summer has finally arrived and fifteen-year-old Harper McCallister intends to spend her days at the mall shopping or by the pool at her country club. But after receiving her latest heart-stopping credit card bill, Harper's parents makes other plans, and ship her off to camp.

Suddenly, the clueless yet ever-popular Harper is the new girl at the bottom of a social ladder she can't climb in wedge sandals and expensive clothes. She seems to be winning over super-cute camp "Lifer" Ethan, though, and if she can manage to make a few friends--and stay out of trouble--she just might find a whole new summer state of mind.

A fresh and funny summer-camp companion novel to Jen Calonita's hit Sleepaway Girls. -- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A few years ago, Booking Daughter and I had the privilege of meeting Jen Calonita. Not only did we find Ms. Calonita to be extremely fun and cool -- she has lots of inside scoop on Hollywood life, but we also discovered that we really like her novels. Her latest book is titled SUMMER STATE OF MIND, and it comes out next week. I'm pretty certain she has another winner!

SUMMER STATE OF MIND follows 15 year old Harper McCallister. Harper has a privileged life to say the least and she usually spends her time shopping or hanging out at a country club. When Harper finally pushes her parents too far after once again running up her credit card with "frivolous" purchases, they decide they need to teach her a lesson. They send Harper to a summer camp.

Needless to say, Harper finds herself miserable. She isn't used to "roughing it" and the kids at the camp are quite different from the friends she normally would choose to spend time with. Throughout the course of the summer camp, Harper discovers quite a bit about herself and the real meaning of friendship.

I really enjoyed SUMMER STATE OF MIND. Like Ms. Calonita's other novels, it's the perfect blend of entertainment and lessons; and as a mom, I always know I can count on her to write books that young girls and mom like (although they might be for entirely different reasons!) Booking Daughter just adores her novels; and although she hasn't read this one yet, she was very excited when it arrived. I actually had to look in her room to find the book -- she immediately ran off with it!

Sometimes I think that in my heart, I am still a twelve year old girl because I love books like SUMMER STATE OF MIND so much. And while I definitely liked this novel, I know as a tween, I would have read it over and over again. It's always fun to see how the wealthy live -- even I was envious of Harper's shopping trips; however, I loved how much Harper changed by the end of the novel. I liked that she saw how shallow and selfish she could be, and I especially appreciated how much she learned about the true meaning of friendship and what's important in life.

Ms. Calonita is certainly talented and in tune with pre-teen girls -- which is ironic since she has two sons! She knows how the make her novels fun while also creating enough drama to keep her readers interested in the story. I think her background as an entertainment writer definitely has definitely helped her in providing a realistic portrait of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And honestly, what young girl doesn't want to be swept up in a story about that world?

In the case of SUMMER STATE OF MIND, she did a great job of juxtaposing Harper's privileged lifestyle with her life at the camp. Since going to a sleepaway camp would have been one of my worst nightmares as a teen, I could actually relate to Harper on that front. However, I admit that I
was actually a little worried when I first started reading the book. Harper was really hard to like and, despite feeling a little bad for her for having to rough it at camp, I thought she deserved to suffer a bit. Fortunately, Ms. Calonita gave hints of Harper's potential so I ended up rooting for her before too long!

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is a companion book to one of Ms. Calonita's earlier novels SLEEPAWAY GIRLS. That basically means that you don't have to read the first book to appreciate this one. Since I haven't read SLEEPAWAY GIRLS, I can vouch that SUMMER STATE OF MIND works as a stand-alone; however, I know that Booking Daughter will enjoy revisiting the setting of that novel.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is an ideal book for tween girls to read as summer approaches. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the author 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!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: The Shadow Queen

Summary: From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France. -- Doubleday

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of historical fiction anymore. A few years ago, I'd probably say it was one of my favorite genres, that is no longer the case. I think I burned out on all those stories of kings and queens as well as their deceptions at court. However every once in awhile, I find that I'm in the mood for a good historical drama. THE SHADOW QUEEN by Sandra Gulland definitely hit the spot!

THE SHADOW QUEEN tells the story of Claudette, the daughter of two French actors who works her way up from poverty to become the personal assistant to one of Louis XIV's mistress. Claudette's story has humble beginnings as her family travels across the French countryside as part of an acting troupe. However by a strange twist of fate, Claudette gets involved with Athenais de Montespan and eventually ends up following her to court and becoming very involved in her life.

Claudette's new position forces her into some difficult situations as she is becomes a confidant to Athenais. She finds herself part of Athenais' twisted life as she spies for her and even becomes involved in some of her efforts to use Black Magic to increase her own power.  When Athenais fears that she is losing her control over the king, Claudette becomes caught up in some very serious actions that put everything she's known and loved at risk!

I adored THE SHADOW QUEEN and I have to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations. While stories about kings and queens aren't exactly on the top of my list, I loved this one. It had all of the elements that I look for in historical fiction from intriguing characters, to lots of drama, to romance, and even to deception. Plus it had some historical information that I found extremely interesting.

One of my absolute favorite things about THE SHADOW QUEEN was how there was so much information about the early years of French theatre. Ms. Gulland managed to incorporate many of the players in the theatre scene into the story, and I found all of this to be fascinating. I knew pretty much next to nothing about the history of theatre and actors in France, and the drama between the different groups was almost as full of deception as anything that happened at court. In fact, I actually liked how I was able to compare and contrast the two worlds in this novel.

Another good thing about this novel was the character development. I thought Claudette was a great character and I actually enjoyed seeing court life through a servant's eyes. In addition, I loved how she went back and forth between life at the court and life in the theatre. As far as Athenais goes, all I can say is "wow -- what a character!" I wasn't all that familiar with her story, but after further looking into her character, I discovered that Ms. Gulland took a very unique approach to portraying her. I especially loved how the author included the Black Magic angle into the story!

THE SHADOW QUEEN would make an interesting selection for book clubs. There is a reading guide available on the author's website that has eleven thought-provoking questions. Some of the things you might want to discuss include French society, the church at that time, rules -- both formal and informal, betrayal, trust, family, devotion, friendship, black magic, and love.

Overall, I enjoyed THE SHADOW QUEEN quite a bit. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating

Summary: The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating is Carole Radziwill's deliciously smart comedy about a famously widowed young New Yorker hell-bent on recapturing a kind of passionate love she never really had

Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture ... a Giacometti, no less! 

Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a "botanomanist," enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love. -- Henry Holt

When I initially heard about the novel THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING by Carole Radziwill, I wasn't entirely sure that it appealed to me. However, once I saw the author being interviewed on a few talk shows, I admit that I suddenly was very curious about this book. The descriptions (and the praise) made it sound like a very special story -- one that was both funny and touching, and I decided to give it a shot.

And I'm actually glad I did. I definitely enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING and it was a unique novel. It managed to entertain me while also providing some food for thought, and I was impressed with Ms. Radziwill's storytelling skills. I also liked how the book just had a different feel to it than the other books I've recently read.

THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING tells the story of Claire Byrne, a 34 year old woman whose older husband Charlie dies in an unfortunate (albeit kind of funny) accident. Charlie is a larger-than-life man who is famous for being a sexologist and best-selling author. He has some unique ideas including that sex and love can't coexist for very long. Not exactly what you want your husband to think, right?

Claire has lived in Charlie's shadow for years and even tolerated his womanizing ways; however, when she finds herself suddenly alone, she must find a way to bring the focus back to her own needs. Claire was once a successful writer in her own right, but she gave up her aspirations to be Charlie's wife. After Charlie's death, Claire tries to rediscover herself through a variety of ways including therapy, dating,  sex, and even visiting a psychic. As Claire tries to navigate her way as a newly widowed woman, she has many ups and downs; however, through it all, she just might be able to find some personal satisfaction and happiness.

While I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING, it did take me a few dozen pages or so to really get into it; however, once I did, I really liked this story. At first, I thought the writing was a little unusual and the tone of the book seemed to be a little "off." I definitely didn't feel that way by the end of the book, though. I came to really appreciate Ms. Radziwill's writing style, and I loved the unique feel of the story. I especially liked that humor that was woven into the book, although I admit that, at times, I wasn't sure if I should be laughing at certain situations.

I suspect that many of Claire's reactions to losing a husband, even though he was a philandering one, were actually quite honest. Since I've never really known any younger widow and the only other books I've read about widows were very depressing, I'm certainly not speaking from any actually experience, but I really liked seeing another side to the widow character. Claire's emotions went up and down and her actions were most definitely erratic; however, I believe that many of her feelings -- even the strange ones -- were probably quite reasonable given what she experienced. My heart went out to her, so it was all the more exciting to see her eventual healing process and self-discovery journey.

One thing that made this book special was the balance between the humor. and seriousness of the story. I loved the author's sense of humor and her ability to create some very funny situations for the characters. There were definitely some scenes that poked fun at the rich and famous, and there were also some rather silly characters and events. What Ms. Radziwill managed to do so well was to offset the humor with some poignant moments for Claire. While I did laugh a lot in this book, I also thought the book was insightful with some very smart writing.

THE WIDOWS GUIDE TO SEX & DATING would make an interesting book club selection. Although I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, I don't think one is necessary for a lively book club discussion. Claire is an extremely interesting character and I think most women would have a lot to say about her actions and emotions. In addition, her choice of men is certain to generate some ideas. Some of the other things you might want to discuss include marriage, love, friendship, grief, second chances, and romance.

Overall, I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING quite a bit. It's an entertaining read that is both serious and witty. Highly recommended.

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kid Konnection: Think Spring!

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 some adorable children's books which are perfect for this time of year.

Summary:When the flowers begin to bloom and the world starts turning green, animals everywhere are born . . . including the noisy ducklings!

From the creator of A Book of Sleep and Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit comes a beautiful book of baby animals. Travel with the curious duck and visit babies around the world on their very first day of life. -- Knopf

A BOOK OF BABIES by Il Sung Na is a perfect springtime book because it is all about new baby animals... and their mommies.  In this delightful picture book, children see many different types of animals that are born in the spring including ducklings, zebras, polar bears, and more!

Each page layout features a different mommy animal with her babies. In addition, the author has included something about that animal which makes it special. For example, new kangaroos are carried in their mother's pouches while zebras can walk right away.

A BOOK OF BABIES has already received a starred review form Kirkus Reviews and I can definitely see why. It's very cute and parents and toddlers alike will love learning about baby animals.

A BOOK OF BABIES would be a great addition to an Easter basket, but it would also make a very special Mother's Day gift!

Summary: Featuring Phoebe Dunn's classic animal portraits in a new board book education, The Little Rabbit will charm parents and children alike. 

The story and photographs follow Buttercup the rabbit as she explores her meadow and makes new and special friends. Paired with The Little Duck, this will make a perfect Easter gift for toddlers. -- Random House

Summary: Just in time for Easter comes this new board book edition of a springtime classic: The Little Duck, written by Judy Dunn and photographed by Phoebe Dunn.

Photographs depict everything from the thrill and jubilation of watching an egg hatch to a baby duck's adventures exploring his new world and making friends. The 8x8 edition has sold over 670,000 copies -- and the new board book edition will surely waddle its way into toddlers' hearts! -- Random House

THE LITTLE RABBIT and THE LITTLE DUCK, written by Judy Dunn with photographs by Phoebe Dunn, are very sweet picture books that are perfect for little one's Easter baskets. Both books are heavy 8x8 board books that are ideal for toddlers little hands since they are easy to turn as well as durable.

THE LITTLE RABBIT follows the adventures of Buttercup as she meets new animals and plays with them in a meadow, while THE LITTLE DUCK shows Henry the Duck's experiences from birth to when he makes new friends on the farm. I thought both books were adorable and I loved the photographs of the animals.

When my kids were toddlers, they were definitely drawn to picture books with photographs. Maybe they found them to be more "real," but I honestly have no idea why. They just loved actual pictures of animals. I have no doubt that they both would have enjoyed seeing experiencing these animals' adventures!

Summary: The U.S. Children's Poet Laureate and an award-winning children's poet join their prolific forces in this picture book of poems about cars. But they're not just any cars: there's the "Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy" ("So unique there is no copy"); the Bathtub Limosine ("With hot water heating / And porcelain seating"); and the "High Heel Car." Each of the thirteen quirky, inventive poems will speak directly to the imaginations of children, as will Holmes's high-concept, detail-filled illustrations. -- Schwartz & Wade

And since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd feature a fun little poetry picture book called POEM-MOBILES: CRAZY CAR POEMS by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian with pictures by Jeremy Holmes. This book is not only a good way to introduce poetry to your children, but it also has some fantastic illustrations!

POEM-MOBILES is pretty much what it sounds like -- a book with poems about cars. But the cars in this book are something special! One is "mini-mini," while another is a "paper car." There are futuristic cars and even cars that look like different types of food. As you can probably tell by now, these poems (and the cars they describe) are extremely silly and perfect for children with big imaginations!

I admit that I'm not a huge fan of poetry, and I definitely appreciate children's poems more than ones geared towards adults, so POEM-MOBILES is just perfect for me. I love the zany feel of this book, and that most definitely includes the illustrations. They are very whimsical and full of detail, and I think they are the perfect complement to these fun poems.

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, April 9, 2014

Review: Mimi Malloy, At Last!

Summary: Meet Mimi Malloy: A daughter of the Great Depression, Mimi was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six beautiful daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi, a divorcée, is unexpectedly retired. But she takes solace in the comforts of her new life: her apartment in the heart of Quincy, the occasional True Blue cigarette, and evenings with Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a highball in her hand.

Yet her phone is arguably the busiest in greater Boston—it rings “Day In, Day Out,” as Ol’ Blue Eyes would say. Her surviving sisters love to gab about their girlhood, while her eldest daughter, Cassandra, calls every morning to preach the gospel of assisted living. And when an MRI reveals that Mimi’s brain is filled with black spots—areas of atrophy, her doctor says—it looks like she's destined to spend her days in “one of those storage facilities for unwanted antiques.”

Mimi knows her mind is (more or less) as sharp as ever, and she won’t go down without a fight. Yet as she prepares to take her stand, she stumbles upon an old pendant of her mother’s and, slowly, her memory starts to return—specifically, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood, including her sister who was sent away to Ireland and the wicked stepmother she swore to forget.

Out of the ashes of Mimi’s deeply troubled history, Julia MacDonnell gives us a redemptive story of the family bonds that break us and remake us. Mimi Malloy, At Last! is an unforgettable novel, alive with humor, unexpected romance, and the magic of hard-earned insight: a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to fall in love and that one can always come of age a second time. -- Picador

Despite not having an ounce of Irish blood in my body, I am always drawn to stories with Irish characters. That's one of the reasons that I decided to pick up MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! by Julia MacDonnell. However, it also seemed like it would be a story about families and especially mothers and daughters; and I love books that delve into those types of relationships.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! tells the story of Mimi Malloy, a 68 year old woman who is a mother to a six grown daughters. Her husband left her about 15 years ago for another woman, and she recently lost her job. To make things even worse, doctors have recently found black spots on her brain and her eldest daughter thinks she needs to go to assisted living.

Of course, Mimi thinks she's fine living on her own, smoking cigarettes and having the occasional drink (or two). She's even recently become quite fond of her building's maintenance man. However, when she discovers an old necklace that was once her mother's, she begins to remember her childhood... the good and the bad.

In the meantime, her sister has asked her to fill out a family tree for her grandson's school project. Mimi isn't the slightest bit interested in talking about her troubled childhood especially when it causes her to question what happened to her sister Fagan. All of Mimi's sisters all have different memories their stepmother and what could have occurred. Answers are found when Mimi's estranged daughter returns to the picture and actually helps them realize the painful truth.

I enjoyed MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! and it was an entertaining novel. For the most part, it was a light-hearted and heartwarming story about a very memorable character. I found Mimi to be extremely funny, despite having some memory issues; and I loved how the author portrayed her. I could visualize Mimi and her sisters perfectly, and I had to laugh at Mimi's stubbornness and desire to keep her independence. In addition, I appreciated that Mimi had a little opportunity for some romance in her life after experiencing a pretty sad situation with her ex-husband fifteen years earlier.

However, in addition to some very funny parts of this novel. there were also some very dark secrets that came to light near the end of the book. While I could sense that something was coming, it still threw me for a loop and actually caused me to change some of my initial impressions of the story. -- it wasn't near as light as I first assumed! I also thought that many of the themes explored in this story were of a serious nature including family dynamics, mother/daughter relationships, memory, and redemption.

This is the first novel that I've read by Ms. MacDonnell and I have to say that I was impressed with her writing. I especially liked how smart this book was it really had just a different "feel" to it.  The author balanced a fine line between humor and wit while also delving into some pretty complex issues. In addition, she created a character in Mimi that is extremely memorable for her quirks as well as how she handled the relationships in her life.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! would make an very interesting book club selection. There is a reading guide which explores many of the themes that I've mentioned in this review. While many of the topics are unique to Mimi and her family, readers might also find that they can relate to some of the relationships and secrets in the story. As a result, there are some universal themes in this story that warrant further thought and discussion including families, secrets, second chances, love, faith, redemption, and memory.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! was selected as a National Indie Bookseller Pick for April, and I can definitely see why! It's an entertaining, yet thought-provoking read, and perfect for book clubs!

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Keep Quiet

Summary: New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Lisa Scottoline is loved by millions of readers for her suspenseful novels about family and justice. Scottoline delivers once again with Keep Quiet, an emotionally gripping and complex story about one man’s split-second decision to protect his son - and the devastating consequences that follow. 

Jake Buckman’s relationship with his sixteen-year-old son Ryan is not an easy one, so at the urging of his loving wife, Pam, Jake goes alone to pick up Ryan at their suburban movie theater. On the way home, Ryan asks to drive on a deserted road, and Jake sees it as a chance to make a connection. However, what starts as a father-son bonding opportunity instantly turns into a nightmare. Tragedy strikes, and with Ryan’s entire future hanging in the balance, Jake is forced to make a split-second decision that plunges them both into a world of guilt and lies. Without ever meaning to, Jake and Ryan find themselves living under the crushing weight of their secret, which threatens to tear their family to shreds and ruin them all. 

Powerful and dramatic, Keep Quiet will have readers and book clubs debating what it means to be a parent and how far you can, and should, go to protect those you love. -- St. Martin's Press

I have been quite a fan of Lisa Scottoline's novels and essays for some years now, but I admit it's been awhile since I've read one of her mysteries. Her latest novel, titled KEEP QUIET, is out tomorrow; and I have to say it's quite the crazy ride. This book delves into some complex ethical and moral issues, but it's also full of shocking twists. I honestly read this book in just a few sittings because I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.

Let me give you a little background about KEEP QUIET and you'll see what I mean. Jake Buckman is married to Pam and father to 16 year-old Ryan; however, his relationship with his son is strained at times. Since Ryan is much closer to his mom, Jake decides to pick him up one night after an evening at the movies with his friends. As Jake is driving Ryan home, he sees an opportunity for some male bonding and even makes a breakthrough in communicating. So when Ryan asks Jake if he can drive his car on an empty road, even though it's past curfew and technically against the law, Ryan allows it. Unfortunately when taking a blind curve, Ryan hits what they think is a deer. They immediately stop the car and find that it's not an animal -- rather it's a woman who was out for an evening run.

Ryan immediately freaks out and Jake desperately wants to protect his son. Given what has just occurred (plus another little surprise that Ryan throws at Jake), Jake sees that he has little choice; and therefore, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. Between the guilt that both men feel as well as the additional cover-up and lies, they feel their lives are in a downward spiral; and they aren't sure that they can live with the consequences of their actions.

I had a hard time writing the description for KEEP QUIET because I didn't want to give away any spoilers. I fear I might have hinted at a few; however, trust me when I tell you that there is a lot more that happens to Jake and Ryan and their family after the accident. Truly, each page in this novel was suspenseful as things just escalated in Jake and Ryan's lives. Just when I thought their living nightmare couldn't get any worse -- it did!

I was seriously impressed with Ms. Scottoline's writing in this novel. I've read enough of her books to know that she can really write. I especially appreciated how she not only wrote a suspenseful story with many twists and turns, but she also managed to capture the feelings of a protective father in addition to the way guilt can eat a person alive.

Furthermore, I really liked how she delved into the life of a modern day family. The Buckmans were a well-to-do family who lived outside of Philadelphia. Jake was a successful (and self-made) financial analyst while his wife Pam was a judge. Ryan was a good student and a stellar basketball player. Despite outside appearances though, this family was far from perfect. There were complex relationships issues between Jake and Pam as well as insecurities and baggage based on events that occurred in the past. After this tragedy occurred, this "normal" family just fell apart; and while Jake thought he could keep things together, he quickly learned that far too much was out of his control.

As far as a mystery goes, I actually wasn't quite sure that there was much of one until part-way through the novel. As the ending approached, it quickly became apparent that there was a lot more going on than I initially though. I had a feeling that another shoe was going to fall, by the end of the novel, I was rewarded with a pretty shocking surprise. While I didn't guess the exact outcome of events, I had a feeling... and I wasn't disappointed.

I will say that while I enjoyed KEEP QUIET a great deal, I did have a few issues with the story. First of all, I thought the initial premise was a little predictable. In fact, I thought I had even read a book with a similar plot before. Having said that, by about halfway through the book, I learned that the story was, indeed, suspenseful and quite unique. I also had an issue with how the novel ended. It wasn't the resolution of the mystery that bothered me. Rather, it was how tidy things ended up for the Buckman family. On one hand, I was glad that everything worked out for them; but on the other hand, I just thought it was a little too neat compared to the rest of the story.

Ms. Scottoline is a big fan of book clubs and I think she must have had them in mind while writing KEEP QUIET. There truly is so much to discuss about this novel. I actually had lunch with a friend last week and we were discussing the ethical implications of Jake's actions. As a parent, I am pretty sure that this novel was more complicated and painful for me than it might be for other readers. As a result, I am definitely recommending this novel to book clubs that are made up of parents! In addition to discussing Jake's action and his relationship with his son, there are many other interesting issues too including lies, honestly, marriage, deception, revenge, sacrifice, love, duty, forgiveness, and redemption. You can find the formal discussion guide here.

KEEP QUIET was a very interesting read for me. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Sarah Hall Productions 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. 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, April 5, 2014

Kid Konnection: The Pigeon Needs a Bath! & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you latest Pigeon book!

Summary: The Pigeon really needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to try and get the Pigeon to take the plunge. -- Hyperion/DBG

When Booking Son saw THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! by Mo Willems sitting on my desk, he proclaimed, "I love those Pigeon books!" Well, millions of kids and parents alike agree with him -- including me.

Mo Willems has done it again with THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! It's just an all-around terrific picture book. While it's actually aimed at kids 3-5, I think you'd be hard pressed to find any one who didn't get a kick out of this book. That pigeon is a hoot!

You can probably guess what happens in THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! The Pigeon is told that he's dirty and even a little stinky, but he swears it's normal for a pigeon to smell like that. He is dead set against getting a bath but with a little convincing (and a lot of patience), the Pigeon finally decides to hop in. And guess what? He ends up loving his bath!

I remember when Booking Son wasn't too thrilled with bath nights -- they just got in the way of fun and playtime. How perfect this book would have been for him! I imagine that I'm not the only parent who ever experienced their child not wanting to get clean, and this adorable picture book could certainly help makes things easier for parents and kids alike!

What more can really be said about Mo Willems that hasn't already been said? He definitely has created a wonderful character in the Pigeon, and he knows how to make readers laugh. His cute illustrations are just perfect for the tone of the book. I just love his books!!!!

Can you believe that the first book in the series, DON'T LET PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS recently celebrated its 10th birthday? Over the past ten years, The Pigeon books have sold millions of copies and received numerous starred reviews. They have appeared on many "best of" lists and even been inducted into the Indies Choice Picture Book Hall of Fame. If you aren't familiar with these books, then you are certainly missing out!

You can learn more about THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! at the Official Site or follow @The_Pigeon on Twitter.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to Disney Publishing, you too can "Get to know Pigeon!" One (1) winner will receive not only THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! but also an "It's a Busload of Pigeon Books!” To enter, just fill out the form below before This contest is open to US addresses only. Good luck!

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

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