Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Her

Summary: You don't remember her--but she remembers you.

On the face of it, Emma and Nina have very little in common. Isolated and exhausted by early motherhood, Emma finds her confidence is fading fast. Nina--sophisticated, generous, effortlessly in control--seems to have all the answers.

It's easy to see why Emma is drawn to Nina. But what does Nina see in her?

A seemingly innocent friendship slowly develops into a dangerous game of cat and mouse as Nina eases her way into Emma's life. Soon, it becomes clear that Nina wants something from the unwitting Emma--something that might just destroy her. -- Little Brown

Recently Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) reviewed HER by Harriet Lane, and I was so intrigued that I decided to read it right away. This book won't be released until early January, but I decided to review it right away so it doesn't get lost in the excitement of the holidays. (The truth of the matter is that I was worried I'd forget to review it with all of the chaos!)

Even though HER isn't a traditional whodunit, I decided to review it as part of Mystery Mondays. This novel is definitely a literary novel of suspense and there is an element of mystery to the story. The story alternates between two women, Emma and Nina, in a bit of a cat and mouse game; and the reader is definitely left scratching his or her head as to how these women are related.

HER is not only a suspense story. It also explores the unique relationship between two mothers. Despite being close to the same age, Emma is just starting her life as a mother with two young ones; and she's quickly discovering that it's very hard work. She doesn't quite feel like the accomplished woman she once was when she was leaving the house every day for her job. Nina, on the other hand, has an adult daughter who can be a typical teenager at times; however, for the most part, her hands on parenting days are behind her. When the two women have a "chance" encounter in a park one day, their friendship is formed.

Nina is definitely very interested in Emma's life and begins creating reasons to run into her. It's more than a little creepy at times, and honestly, I felt a little disconcerted (in a good way!) while reading this novel. It's apparent that Nina knows Emma from her past, although the reader isn't sure about the how or why; and she definitely has a bitter taste in her mouth. The tension builds and things escalate when the two women and their families end up vacationing together a Nina's father home...

And that's all I'm going to say because the ending of this book is quite the jaw-dropper. It's also rather ambiguous and you might find yourself wanting to discuss it with a friend. As a result, I'm going to go out on a limb and say HER would make a great discussion book for book clubs! Given how troubled these two women are, both in very different ways, there would be a lot to analyze about them individually as well as their relationship together.

There are very many things about HER that make it a great psychological thriller. First of all, this book will most definitely mess with your mind. It will also make you uncomfortable, especially if you are a mother. I read this book while also holding my breath because I just had a feeling that something big was going to happen. The way the author quietly created the tension in the story is absolutely fantastic!

So as far as psychological suspense novels go, this was a good one. However, it was also a very well written book; and I'd go so far as to say the writing is even better than the storyline. As a mom, I definitely appreciated how the author explored motherhood through the characters of Nina and Emma and I loved how she juxtaposed their lives. It's easy to get lost in the ending of this book, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how insightful this book was on mothering and parent/child relationships.

HER is a wonderful novel and sure to keep readers guessing until the very end... and maybe even longer. 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. 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, November 22, 2014

Kid Konnection: Autumn Falls

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 YA book by a popular teen actress.

Summary: Filled with personal elements from Bella’s own life, AUTUMN FALLS is the first book in Bella Thorne’s new series! It has everything readers will love and relate to: a real girl trying to find her own inner strength and be the best she can be, with a hint of magic and mystery, and a steady stream of OMG-I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened fun.

With her fiery red hair, new-girl outsider status, and tendency to be a total klutz, Autumn Falls definitely isn’t flying below the radar at Aventura High. Luckily, she makes some genuine friends who take her under their wing. But she also manages to get on the wrong side of the school’s queen bee, and then finds out the guy she’s started to like, funny and sweet Sean, hangs with the mean crowd. Now her rep and her potential love life are at stake.

When Autumn vents her feelings in a journal that belonged to her late father, suddenly her wildest wishes start coming true. Is it coincidence? Or can writing in the journal solve all her problems? And if the journal doesn’t work that way, is there a bigger purpose for it—and for her? -- Delacorte Press

I rarely read YA but for some reason, AUTUMN FALLS by Bella Thorne caught my eye. It probably was the adorable cover with the irresdescent glitter nail polish! However, I'm happy to say that I found the book as adorable as the cover.

This book also caught the eye of my teenage daughter. While I was appreciating the nail polish, she noticed that AUTUMN FALLS was written by Bella Thorne. Initially, the name didn't ring a bell with me, but she informed me that this was CeCe from the Disney Channel show called Shake It Up. And then I got it! My daughter religiously watched this show about two teens who were also fantastic dancers!

AUTUMN FALLS has a little bit of something for every type of reader. It's part coming-of-age story, part mystery, and part magical. This novel tells the story of Autumn Thorne, a teenage girl who moves to a new school and instantly sees herself as an outsider. Autumn does manage to make some pretty amazing friends, but she also finds herself in a "battle" with one of the popular girls... especially when it comes to Sean.

Meanwhile, Autumn's grandmother gives her a journal that was once her father's; and it has a drastic impact on her life. August discovers that her wishes start coming true. At first, this seems like a great thing; however, Autumn quickly realizes that it can be both helpful and dangerous. As Autumn tries to cope with her new school, a new boyfriend, and frenemy problems, she also has to come to terms with the loss of her dad and the meaning of this journal.

AUGUST FALLS is a very sweet story that is perfect for those tween and teen girls that aren't interested in dystopian or supernatural stories. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Booking Daughter will enjoy this one! The main character of Autumn is so darn likable. (In fact, I think she's partially based on the author.) She's a bit of a misfit with a huge heart, and I suspect girls are going to relate to her!

I also appreciated that this story had some powerful messages about family, friends, and growing up. Autumn has to deal with so much in such a short period of time -- losing her dad, moving to a new town and a new school, finding herself at odds with the popular girls, and more. I really enjoyed seeing how she handled all of this, both her accomplishments and her missteps; and I do think she's somewhat inspirational.

In addition, I felt as if this book was very entertaining. Autumn was a funny character, despite all the bad that happened to her; and she had some great relationships in her life. Some of the scenes with her friends and even her grandmother are very cute; and I found myself laughing quite a bit. It probably won't surprise you that I think this book would make a cute movie or even a television series.

I was excited to learn that AUTUMN FALLS is the first book in a series. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel and hopefully many books after that! Make sure you check out the website for AUTUMN FALLS.

Overall, AUTUMN FALLS was a fun and sweet story that's perfect for older tweens and young teens. I can't wait to share it with Booking Daughter!

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!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: The Invention of Wings (Audio) & Giveaway

Summary: Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved. - Penguin Audio

I actually listened to THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd some time ago and forgot to write a review. And that's a shame because I loved this novel. Initially, I kept procrastinating because I didn't know if I could write a review that expressed my thoughts and feelings, and then, as time passed, I truly forgot. Fortunately, I had a bit of a reminder yesterday when I was offered the chance to giveaway a copy of the book!

THE INVENTION OF WINGS tells the story of two very different women -- Handful, a slave in early 19th century Charleston for the Grimke family, and Sarah Grimke, a young woman who aspires to be a lawyer. The novel begins when Sarah is eleven years old and she's given Handful for her handmaid. Sarah doesn't feel right about "owning" Handful, yet they develop an unusual relationship.

The book follows these girls over the next five years as they grown into women. Handful definitely faces some difficult times, as does Sarah; and eventually, Sarah leaves Charleston to work with her sister Angelina for abolition and women's rights.

I know my summary didn't do justice for the complexities of THE INVENTION OF WINGS; however, I wanted to tempt you without giving away too much. So much of this book was touching and also extremely interesting. In fact, this novel is actually based on real-life figures Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two pioneers for slaves' and women's rights. I had never heard of either of them, but evidently, they were quite notorious in their time. Handful, on the other hand, is a character created by the author.

The story is told in alternating points of view by both Sarah and Handful, and I loved this format. It was wonderful getting insight into both of their stories and I truly think the novel benefitted from this.  Personally, I found Sarah's story to be fascinating on a historical level -- I enjoyed seeing how she became an abolitionist and women's rights advocate. However, I enjoyed the "feel" of Handful's story even more. Her saga was so difficult and troubling, but I thought her character came to life beautifully.

There were so many great things about this novel, but I think what I liked the most was Ms. Kidd's writing style. It's no surprise that I loved THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES like many of you, however, this book was equally compelling to me. I found THE INVENTION OF WINGS to be incredibly well written from the character development, to the exploration of relationships, to the historical aspects. There is no doubt that Ms. Kidd did some major research prior to writing this story.

Another thing that really stood out to me was how the theme of freedom rang through the novel. Of course, Handful wanted her freedom as a slave, but Sarah was also "bound" by society at this time. She realized she was put on this earth for big things, but she was constrained by being a woman. In addition, the author included some beautiful symbols into the story like birds, flying, and a special quilt. It was all so well done!

THE INVENTION OF WINGS is read by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye, and I thought they did an outstanding job. I just love when there are multiple narrators of a novel and the audio version reflects it with different readers. I am far from an expert of accents, but I did feel as if theirs were pretty good. In addition, I really enjoyed the emotions they were able to portray.

I think this novel is a perfect selection for book clubs. The publisher has put together a fantastic book club kit which includes a reading guide and a conversation with the author. There are seventeen discussion questions and I'm confident your group will find even more to discuss. Some of the topics that you might want to explore include sister relationships, parent/child relationships, slavery, the role of women, faith, racism, and freedom. In addition, you will want to discuss the imagery of birds and flying.

I adored THE INVENTION OF WINGS and highly recommend it for fans of historical fiction.

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE INVENTION OF WINGS (not audio!) to share with one very lucky reader courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 3rd 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. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Vision Gift Catalog & Giveaway

I'm sure that many of you have already started your holiday gift shopping! If your friends and family are anything like mine, then I'm sure they really don't need much of anything. However, a catalog I recently received had some things that definitely caught my eye. The World Vision Gift Catalog has some beautiful items available this year... and even better, your gift will be helping out those in need!

The 2014 Christmas Season marks the 19th annual edition of the World Vision Gift Catalog. There are more than 100 gifts available ranging in price from $16 to $39,000 so there's definitely something for everyone on your list. Here are some fun facts about World Vision gifts:

- In 2014, donations for over 400,000 animals were given to World Vision with goats being the most popular.

- In 2014, more than 140,000 donors purchased more than 417,000 items from the Gift Catalog that helped more than 822,000 people around the world, raising $33 million!

I picked out a few of the items in this catalog that really captured my eye. I absolutely love the Silver Vines Cuff that is designed by artisans in Old Delhi, India and free for a donation of $85. I received one of these bracelets and I can assure you it's both gorgeous and high quality. I also love the Royal Silk Scarf that is yours with a gift of $95 and the Balinese Multi-strand Necklace which is free with a gift of $85. Make sure you check out all of their handcrafted gifts here.

Silver Vines Cuff

Royal Silk Scarf

Balinese Multi-strand Necklace
I would pretty much love anything I received from this catalog whether it be one of the handcrafted gifts that you receive for a donation or even a donation in my name for ducks, goats, chickens, etc. You can also purchase a share of a hand-drilled well, medicine, clothes, and more for people who really need assistance. My family has been a supporter of World Vision for years, and it's always nice to give back... especially this time of year.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the wonderful folks at World Vision, I have a Silver Vines Cuff to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 2nd 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!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guest Review: Suspicion

Summary: When single father Danny Goodman suddenly finds himself unable to afford the private school his teenage daughter adores, he has no one to turn to for financial support.

In what seems like a stroke of brilliant luck, Danny meets Thomas Galvin, the father of his daughter’s new best friend, who also happens to be one of the wealthiest men in Boston. Galvin is aware of Danny’s situation and out of the blue offers a $50,000 loan to help Danny cover his daughter’s tuition. Uncomfortable but desperate, Danny takes the money, promising to pay Galvin back.

What transpires is something Danny never imagined. The moment the money is wired into his account, the DEA comes knocking on his door. Danny’s impossible choice: an indictment for accepting drug money that he can’t afford to fight in court, or an unthinkably treacherous undercover assignment helping the government get close to his new family friend.

As Danny begins to lie to everyone in his life, including those he loves most in the world, he must decide once and for all who the real enemy is or risk losing everything—and everyone—that matters to him. -- Dutton

I was happy to receive a book review from my dad yesterday only to discover that it's for a book I already reviewed. After reading SUSPICION by Joseph Finder, I thought my dad might enjoy the book so I passed it along to him. He read it on his recent trip to Italy and provided me with a review -- he's good that way. Even though I already posted a review for SUSPICION on this blog, I decided it wouldn't hurt to post another one. Here are my dad's thoughts:

SUSPICION by Joseph Finder opens with main character Danny Goodman in a financial dilemma. Danny, a widower and father of a teen age daughter, finds himself without sufficient funds to cover her tuition at a pricey Boston exclusive girls’ school. In order not to disappoint his daughter, Danny borrows $50,000 from Thomas Gavin, a wealthy Boston money manager and father of his daughter’s best friend. At this point Danny’s life dramatically changes.

Danny immediately becomes the target of two DEA agents. He learns that Gavin handles billions of dollars for a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. Danny must decide to co-operate and cope with the risk of the drug cartel finding out or face an indictment for money laundering. Danny decides to cooperate. He’s first task for the DEA is to plant a listening device in Gavin’s office and later he downloads information from Gavin’s phone. Danny finds himself in a constant state of anxiety and having to regularly lie to both his daughter and girlfriend. His assignment is further complicated when he and Gavin become friends. Danny finds the determination to calm himself and devises a plan to end this nightmare and salvage the relationships with his girlfriend and daughter.

SUSPICION is a typical thriller where ordinary people are put into heroic situations; there’s plenty of violence and death; and the ending is a surprise after following the mandatory twists and turns. The author does differentiate himself from other thrillers with his strong character development and a well-paced and suspenseful storyline.

Although SUSPICION offers nothing particularly unique to the thriller genre, it’s a good page turner that will be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good suspense thriller.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: The Forgotten Girl

Summary: The past has arrived uninvited at Jason Danvers’s door…

…and it’s his younger sister, Hayden, a former addict who severed all contact with her family as her life spiraled out of control. Now she’s clean and sober but in need of a desperate favor—she asks Jason and his wife to take care of her teenage daughter for forty-eight hours while she handles some business in town.

But Hayden never returns.

And her disappearance brings up more unresolved problems from Jason’s past, including the abrupt departure of his best friend on their high school graduation night twenty-seven years earlier. When a body is discovered in the woods, the mysteries of his sister’s life—and possible death—deepen. And one by one these events will shatter every expectation Jason has ever had about families, about the awful truths that bind them and the secrets that should be taken to the grave. -- New American Library

I first heard about the novel THE FORGOTTEN GIRL by David Bell at this year's BEA. I was fortunate enough to attend a Speed Dating event where I learned about loads of fantastic book club possibilities, and THE FORGOTTEN GIRL was one of them. Since I am always on the lookout for book club recommendations and mysteries, I thought I'd give this one a try.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL tells the story of Jason Danvers, a middle-aged man whose life is turned topsy-turvy when his long-lost younger sister Hayden and her Sierra daughter arrive on his doorstep.
Jason and his wife have returned to Ednaville, Jason's hometown, after a stint in New York. They have no children and they are hoping that a simpler life can help save their marriage.

Jason hasn't seen his sister Hayden in almost five years. She has had a very troubled past including her drinking problems and general lack of responsibility. When she shows up to Jason's house, she appears to be clean and sober; however, she leaves her daughter Sierra and asks that Jason watch her for 48 hours while she takes care of some business in town. Unfortunately, Hayden doesn't return.

Jason finds himself not only looking for Hayden but also discovering some troubling things about his past -- namely the mysterious disappearance of his best friend twenty seven years ago on the night of their graduation. As Jason tries to help Hayden, he ultimately ends up uncovering a series of events that makes Jason question everything he's ever believed about family and friendship.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL definitely had an intriguing premise, and I was pretty certain that I would enjoy it; however, I actually found that it was a bit predictable. Don't get me wrong. The book was good and had some highlights. It just wasn't great. Maybe it's a case of me just not being in the mood to read over the past few days, but I had a hard time focusing on the story. I felt as it the book was too long at over 400 pages, and it just dragged in a few spots for me.

One thing that I definitely appreciated about the story was the character development. I liked that the novel delved into Jason's personal life, including his past friendships as well as his marriage; and I really felt as if I got to know and understand his character. I also liked how the book explored a variety of relationships between the characters, and some weren't what they seemed. In addition, there was definitely some insight into Hayden's character and her issues with alcohol.

Another aspect of the story that I liked were how the various "mysteries" were connected. It wasn't any secret that Hayden's reappearance and then disappearance was somehow connected to Jason's high school friend's disappearance; however, there was some surprise by how the events were related. As the story unfolded, there were a few twists, but I could kind of see where it was all going. I wish there had maybe been something more... if that makes sense.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL would make an interesting book club selection because it is a mystery with some great character development. There is a reading guide with thirteen questions, and I thought quite a few of them were intriguing. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, love, addiction, forgiveness, trust, secrets, grief, and redemption.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL is a good book with a few surprises. Recommended for fans of literary mysteries.

I received a review copy of this novel at the 2014 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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kid Konnection: Rhyme Schemer

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 book that just happens to be written in verse.

Summary: Kevin has a bad attitude. He's the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way—and he's even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on? Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader's journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people's lives. -- Chronicle Kids

I probably should have written my review for RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt last month -- October is National Bully Prevention Month. However, I figure it's better late than never!

RHYME SCHEMER is a special book and really unlike anything I've ever read. The entire story is written in first person verse by a twelve year old boy named Kevin. Kevin isn't exactly a nice kid. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. He relentlessly picks on Robin, the class runt; and nothing is sacred when it comes to making fun of his teacher. Kevin even uses his creative talents by writing mean-spirited poems about others.

Kevin's life at home is vastly different from the one he portrays at school. His parents are preoccupied with his four brothers and their demanding jobs, and his brothers do their fair share of picking on Kevin. As a result, Kevin feels alone and uses his journal to write poems describing his insecurities.

Things change for Kevin when Robin gets his hands on the journal, and for once, Kevin is actually the one getting bullied at school. Both boys have to come to terms with their behavior, and Kevin begins to realize important life lessons about family, friends, and his poetry.

I found RHYME SCHEMER to be a wonderfully entertaining book with some very important messages. While I've read a few stories about bullying in the past, I can't remember ever reading one written in the words (or poetry) of the bully. It was very interesting to see Kevin's response to being bullied, and I appreciated how much he learned about his past behavior.

In addition, I really enjoyed that the book was written in verse. The poetry was very easy to read and I think even reluctant readers will like the pace of the story. It was a quick read that was also funny (and very wrong!) Kevin could be pretty cruel with his words, and I liked that this book demonstrated how damaging words can be. RHYME SCHEMER clearly showed that bullying doesn't have to be a physical action!

RHYME SCHEMER is a unique book. It both entertains and gives middle grade readers some food for thought. Definitely recommended.

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

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