Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: A Double Life

Summary: Claire is a hardworking doctor leading a simple, quiet life in London. She is also the daughter of the most notorious murder suspect in the country, though no one knows it.

Nearly thirty years ago, while Claire and her brother slept upstairs, a brutal crime was committed in her family’s townhouse. The next morning, her father’s car was found abandoned near the English Channel, with bloodstains on the front seat. Her mother insisted she’d seen him in the house that night, but his powerful, privileged friends maintained his innocence. The first lord accused of murder in more than a century, he has been missing ever since.

When the police tell Claire they’ve found him, her carefully calibrated existence begins to fracture. She doesn’t know if she’s the daughter of a murderer or a wronged man, but Claire will soon learn how far she’ll go to finally find the truth.

Loosely inspired by one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the 20th century – the Lord Lucan case – A Double Life is at once a riveting page-turner and a moving reflection on women and violence, trauma and memory, and class and privilege. -- Viking

Once again, I picked up a book this summer because of the buzz surrounding it. The latest one is A DOUBLE LIFE by Flynn Berry, and I can definitely see why it is generating some excitement. I found this novel to be both well-written and an intriguing mystery, and I guess it's loosely based on a real unsolved crime.

A DOUBLE LIFE tells the story of Claire, a woman who leads a pretty quiet life as a doctor in London. She also happens to be the daughter of one of the most famous murder suspects in England, but somehow she's managed to keep that a secret. It's pretty amazing that no one close to her knows her history because (believe me!) Claire is still traumatized by what happened when she was a young girl.

Thirty years ago, a man broke into her family's house and brutally murdered her sitter and beat up her mother. Her mother claims that it was Claire's father whom she saw in the house; and when his car was found abandoned with blood stains on the front seats, it certainly made him look guilty. He was never seen again, and his friends all maintained that he was innocent.

The police notify Claire that they think have found her father, and Claire begins her obsession with discovering whether her father was a brutal murderer or a wrongly charged man. Claire is determining to get to the bottom of this mystery even if that means putting her own life at risk!

I really enjoyed A DOUBLE LIFE. I liked that the mystery was based on a real-life murder (the Lord Lucan) case, and I thought Ms. Berry wrote a fantastic story. The murder was captivating, as was Claire's character. She was dealing with a lot of baggage; and while I wouldn't exactly call her an unreliable narrator, she definitely wasn't quite right in the head. It all made for quite the murder mystery.

I also really appreciated Ms. Berry's writing style. I enjoyed the pacing of the novel and I found it to be quite the page-turner. In addition, I found it interesting that the author incorporated some social commentary into the story, especially when it came to class and privilege in England. I also liked how she created the character of Claire. I found her to be intriguing and I was actually uncomfortable (at times) with her actions.

One of the best things about A DOUBLE LIFE was the ending. It was a shocker for me and I found it a little disturbing.... and that's all I can really say without giving away the surprise!

A DOUBLE LIFE is a well written mystery that's sure to entertain fans of this genre. 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, August 18, 2018

Kid Konnection: T. Rex Time Machine

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 picture book about some adorable dinosaurs -- I also featured one last week!

Summary: When two hungry dinosaurs jump into a time machine, they're transported to an unbelievable, magical, surreal future: RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! On the T. Rexes' madcap voyage into the unknown, they encounter the many wonders of the modern world: Police cars! Phones! Microwaves! They don't know how they'll get home—but why would they want to? Acclaimed author and illustrator Jared Chapman combines two favorite kid topics—time travel and dinosaurs—with bold colors, big jokes, and a hilarious escapade. This raucous, laugh-out-loud adventure will delight the very young and keep older readers giggling long into the future. -- Chronicle Books

T. REX TIME MACHINE by Jared Chapman is a very entertaining picture book that's certain to keep parents and kids alike giggling. It's has a fun premise -- two dinosaurs enter a time machine and are transported to the future (which just happens to be present day!) The dinosaurs aren't quite sure what to make of all the amazing things like drive-thrus, fast food, microwaves, and more; however, they do appreciate the convenience of having food everywhere instead of having to hunt for it. There are so many wonderful things in our world that the dinosaurs aren't sure they ever want to leave... until they are!

I thought T. REX TIME MACHINE was adorable. The dinosaurs are incredibly funny and the book gives kids an insight into some of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Kids will definitely appreciate the dinosaurs love of all things food, and the illustrations are bright and truly the perfect complement to this hilarious story.

T. REX TIME MACHINE will be available on September 4th. Highly recommended for kids who love silly books -- and what kid doesn't love a funny story?

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, August 15, 2018

Guest Review: The Force

Summary: The acclaimed, award-winning, bestselling author of The Cartel—voted one of the Best Books of the Year by more than sixty publications, including the New York Times—makes his William Morrow debut with a cinematic epic as explosive, powerful, and unforgettable as Mystic River and The Wire.

Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .
All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop.
He is “the King of Manhattan North,” a, highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of “Da Force.” Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given unrestricted authority to wage war on gangs, drugs and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

Based on years of research inside the NYPD, this is the great cop novel of our time and a book only Don Winslow could write: a haunting and heartbreaking story of greed and violence, inequality and race, crime and injustice, retribution and redemption that reveals the seemingly insurmountable tensions between the police and the diverse citizens they serve. A searing portrait of a city and a courageous, heroic, and deeply flawed man who stands at the edge of its abyss, The Force is a masterpiece of urban living full of shocking and surprising twists, leavened by flashes of dark humor, a morally complex and utterly riveting dissection of modern American society and the controversial issues confronting and dividing us today. -- William Morrow

I loved THE FORCE by Don Winslow so much (my review) that I insisted Booking Pap Pap read it too. It was one of my favorite books of 2017, and I think my dad enjoyed it quite a bit too! He are his thoughts:

THE FORCE by Don Winslow is a story about Dennis Malone, an 18 year veteran of the NYPD who is considered a “hero cop”. Set in 2017, Malone is the top cop in the elite Manhattan North Special Task Force. Malone is 6’ 2”, covered in tattoos and is an arrogant, smart, violent and corrupt cop. He takes drugs, smokes marijuana, handles cash envelops to city politicians for “favors” and patrols the streets according to his standards of justice. Malone fights crime hard and parties even harder. Malone’s team is tasked with providing security to the citizens of the Manhattan North community but they also steal drugs and money from the criminals. Malone thinks of himself as the good guy and in his way of thinking, only his team cares about the downtrodden.

The book opens with Malone in jail and the reader then learns why he’s there. Malone has always considered graft as “normal business” but he crossed the line when he murdered a drug lord and kept a significant portion of the drug bust worth millions. He gets caught and is being squeezed by the Feds to rat on politicians, members of the judiciary and cops. Malone will cooperate to some extent but will do almost anything to protect his family and other cops, particularly his team

THE FORCE is a frightening book about cops, drug dealers and gangsters and how they coexist in New York City. The book is full of violence, not-so subtle racial talk and excessive profanity. It reveals the dichotomy of being a NYPD cop. On one hand he exhibits heroism through crime fighting and on the other hand he shows signs of criminal behavior through shakedowns and bribes. Author Don Winslow uses the story of “hero cop”, detective Malone, as an example of how deep corruption can run in the political and justice systems. Winslow story also reflects some stereotypical characters. For example Malone is a son of an Irish-American cop. Malone’s brother was a firefighter who dies on 9/11. Malone’s team consisted of an Irishman, an Afro-American, an Italian and a Jew. Malone has a white wife in the suburbs and an Afro-American lover in the city.

The overriding theme of the book is how good cops end up dirty. My one issue with THE FORCE is that all cops are portrayed as corrupt which I think is a gross exaggeration. The book has no likable characters but is a book you will have difficulty putting down once you start reading it. I believe the book is already under agreement to be made into a movie.

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review: The Perfect Mother

Summary: An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

A night out. A few hours of fun. That’s all it was meant to be.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a group of new moms whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for some much-needed adult time. 

When the women go out for drinks at the hip neighborhood bar, they are looking for a fun break from their daily routine. But on this hot Fourth of July night, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but her fellow May Mothers insisted everything would be fine. Now he is missing. What follows is a heart-pounding race to find Midas, during which secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are destroyed. -- Harper

I decided to pick up THE PERFECT MOTHER by Aimee Molloy after I saw all of the buzz surrounding this novel. It was an immediate New York Times bestseller, and it's going to be made into a movie starring Kerry Washington. I had a feeling that this would be a terrific read... and it certainly lived up to my expectations!

THE PERFECT MOTHER is about a group of moms (and one dad) who become friends because they have one thing in common -- they are all have newborns. They decided to meet twice a week in Prospect Park in Brooklyn where they bonded over their babies. It was a great break from spending 24/7 with a newborn.

As most new moms know, it's a tough job being a mother. To let off some steam, these women decided to go out one night for a few drinks. Winnie, a single mom, is reluctant to go out and leave her son Midas with a sitter. The other women convince her that nothing will go wrong? Famous last words, right? When Midas, her infant son, is taken from his crib, these new parents' lives and their friendships are heavily tested.

I really enjoyed THE PERFECT MOTHER. The premise is fantastic and I appreciated that this novel was both a terrific thriller and a social commentary on parenthood, and especially what it means to be a good mother. The character development is well done, and the writing is insightful; and I think THE PERFECT MOTHER is just a really good book on so many levels.

I really appreciated how the author decided to tell this story. The book alternates between the moms in the friends' group; and while it centers around Midas' disappearance, it also brings to light these other moms and the issues/secret that they have in their lives. Much of the characterization of these women was focused on how their lives were affected by becoming parents, but they also had some juicy secrets of their own that added to the intrigue of the story.

One fun thing that Ms. Molloy chose to do was include emails from a parenting group at the beginning of each chapter. These emails were helpful advice on how to take care of your infants, and I got a kick out of the tone of these emails. I remember reading emails just like this when I was a first time mom and swearing that they had absolutely no idea what I was dealing with!

Finally, I have to give major props to the author because this mystery was fantastic. There were so many twists and turns, and I honestly didn't know where the story was going. There was more than once when I thought I had everything figured out only to learn that I didn't. What a great feeling when reading a thriller!

I found THE PERFECT MOTHER to be smart, and entertaining, thriller. Highly recommended to fans of mysteries and women's fiction.

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, August 11, 2018

Kid Konnection: It's Show and Tell, Dexter!

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 cute picture book about an adorable dinosaur!

Summary: Dexter T. Rexter is going to school. But will anyone like him?

Tomorrow is the biggest event ever in Dexter’s life: his best friend, Jack, is taking him to school for Show and Tell Day! Dexter has been getting ready for weeks. But now he’s a little nervous. What if the other kids don’t like him? So Dexter decides to come up with a plan. He’ll wear a costume. Dinosaurs in bunny ears look good, right? He’ll recite state capitals starting with…uh…ah…er. Then he realizes something. He can’t dance. He can’t recite things. He doesn’t have ANY skills. What’s a dino to do?

This comical, interactive tale of belonging, friendship, anticipation, and first-day-at-school jitters lets readers experience the excitement and nervousness along with Dexter—and even offer him a little advice along the way. -- Two Lions

IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! by Lindsay Ward is such an adorable picture book. It's got a terrific main character in Dexter T. Rexter, it's funny, and it also has a terrific message. I loved this special picture book.

IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! tells the story of Dexter T. Rexter, a dinosaur who is desperate to go to show and tell with his best friend Jack. Although Dexter is super--excited, he's also nervous -- what if the kids don't like him? So Dexter first tries on a variety of costumes because kids love dress-up, right? (I thought he should have gone with the Elvis costume!)

After deciding costumes might not be the way to go, Dexter thinks maybe he can do something special like recite the state capitals backwards or dance. But Dexter realizes that he doesn't really have any skills. Fortunately, Dexter realizes that what he does best is just be himself!

I enjoyed IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! so much. Dexter is positively lovable and the brightly colored illustrations really bring the story to life. The book has something funny on almost every page whether it's the descriptive text, the drawings or even Dexter himself; and the ultimate message -- that it's best just to be yourself -- is a fantastic one for kids of all ages.

IT'S SHOW AND TELL, DEXTER! is part of a series starring none other than Dexter T. Rexter, and I know kids are going to love him. Check out these coloring sheets for more Dexter fun!

Highly recommended!

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, August 8, 2018

Review: From the Corner of the Oval

Summary: In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers—young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.

As she learns to navigate White House protocols and more than once runs afoul of the hierarchy, Beck becomes romantically entangled with a consummate D.C. insider, and suddenly the political becomes all too personal.

Against the backdrop of glamour, drama, and intrigue, this is the story of a young woman making unlikely friendships, getting her heart broken, learning what truly matters, and, in the process, discovering her voice. -- Speigel & Grau

Over the past few years, I've become a bit of a political junkie. I turn on cable news every morning as soon as I wake up, and I usually fall asleep to the same station at the end of the day. So when I saw Beck Dorey-Stein, author of the new memoir FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL, doing rounds on television promoting her book about working as stenographer in the Obama administration, I knew I had to read it!

FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL tells the story of Beck Dorey-Stein, a recent college graduation who is working multiple jobs just to pay her rent in DC. When she applies for a position listed on Craigslist, she has absolutely no idea that it's for a job to work as a stenographer for Obama. (Isn't that incredible?) She winds up being part of a very prestigious team that travels everywhere with the President's entourage, and her story about what she experiences are fantastic.

Initially, I thought this book would be more of a tell-all about scenes behind the White House and the players in the Obama administration. And to a certain extent, it was... in a good way, not a scandalous one. Ms. Dorey-Stein definitely captured the essence of staff and the urgency of their work; and it was interesting to see how they all truly believed in the causes that they were pursuing for our country.

And while I enjoyed the inside look at Obama, his staff, and their travels, especially the little stories about her encounters with the president, I think the strength of this book was Ms. Dorey-Stein's revelations about herself and her personal life. She ended up having a relationship with one of Obama's closest aides, and it was at times ugly. Needless to say, it didn't end well for her.

In fact, I found the author's honesty to be refreshing, although I did want to shake her more than once for going back to this dog over and over again. Her revelations about her boyfriends (and her fling) were "no holds barred," and she had way of telling the stories about her love life that definitely kept things interesting. (Think really smart chick lit but true!) There were times when I just wanted to give this young woman a hug and tell her that things will eventually work out for her, although I had a feeling that she was smart enough to figure things out on her own.

In many ways, FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL was a coming-of-age tale. I so enjoyed following Ms. Dorey-Stein's male and female friendships (she was so fortunate!) and how she navigated the politics of her office. However, this book was also a coming-of-age story about how the author became a writer. She knew she always wanted to write, and she constantly kept journals about her experiences (which sure came in handy!); however, breaking through to becoming a published writer is a tough road. Ms. Dorey-Stein certainly has a way with words, and I look forward to seeing what's in store for her in the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL and recommend it to fans of memoirs, but also readers who are interested in politics and enjoy smart coming-of-age stories!

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

Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: An Unwanted Guest

Summary: A weekend retreat at a cozy mountain lodge is supposed to be the perfect getaway . . . but when the storm hits, no one is getting away

It’s winter in the Catskills and Mitchell’s Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing–maybe even romantic–weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity–and all contact with the outside world–the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead–it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something–or someone–is picking off the guests one by one. And there’s nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm. -- Pamela Dorman Books

This week an anticipated novel by Shari Lapena, author of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, will be released. It's called AN UNWANTED GUEST and it's sure to be a favorite with Agatha Christie fans, especially those who enjoyed AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. This novel takes place in an inn in the Catskills during a horrific blizzard; and over the course of a few days, quite a few of the visitors find themselves either murdered or suspected of murder!

AN UNWANTED GUEST begins with an assorted group of people arriving at Michell's Inn. There are journalists, a lawyer, a wealthy couple engaged to be married, a couple having marital issues, and more. In what was supposed to be a weekend getaway with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even romance, a surprise blizzard that takes out the electricity forces them to stay inside. Of course, there's no cell phone reception due to the remote location, so basically these individuals are totally cut off from the outside world!

Even though their best-laid plans were ruined, it still could have been a cozy weekend by the fire playing games, reading books, and making new friends... but it wasn't! The next morning, a female guest is found dead at the bottom of the stairs in what looks like an accident; however, the criminal defense attorney (who just happens to have been accused of murdering his wife a few years ago!) suspects that there's something amiss. When a second guest is found dead, the guests start to think that someone among them is a murderer!

I enjoyed AN UNWANTED GUEST and I truly liked that the book almost paid homage to the great Agatha Christie. This novel had an intriguing plot and a creative murder mystery (or should I say mysteries?); however, I'm sure that it lived up to Ms. Christie (although that might not be a fair comparison!)

I don't want to give too much away but I did think the mystery was well-crafted. I started to figure out a few things about the culprit and the motive, but the plot was smart enough that I was still in the dark about pulling the entire story together. The ending was clever although I did figure out one of the twists, but perhaps I was supposed to?

I did feel as if Ms. Lapena did a great job of bringing the setting of this little inn to life. Her descriptions of the rooms as well as how she wrote about the blizzard were spot on. Even though it's miserably hot here, I was actually chilled as I read about the winds and blinding snow... and of course, the picking off of the guests one by one!

The one thing that I didn't love about this novel, though, were the characters. There were quite a few of them and I just didn't feel like they were that well developed. Normally that wouldn't matter in a book like this one, but I think a few of the characters (and really one in particular) had some issues from the past that required a little better character development. I also found that I didn't really like any of them very much, which in a way was good I guess because it made me doubt and question each one of them.

AN UNWANTED GUEST is a worthwhile read as far as murder mysteries go. Even though it doesn't quite live up Ms. Christie, it's still entertaining and will keep you guessing!

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.