Saturday, February 25, 2017

Kid Konnection: Celebrate Black History Month!

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 two educational books that teach kids about two largely unknown events in black history... or at least unknown to me!

Summary: A pile of lime-encrusted shackles discovered on the seafloor in the remains of a ship called the Henrietta Marie, lands Michael Cottman, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and avid scuba diver, in the middle of an amazing journey that stretches across three continents—from foundries and tombs in England, to slave ports on the shores of West Africa, to present-day Caribbean plantations. This is more than just the story of one ship—it's the untold story of millions of people taken as captives to the New World. Told from the author's perspective, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work, and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery. -- National Geographic

I will never claim to know much about black history in our country, and that's why I think I was so interested in the new book SHACKLES FROM THE DEEP: TRACING THE PATH OF A SUNKEN SLAVE SHIP, A BITTER PAST, AND A RICH LEGACY by Michael H. Cottman. This book, aimed at children ages ten and up, was written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; and it's truly a fascinating story.

SHACKLES FROM THE DEEP is Michael Cottman's story about the discovery of the remains of a slave ship deep in the ocean. Naturally, he was interested in the remains of the ship, but as a black man, he also felt a deep connection to the story. His interest took him on a journey to sites in three continents including a slave port in West Africa. I found the book to be not only a great story but an emotional one as well.

SHACKLES FROM THE DEEP is a deeply personal story that will being to life the ugliness of the slave trade. I admired the author's honesty as well as his desire to share this story with today's kids, and I thought he balanced the actual story with his emotions extremely well. The book was extremely readable, and the pictures added a nice touch.

Kids who are interested in history as well as exploration will enjoy this book. Highly recommended!

Summary: James Meredith's 1966 march in Mississippi began as one man's peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South's most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It brought together leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, who formed an unlikely alliance that resulted in the Black Power movement, which ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

The retelling of Meredith's story opens on the day of his assassination attempt and goes back in time to recount the moments leading up to that event and its aftermath. Readers learn about the powerful figures and emerging leaders who joined the over 200-mile walk that became known as the "March Against Fear."

Thoughtfully presented by award-winning author Ann Bausum, this book helps readers understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change. It is a history lesson that's as important and relevant today as it was 50 years ago. -- National Geographic

I feel as if I should have been more familiar with the subject matter of the book THE MARCH AGAINST FEAR: THE LAST GREAT WALK OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND THE EMERGENCE OF BLACK POWER by Ann Bausum. In fact after I picked up the book and started reading the first few pages, I was shocked that I didn't know more about this major event in the fight for equality.

THE MARCH AGAINST FEAR gives a detailed account of James Meredith's 1966 march in Mississippi. This march began with one man wanting to peacefully protest for voter registration and turned into one of the most important events in the fight for civil rights. All of the major players, including Martin Luther King Jr., were part of this 200-mile walk; however, the walk really showed the emergence of the Black Power movement.

THE MARCH AGAINST FEAR is aimed at kids ages twelve and up, but I have to say that I thought the book was a little too long for my twelve year old. It's not that he couldn't read this book because of it's page length. Rather, it's just a lot of detailed information about the history of the Black Power movement... and I don't think he would have stayed focused for the entire book. Having said that, I do think older kids (especially teens) would appreciate this book more than most middle schoolers.

This book tells an important part of our country's history and should be part of every middle school and high school library.

Thanks to Media Masters 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, February 22, 2017

The Booking Mamas' February Meeting

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz Age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family. When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.

In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.

Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.

As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . . -- William Morrow

Last night, we met to discuss THE WICKED CITY by Beatriz Williams. I am a huge fan of Ms. Williams' and I couldn't wait to read her latest historical fiction novel. As is the case with most of Ms. Williams' books, THE WICKED CITY told the stories of two women in totally different time periods whose lives were tied together by a building that housed a secret speakeasy back in the jazz age. For the most part, everyone that read the novel agreed that it was an entertaining book.

One thing that stood out to a few of our members was Ms. Williams' writing. She has a unique way with words and dialogue, and it was fun to see how she captured the essence of the Jazz Age. She also moved back and forth between the present and past quite well, and we liked how she tied the characters together.

We also appreciated the main characters in the novel. I especially enjoyed the character development of Gin, a young woman who grew up in the mountains of West Virginia. She tried to recreate herself when she hit New York City (aka The Wicked City), and I thought Ms. Williams did a great job in balancing her old life with her new one.

Overall, THE WICKED CITY was a popular pick, and I think more than a few members of my group will read additional Beatriz Williams' novels... especially after I talked up so many of them!

I'd like to thank the team at William Morrow for selecting The Booking Mamas as a Book Club Girl Book Club for 2016. We were honored to be chosen and we had a fabulous time reading the books and discussing them!

Next month we will be reading COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett. Needless to say, I'm super excited to read this one. You really can't go wrong with an Ann Patchett novel. She has the amazing ability to take on complex themes and characters while also writing beautifully.

Summary: The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families' lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny's mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together. -- Harper

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: Behind Your Eyes

Summary: Only two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

David and Adele seem like the ideal pair. He's a successful psychiatrist, she is his picture-perfect wife who adores him. But why is he so controlling? And why is she keeping things hidden?

As Louise, David's new secretary, is drawn into their orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can't guess how wrong--and how far a person might go to protect their marriage's secrets. -- Flatiron Books

I read a fair amount of psychological thrillers, and I have to say that BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough was a treat. Rarely do I find a novel that truly leaves me guessing... and one whose ending felt like a sucker punch right in the stomach. I honestly loved how this book toyed with my emotions, and I honestly never saw the strange twists coming.

BEHIND HER EYES tells the story of a beautiful couple, David and Adele, as well as Louise, the woman who becomes entwined in their lives. David is a successful psychiatrist and Adele is his gorgeous wife. They seemingly have it all; however, Louise quickly realizes that neither one is exactly as they seem.

Louise, a single mother of a young son, meets David one evening at a bar. They hit it off and even share a kiss. Imagine Louise's surprise when she discovers that the man she is attracted to is her new boss! They play it rather cool in the office, but Louise finds herself drawn to him despite knowing that he's her boss... and a married man.

Coincidentally, Louise literally bumps into Adele one morning after dropping her son off at school. They decide to have coffee together and become quick friends. Louise is playing with fire as she continues to become closer to both Adele and David... without the other one knowing. It becomes crystal clear to Louise that something isn't quite right with David and Adele's marriage, and she finds herself caught up in a love triangle not knowing who to believe or trust!

I thought BEHIND HER EYES was a real page-turner -- one that managed to capture my interest from the start. The characters were definitely intriguing; and, like Louise, I wasn't really sure what to make of either David or Adele. All I knew is that both seemed a little unstable to me, and Louise was caught right smack dab in the middle of the mess. Even though I understood Louise's attraction to the couple, I wanted to shake her that something bad, something very bad, was going to happen.

I actually loved how the author created the tension in the story and then continued to build it until I couldn't put the book down. Part of this excitement was in how Ms. Pinborough chose to write this story. She used different time periods as well as different viewpoints to give readers a better understanding of the complexity of the characters. In addition, there were little hints that something was very off about this couple.

As far as endings go, this one is definitely something that will have you scratching your head... at the very least. I couldn't believe what I was reading, and I actually went back a few pages to do a re-read because I wasn't sure I had processed everything. It's a real zinger... and that's all I'm going to say... except for this. You know you're in for a twisted ending when the ARC has #WTFthatending on the front cover!

Overall, I enjoyed BEHIND HER EYES and recommend it to fans of psychological suspense stories.

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

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, February 18, 2017

Kid Konnection: Bedtime Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you two fun picture books that are perfect bedtime stories.

Summary: Whether they're dashing, splashing, munching, or crunching, baby animals are ever-exploring! At home in their natural habitats, baby animals learn about the world that surrounds them. When the fun is done, it's time for baby animals to go to sleep. After all, every baby animal has to rest.

Full of action, sound effects, and patterned text, each story features the adorable antics and accurate behavior of six wild animal babies: tiger, elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, panda, and gorilla. This 64-page, beautifully designed story book is perfect for bedtime. -- Henry Holt

GOOD NIGHT, BABY ANIMALS YOU'VE HAD A BUSY DAY by Karen B. Winnick and illustrated by Laura Watkins is a collection of six stories about baby animals. These stories feature animals who live in the wild like tigers, elephants, gorillas, and giraffes; and they show the many adventures that animals can experience in a day. After a fun-filled day of play, they babies are tired and need their sleep.

Kids will love seeing these wild animals in their natural habitats, and parents will love the overall message of the story -- that it's fun to play all day but babies need their rest! Each of the stories are written in fun verse with lots of animal sounds and repetition so they are perfect for read-aloud, bedtime stories. The end of the book features a fun section titled "Animal Facts" which gives a little information about each of the animals featured in the stories.

As you can see from the picture below, the illustrations are absolutely adorable. I love the mommy and baby animals as well as their gorgeous surroundings. The stories about the rhinos is especially cute with them frolicking in the mud!

Summary: It’s bedtime for superheroes . . . and KIDS! Young ones will enjoy this sweet, short rhyming story that lulls them into bedtime with the promise that all their heroes are getting tucked into bed too. And the book comes with stickers and a reward chart, so good bedtime habits can be reinforced each night when kids brush their teeth, put on their pj’s, and settle down to sleep. It’s a book and sticker package that will help parents achieve bedtime peace each night. -- Doubleday

EVEN SUPERHEROES HAVE TO SLEEP by Sara Crow and illustrated by Adam Record is another fantastic book that will surely help make bedtime easier. This picture book aimed at toddlers shows that heroes of all types need their sleep too! To make bedtime even more enticing, the book includes stickers and a reward chart that rewards kids for completing their bedtime activities like brushing teeth, getting their pjs on, reading a book, etc.

EVEN SUPERHEROES HAVE TO SLEEP is so cute! The book has whimsical illustrations that are guaranteed to make parents and kids laugh out loud. The heroes just look so silly! The book includes many different types of heroes such as construction workers, doctors, astronauts, princesses and more. The text is very fun too -- it's has a rhyming cadence and provides toddlers with the message that everyone needs their sleep!

All in all, GOOD NIGHT, BABY ANIMALS YOU'VE HAD A BUSY DAY and EVEN SUPERHEROES HAVE TO SLEEP are ideal bedtime books for parents and kids alike!

Thanks to the Get Red PR and the publishers 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!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Perfect Little World

Summary: When Isabelle Poole meets Dr. Preston Grind, she’s fresh out of high school, pregnant with her art teacher's baby, and totally on her own. Izzy knows she can be a good mother but without any money or relatives to help, she’s left searching.

Dr. Grind, an awkwardly charming child psychologist, has spent his life studying family, even after tragedy struck his own. Now, with the help of an eccentric billionaire, he has the chance to create a “perfect little world”—to study what would happen when ten children are raised collectively, without knowing who their biological parents are. He calls it The Infinite Family Project and he wants Izzy and her son to join.

This attempt at a utopian ideal starts off promising, but soon the gentle equilibrium among the families disintegrates: unspoken resentments between the couples begin to fester; the project's funding becomes tenuous; and Izzy’s growing feelings for Dr. Grind make her question her participation in this strange experiment in the first place.

Written with the same compassion and charm that won over legions of readers with The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson shows us with grace and humor that the best families are the ones we make for ourselves. -- Ecco

One of my many highlights at SIBA last September was meeting Kevin Wilson, author of FAMILY FANG. He was there to take about his new novel PERFECT LITTLE WORLD, and he was absolutely delightful. He talked about how hard it was to be a parent... and how it would be great if he could have some "help" from other parents to raise his kids. And that's how the idea behind PERFECT LITTLE WORLD began percolating in his mind!

PERFECT LITTLE WORLD tells the unique story of Izzy, a teenager who finds herself pregnant to one of her high school teachers. Her mother died when she was young, her father has basically checked out, and she's pregnant and all alone. Isabelle wants to keep her baby, but she isn't sure how she's going to manage with no family help and a job as a pork barb-b-quer.

And that's when Dr. Grind enters the picture. He is a child psychologist who focuses on families, and he's trying something very new called The Infinite Family Project. He wants to create an ideal world where ten children are raised collectively on a compound for then years... and when I say collectively, I mean that none of the kids know who their parents are!

Dr. Grind asks Izzy and her baby boy to join the group; and Izzy feels as if she has no choice but to enter the project. At first, things work out pretty well, but as is the case of most families, the dynamics aren't always pleasant. Couples have marital issues, friends stop getting along, funding becomes questionable, and parents find that they love their biological children more than the others. In addition, Izzy finds herself attracted to Dr. Grind and wonders if she should have ever agreed to being part of The Infinite Family Project.

I adored PERFECT LITTLE WORLD. It's such a wonderful idea for a novel and Mr. Wilson's writing is just about perfect! I admit that I was drawn to the subject matter of this novel after hearing Mr. Wilson talk about it. The premise is fantastic, but I knew the author would explore love, parenting and families in a special way. And I wasn't wrong -- this book is not only entertaining with wonderful characters, but it is truly insightful into relationships and life!

You have to admit that the premise is a good one. Who hasn't wanted some help at some point with bringing up their kids? But living with ten families for ten years is bound to have some problems. So, of course, the novel explores the ups and downs of the families' lives. Needless to say, there is lots of drama and funny moments; however, there are also some touching ones as well. It kind of reflects life!

I really fell in love with Izzy. This young girl was willing to do whatever it took to take care of her son... and be part of a family. She didn't have a good family life, or even a good experience with her first romantic relationship; however, she wanted to make things right for her child. Her insights into the other nine families as well as the experiment were so wise for such a young person. I couldn't help but root for her as she spent years living with these people.

I also found the Dr. Grind's character to be interesting. He had a very unusual childhood that left him with a lot of baggage. He had become a leader in his field and was definitely dedicated to his project; however, that didn't make him a happy and complete adult. Like Izzy, he wanted to do what was right for others for a greater cause; and I found that I wanted him to work through his past issues and find some peace.

As entertaining as PERFECT LITTLE WORLD was, this book is so much more than just a fresh story. This novel is one of the best I've read about life... and love... and families. It's smart, funny, and truly thought-provoking; and I think every reader will find something to relate to in this story. As a result, I do think it would make a wonderful book club selection. I wasn't able to find discussion questions but I'm certain most book clubs would find plenty to talk about!

Overall, I adored PERFECT LITTLE WORLD and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction!

I received a copy of PERFECT LITTLE WORLD at this year's SIBA.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: True Love

Summary: Color your way through a romantic journey with a cow named Lulu as she searches for her true love.

Lulu the cow knows there is a special someone out there waiting for her. With her curious parrot, Nina, at her side, Lulu hits the road to find Mr. Heart—an enchanting adventure filled with strange and wonderful places, unusual new people, and surprising challenges and opportunities. Lulu and Nina must draw out the shy, bashful people who call Hide & Seek Town home, while in Topsy-Turvy Town, they discover a world turned upside-down and backwards.

As they reach their final town, the friends are dazzled by the bright sunshine. In the distance, Lulu spies a bull with a heart shape mark. Could he be Mr. Heart at last? Combining stunning, intricately designed black-and-white illustrations with a unique love story, True Love: A Romantic Coloring Book will enchant readers and coloring enthusiasts. -- Harper Design

Happy Valentine's Day! I didn't really have a post planned today and then I received a copy of the beautiful coloring book TRUE LOVE: A ROMANTIC COMEDY ADVENTURE by Inko Kotoriyama. This coloring book is an adorable story about a cow named Lulu who is lookin' for love!

TRUE LOVE is truly a special coloring book. It has gorgeous detailed black and white illustrations along with a story within its pages. TRUE LOVE begins by showing some ideas about how to use this book. For instance, you can use different art materials as well as differing coloring methods. The book clearly shows how each method (colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and gel pens) would look. For a beginning "colorer" like me, I loved this!

The next page introduces the main characters in the story. Lulu, the cow, is the heroine of the story. Nina is a parakeet who travels with Lulu on her romantic adventure, and Mr. Heart is the bull who might or might not be the bull of Nina's dreams! Then the coloring book provides a page titled, "About the Story," which explains Nina's journey to find Mr. Heart as well as the settings for the story.

And then the story begins! There are dozens of ornate coloring pages full of animals, flowers, and shapes. The drawings are really beautiful and Lulu is just too cute. In addition, there is text explaining the story or the naming the various settings. A pleasant surprise is that there are five puzzles within the story. For example, there are seek and finds, a maze and spot the differences. It really is a very fun coloring book!

If you are looking for a fun gift for Valentine's Day or even Galentine's Day, then look no further than TRUE LOVE!

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: My Husband's Wife

Summary: When young lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start. To leave the secrets of the past behind. But then she takes on her first murder case and meets Joe. A convicted murderer whom Lily is strangely drawn to. For whom she will soon be willing to risk almost anything.

But Lily is not the only one with secrets. Her next-door neighbor Carla may be only nine, but she has already learned that secrets are powerful things. That they can get her whatever she wants.

When Lily finds Carla on her doorstep sixteen years later, a chain of events is set in motion that can end only one way. -- Pamela Dorman Books

When I learned that the new psychological suspense novel MY HUSBAND'S WIFE by Jane Corry was from the Pamela Dorman imprint, I knew I had to read it. I am always up for a new thriller and Pamela Dorman books are always a treat. MY HUSBAND'S WIFE pretty much lived up to my expectations. This novel was a fast-paced suspense novel that definitely had some intriguing characters... and a pretty twisted ending!

MY HUSBAND'S WIFE tells the story of Lily McDonald, a newlywed and lawyer, who is more than anxious to start a new life and leave the secrets from her past behind. She has a new husband, a new flat, and even a new job -- she's handling her first murder case. Joe was convicted of murdering his girlfriend by pushing her into a scalding bathtub.

When Lily enters the prison to meet Joe, she isn't quite sure what to make of him or his story. He's not exactly up front with Lily. Rather, he sets creates a game of sorts to see if she's "worthy" of defending him. Their encounter is extremely awkward and more than a little uncomfortable; however,  there is something about Joe that Lily is drawn to. It's likely that he reminds her of her autistic brother who died as a teenager.

Meanwhile, Lily's nine year old neighbor Carla enters the picture. She becomes close to Lily and her husband Ed when they watch her when her mother is out. Carla is a beautiful girl and Ed is fascinated with drawing her. Carla begins to realize that the secrets she learns can help her to further her own agenda. She's quite the manipulative little girl!

Fast forward sixteen years when Carla shows up at Ed and Lily's home. She is even more beautiful than before and also extremely scheming. Carla  ends up causing a great deal of trouble for the couple, and tensions escalate into a stunning conclusion!

I really enjoyed MY HUSBAND'S WIFE. The story was fast-paced and the characters were definitely interesting. The story was written in a such a way that kept me guessing, and the ending was fairly shocking. I appreciated the twists and turns in the story and the way that everyone's secrets were eventually revealed. All in all, MY HUSBAND'S WIFE was a very good read!

I mentioned that the characters were interesting -- maybe a little too interesting if that's possible. I'm not really sure that I liked any of them (and that includes Lily), and I certainly didn't trust them. It seemed like they all had selfish motives, multiple character weaknesses, and lots of secrets. Having said that, they did keep me guessing so that's something.

In addition, I enjoyed how Ms. Corry told this story. The book begins with a brief prologue that alerts the reader that the ending will most likely have someone die. Who that someone is is the question. The book then goes back fifteen years in the past and introduces Ed and Lily and eventually Carla. After their story is established, the book moves ahead fifteen years and picks up on these individuals' lives... and explains what happened in the prologue. I really liked how I wondered for 350+ pages what the first page of the novel was all about.

If I had a knock against the book (and it's not a big one), it's that there were a few too many coincidences in the novel. I don't want to give away anything, but there was a tie between the characters that just seemed a little too easy for me, if that makes sense? It didn't affect my appreciation of the novel and the connection was a little surprising, but it made sense and worked out in the end.

Overall, I liked MY HUSBAND'S WIFE a great deal and recommend it to fans of psychological suspense novels.

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.