Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: Marilla of Green Gables

Summary: A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness.

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth "Izzy" Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world. 

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables. -- William Morrow

There was quite a bit of buzz at this year's Book Expo for MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES by Sarah McCoy. I met Sarah a few years ago and I am a huge fan of her books (and basically Sarah too -- she's delightful!) But I admit that I was a bit hesitant to read a prequel to ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. I read ANNE for the first time earlier this year ( I know - it's hard to believe), and I absolutely loved the book. So it begged the question, "Would a prequel live up to this classic novel?"

I am happy to say that it did. I loved MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES! I never should have doubted Sarah -- she's a terrific writer, and her novel is definitely "ANNE - worthy." This book had the same feel as ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and I fell in love with Marilla, Green Gables, and the other characters. It was absolutely charming and heartwarming and all those other words that basically mean I just loved this book!

MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES tells the story of Marilla Cuthbert. The novel begins when Marilla was thirteen years old and living in Avonlea. She meets her Aunt Izzy, who is quite a character and definitely a woman ahead of her time; and she gives Marilla an idea of what life can be outside of her small world!

Despite losing her mother at any early age, Marilla makes the best of her situation. She ventures outside of her farm life (making new friends and falling for a guy), and and begins doing charitable works for others. She even becomes involved in an orphanage that acts as a station for runaway slaves from America. Marilla is selfless and kind, and her involvement in politics and abolition help to create the woman we meet in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

I found MARILLA OF GREEN GABLES to be such a beautiful work of fiction. The author brought Green Gables and its characters to life, and it was so fun to see who they were before Anne changed their lives forever (in the very best way!) I especially appreciated Marilla's romance with John Blythe. While it didn't end exactly the way I wanted (no surprise there!), it really helped explain how Marilla turned out to be a spinster and living with her brother.

Fans of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES will love this book -- I promise! However, I also think anyone who loves a heartwarming story about a woman discovering herself will enjoy it too. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy at this year's Book Expo.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mailbox Monday

It's been quite a few years since I've participated in Mailbox Monday, but I've been blogging less since I started working full-time, and I still want to share with you the great books that are on my radar!

I had a fantastic week of book goodies -- I can't remember the last time I received so many books! So many of them look terrific -- what stands out to you?
THE DUKE THAT I MARRY by Cathy Maxwell came from Avon Books

THE OTHER MISS BRIDGERTON by Julia Quinn came from Avon Books

SAVE ME FROM DANGEROUS MEN by S.A. Lelchuk came from Flatiron Books

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally Hepworth came from St. Martin's Press

EGGS ON ICE by Laura Childs came from Berkley

THE BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS by Camille De Maio came from Lake Union

DRAGONSHADOW by Elle Katharine White came from Harper Voyager

MRS. CLAUS TAKES THE REINS by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Mark Chambers came from Two Lions

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Kid Konnection: First Snow

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 picture book that celebrates kids' favorite part of winter -- snow!

Summary: Snowflakes falling! What a treat! Friends gather outside to celebrate the first snowfall of the season with snowball fights, sledding, building igloos, drinking hot chocolate, and making the most of a windy, wintry day. With rhyming text and cheerful illustrations, this is a charming celebration of the winter season. -- Albert Whitman & Co.

I'm certainly not looking forward to the first snow of the year, but FIRST SNOW by Nancy Viau and illustrated by Talitha Shipman is cute enough that maybe, just maybe, I'll crack a smile when I see those white flakes falling!

FIRST SNOW is an adorable picture book about two kids (and their friends) and their excitement for the first snow. The text in the book is short and sweet.. and perfect for toddlers; and the rhyming cadence of the words makes it fun to read aloud. I think this book captures the essence of children's joy surrounding snow absolutely perfectly.

In addition to the little story, the illustrations are precious. I love the bright colors set against the white snowy background, and the kids (and dog) in the story are too cute. Even the endpaper is fun with its collection of colorful winter hats and mittens.



FIRST SNOW is a beautiful and fun book that kids will love. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this picture 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!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Kid Konnection: History's Mysteries


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 book for the kid in your life who is curious about history!

Summary: Curious kids itching for real-life Indiana Jones-like intrigue will get swept away with the next book in this spine-tingling series about solving puzzles of the past--from whole civilizations that have vanished to mystifying monuments and urban legends.

Fans of Night at the Museum and the Indiana Jones saga will be fascinated by these real-life mysteries: Is there any truth to the legend of Bigfoot? Why have planes and ships suddenly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle? Is there really a lost city of gold in the jungle of Central America? The next book in this exciting new series will cover even more of history's most fascinating head-scratching conundrums, including the curse of the Hope Diamond, King Tut's tomb, black holes, the puzzling disappearance of ancient civilizations, cryptic creatures of myth and legend, long-lost treasure, and so much more. Kids can dig into these mysteries, uncover clues, and ponder leading scientific theories to help decipher what really happened. Chock-full of cool photos, fun facts, and spooky fun, this book is sure to keep curious kids engaged as they try to piece together these puzzles of the past! -- National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids is back with another edition of HISTORY'S MYSTERIES: FREAKY PHENOMENA: CURIOUS CLUES, COLD CASES, AND PUZZLES FROM THE PAST by Kitson Jazynika. It's the perfect gift for kids who are interested in history... and truthfully even for ones who don't think they are interested in history. This 160 page book make learning about history fun because it covers strange real-life mysteries!

HISTORY'S MYSTERIES is a very cool book for kids and adults alike. There are some amazing stories about some of history's most famous unsolved cases like the Loch Ness Monster, the Curse of the Hope Diamond, the Baiae Tunnels, and more! I've always been drawn to the mystery surrounding King Tut, so that section was especially interesting to me. But I found quite a few of the features to be extremely thought-provoking. I'm sure every reader will have a favorite mystery (or two!)

Once again, I am impressed with how these National Geographic Kids' books present material to kids. It goes without saying that the photographs and other images are amazing and certain to draw in even the most reluctant of readers. I also like that the written material is presented in a concise, easy-to-read way. There are plenty of fun facts, and I like the "New Evidence Revealed" sections. This book is about history but it's not at all intimidating to kids!

I also like that the ideas are offered in such a way that kids can try to solve these mysteries... or at least, they can come to their own conclusions about these mysteries. So while this book is providing some historical context to kids, it's also making them think about the information. How awesome is that?

I highly recommend HISTORY'S MYSTERIES. It's a must-have for school and home libraries.

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!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Review: November Road

Summary: Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone.

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.

A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.

Guidry knows that the first rule of running is "don’t stop," but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.

For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.

It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.

Charlotte sees that he’s strong and kind; Guidry discovers that she’s smart and funny. He learns that’s she determined to give herself and her kids a new life; she can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old one behind.

Another rule—fugitives shouldn’t fall in love, especially with each other. A road isn’t just a road, it’s a trail, and Guidry’s ruthless and relentless hunters are closing in on him. But now Guidry doesn’t want to just survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time.

Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love.

And it might get them both killed. -- William Morrow

Without a doubt, my favorite question at Book Expo each year is, "What book are you most excited about this fall?" And one of my favorite book people (Book Club Girl) said, "NOVEMBER ROAD." Of course, her recommendation was all I needed, but I'll admit the amount of well-respected authors on Twitter who were raving about this novel and the author Lou Berney, made me even more excited to read it! Plus, NOVEMBER ROAD received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Are you getting the idea that this book is a must-read?

Well if so, you are correct! I loved, loved, loved this book in a time when I don't get to read all that often. I basically hid every day during my lunch just to escape with this novel. It's that good. The characters are so incredibly real, and the plot is suspenseful, and I could go on and on; however, it's Lou Berney's writing that makes this book absolutely amazing.

The description above for NOVEMBER ROAD is pretty detailed, so I probably don't need to add much more to that. In summary, this novel takes place in the days following JFK's assassination and follows three people who are on the run -- Charlotte, a housewife who has just left her alcoholic husband, Guidry, a street lieutenant with the New Orleans mob, and a hitman who is chasing both of them. It's definitely not Guidry's intent when he picks up Charlotte and her daughters to fall in love with her, but he finds himself not only trying to safe his own life, but also trying to make a new one with her. It's quite the ride... both for the characters and the reader!

What amazed me the most about NOVEMBER ROAD is that, while it was a really well-written suspense novel, it was perhaps even more special because of the characters and the depth of their stories. It's part mystery, part suspense, and part love-story; and it truly reflects the mood of the country during this dark time. Every page is compelling and I absolutely loved how the author explored these characters' innate desire to live life to the fullest against the backdrop of Kennedy's death.

Another aspect of this novel which I'm finding hard to explain is the pace of the story. In many ways, the novel was extremely fast paced. The entire book took place in a short period of time and the chase aspect made it feel hurried. However, there were poignant times between the Charlotte and Guidry that seemed almost slow-motion in contract to the chase. I know this isn't making much sense, but I so appreciated how these two main plotlines wove together to make a beautiful story.

NOVEMBER ROAD would make an excellent book club selection. This is literary suspense at the highest level, and the character development is outstanding. You could really analyze their choices and motivations for quite some time. In addition, there are some universal themes that would make for some interesting discussion including love, loss, fear, second chances, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

I purposely left my review for NOVEMBER ROAD a little vague -- mostly because this novel left me speechless (if you can believe that.) It will without a doubt go down as one of my favorite books of 2018 (and maybe even this past decade.) 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, October 20, 2018

Kid Konnection: Hey, Kiddo


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 graphic novel.

Summary: In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery. Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents. Two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along. Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father. Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive. -- Scholastic

Looking back at Book Expo, one of the highlights was getting a signed copy of HEY, KIDDO: HOW I LOST MY MOTHER, FOUND MY FATHER, AND DEALT WITH FAMILY ADDICTION by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. I have been a big fan of the Lunch Lady series for years; and when I found out that the author had written a memoir about his childhood, I just knew it would be something special!

HEY, KIDDO is truly a wonderful graphic novel about Jarrett Krosoczka's complicated childhood. His mother was an addict, who was absent for long periods from Jarrett's life; and he didn't really know his father at all. He lived with his maternal grandparents who undoubtedly loved him, but weren't always the easiest people to life with.

As Jarrett grows older and becomes more aware of his family situation, he begins to realize the truth about his parents. He learns to accept his mother and he even begins to have a relationship of sorts with his father. Despite all of this things, Jarrett does his best to just be "normal," and in the process, he finds that his love of drawing helps him not only survive, but thrive!

Words cannot express how much I adored HEY, KIDDO. This graphic novel has fantastic illustrations (of course!), but I was truly blown away by how these drawings were able to convey the different characters' emotions. I'm not a huge reader of graphic novels (although I do enjoy them when I pick one up!), and I guess I didn't realize just how intense they can be.

It certainly didn't hurt that Mr. Krosoczka had a powerful childhood story. His situation was definitely complicated; and it's a true testament, both to him and his grandparents, how he was able to use art to cope. I found Mr. Krosoczka's strength to be admirable, and I think middle graders and high schoolers will find much to appreciate in this story.

However, it's how much this book has the potential to help children in similar situations that really makes HEY, KIDDO so amazing. Mr. Krosoczka's story is not only heartwarming, but it also shows children that it's possible to get through difficult times with a good support system. Furthermore, it's also possible to get through difficult times if you find something inside of yourself that can make you happy, like Mr. Krosoczka love of drawing.

HEY, KIDDO has already been chosen as a 2018 National Book Award Finalist, and I honestly can't think of a book (or author) that is more deserving. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of HEY, KIDDO at the 2018 Book Expo.

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!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Review: The Girl from Berlin

Summary: In the newest novel from internationally-bestselling author Ronald. H. Balson, Liam and Catherine come to the aid of an old friend and are drawn into a property dispute in Tuscany that unearths long-buried secrets

An old friend calls Catherine Lockhart and Liam Taggart to his famous Italian restaurant to enlist their help. His aunt is being evicted from her home in the Tuscan hills by a powerful corporation claiming they own the deeds, even though she can produce her own set of deeds to her land. Catherine and Liam’s only clue is a bound handwritten manuscript, entirely in German, and hidden in its pages is a story long-forgotten…

Ada Baumgarten was born in Berlin in 1918, at the end of the war. The daughter of an accomplished first-chair violinist in the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic, and herself a violin prodigy, Ada’s life was full of the rich culture of Berlin’s interwar society. She formed a deep attachment to her childhood friend Kurt, but they were torn apart by the growing unrest as her Jewish family came under suspicion. As the tides of history turned, it was her extraordinary talent that would carry her through an unraveling society turned to war, and make her a target even as it saved her, allowing her to move to Bologna—though Italy was not the haven her family had hoped, and further heartache awaited.

What became of Ada? How is she connected to the conflicting land deeds of a small Italian villa? As they dig through the layers of lies, corruption, and human evil, Catherine and Liam uncover an unfinished story of heart, redemption, and hope—the ending of which is yet to be written. -- St. Martin's Press

I always look forward to the next installment in the Liam Taggert and Catherine Lockhart series by Ronald M. Balson. I am pretty sure that I've read all of them except one... which I certainly need to remedy! The latest in the series is titled THE GIRL FROM BERLIN, and I think fans of this series (or even readers who enjoy books that take place during World War II) will appreciate this novel.

In THE GIRL FROM BERLIN, Liam and Catherine find themselves heading to Italy to help one of the friends. His aunt Gabi is being thrown out of her villa and off her land in Tuscany by a corporation that claims they own the deeds. Liam and Catherine don't have a lot to go on. Catherine doesn't isn't even allowed to practice law or Italy, nor is she familiar with the property laws; however, they do have an old manuscript written in Germany which might provide some clues.

As is the case with this series, there is always a present day story and flashbacks to the past. In the case of this novel, Ada Baumgarten's manuscript provided the background for the mystery. Ada was a teenager (and child violin prodigy) at the onset of Hitler's rise to power in Germany. She was the daughter of a famous musician with the Berlin Philharmonic, and her family was afforded some protection because of their status even though they were Jewish. Despite what was going on in Berlin during this time period, Ada and her family led a pretty comfortable life... until they didn't.

Ada developed a friendship (and eventually a romance) with Kurt, a young boy who was also a member of the junior orchestra. Unfortunately, Kurt left the orchestra to join the German war efforts; and the two teens were forced to keep their relationship a secret. As tensions rose in Germany, Ada and her mother decided that it was finally time for them to leave the country. Fortunately, Ada's skills as a musician provided them with the opportunity to go to Bologna, Italy.

Ada's manuscript unravels her amazing life story (including what happens to her family and her relationship with Kurt!) while also providing some clues about the ownership of the land. Of course, the husband and wife team of Liam and Catherine do their own investigating to make sense of Ada's story and how it pertains to Gabi and her land.

I really enjoyed THE GIRL FROM BERLIN and I suspect I won't be alone in my praise of this novel. While I love Liam and Catherine, I will admit that my favorite parts of this book were the chapters associated with Ada's diary. I am always drawn to a good story about Nazi Germany and how individuals were able to persevere; however, Ada's story was especially intriguing. Ada and her family had a unique situation given their status in Berlin (and Hitler's appreciation of the arts!), and it was very interesting to me to see how they used their friendships and social contacts to try to save themselves from the Nazis.

Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was Ada's relationship with Kurt. It wasn't especially unique to have a young Jewish girl and a German boy fall in love, but I still liked it quite a bit. Ada was an incredibly strong and brave young woman, and I appreciated how she loved Kurt but she also had doubts about his contribution to the war effort.

As is the case with any novel about Nazi Germany, this novel had some gut-wrenching parts. However, I will say that the overall "feeling" of this novel was one of strength and hope. The ending almost made me cry, first out of sadness and then out of happiness; and I loved the surprise twist at the end.

THE GIRL FROM BERLIN definitely had a mystery aspect to it concerning Gabi's house and the corporation that claimed they owned her land. I will say that the mystery of Ada's life (and what happened to her and how she was linked to Gabi) was much more intriguing to me than the mystery surrounding the deeds. Having said that, there were a few surprises about the corporation and the history of the deeds that I did appreciate.

I highly recommend THE GIRL FROM BERLIN... and really all of Mr. Balson's novels.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a Netgalley 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.