Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Guest Review: Saving Jason

Summary: Jason Stafford used to be a hot Wall Street trader, went too far, and paid for it in prison. Now a financial investigator, he’s been asked to look into rumors of a hostile takeover of his firm, but he has no idea it will turn his whole life upside down. Suddenly embroiled in a grand jury investigation of Mob-related activities on Wall Street, and threatened by some very serious men, he is thrust into witness protection with his young autistic son. And then his son disappears. Has he been kidnapped, or worse? With no choice but to act, Stafford has no choice but to come out of hiding and risk everything to save his son, his firm, his pregnant girlfriend—and himself. -- G.P. Putnam's Sons

Since my dad enjoyed BLACK FRIDAYS by Michael Sears, I decided to share with him another book in the series SAVING JASON. Here are his thoughts:

SAVING JASON is the fourth book by Michael Sears featuring Jason Stafford. I previously reviewed BLACK FRIDAYS, the first book in the series. Jason was a Wall Street trader sentenced to prison for white collar crimes that prevents him from ever again working as a trader. He now works as a financial investigator for a small investment firm. In SAVING JASON, Jason discovers an unusual penny stock trend. When he reports it to the CEO, Jason finds little interest because his boss is focused on a rumor suggesting the company is in play for a hostile takeover. Stafford’s investigation is now redirected toward finding the source of the hostile takeover. Jason’s efforts result in the death of a co-worker and lands him and his firm in the middle of a Grand Jury probe into Wall Street mob activities. The probe is led by a politically motivated U.S. Attorney who will sacrifice anyone to promote himself.

As a result, Jason’s life is threatened and he is placed into a Witness Protection program and relocated with his 7-year old autistic son, the Kid. This creates a myriad of problems because the Kid doesn’t adapt well to change and is more comfortable in a structured environment. Additionally Jason had to leave his pregnant girlfriend back in New York. When the Kid disappears, Jason doesn’t know if he ran away or has been kidnapped. A panicked search leads Jason to realize he must return to New York for his son and girlfriend and take control of his life.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to the time Jason and his son are in witness protection with most of the action directed to protecting Jason’s identity and searching for the Kid. Although the action is fast and keeps the reader interested it does take the reader away from the original crime related storyline. Author Michael Sears does pull it nicely together at the end.

The most significant character development evolves around Jason and the Kid. Jason is the hero, but in pursuing his investigation, he exhibits some of the character flaws that originally landed him in prison. Jason’s autistic child adds an interesting dimension to the story as the reader gets a feel for the relationship between a parent and his autistic child. It’s clear that Jason really loves his son but makes one wonder why he constantly puts him in harm’s way.

SAVING JASON is a good story set in the risk-reward world of Wall Street. It is an easy to read, well written thriller that contrasts the greed and corruption of Wall Street with a tender story about a father and his autistic son.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: The Good Neighbor

Summary: When small lies have big consequences...

Things are a little rough for Izzy Lane. Still reeling from the break-up of her marriage, the newly single mom moves back to the Philadelphia home she grew up in, five-year-old Noah in tow. The transition is difficult, but with the help of her best friends-and her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Feldman-Izzy feels like she's stepping closer to her new normal. Until her ex-husband shows up with his girlfriend. That's when Izzy invents a boyfriend of her own. And that's when life gets complicated.

Blogging about her "new guy" provides Izzy with something to do when Noah's asleep. What's the harm in a few made-up stories? But when her friends want to meet the mysterious "Mac," someone online suspects Izzy's a fraud, and a guy in real life catches her eye, Izzy realizes just how high the stakes are. -- St. Martin's Griffin

I love the cover of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR by Amy Sue Nathan! For some reason, this door, with its pretty color of green, just drew me in. There are a lot of books in my basement, and this book practically begged me to pick it up. Plus, I was in the mood for a heartwarming story.

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR tells the story of Izzy, a recently divorced mom who has recently moved back to her childhood home with her five-year-old son. She begins a blog about her life as a single mom and her dating life... which is pretty much non-existent, but the creative outlet provides some much needed entertainment for Izzy. When her ex-husband finds a new girlfriend, Izzy creates a "perfect" boyfriend named Mac. What seems like harmless fun for Izzy turns into something much more serious when her friends want to meet this ideal man and when Izzy stumbles upon a guy that might be potential dating material.

I was expecting THE GOOD NEIGHBOR to be a cute read, a sweet story about a divorced mom finding her way again... and it definitely was. Izzy was a lovable mom who, despite posting stories about her imaginary boyfriend, truly wanted the best for her child and was just trying to recover from the divorce. I was definitely rooting for her, although I'll admit I thought she should have handled a few things differently. Having said that, she found herself up to her neck in her blogging make-believe world with seemingly no way to get out without hurting others.

While I did enjoy Izzy's predicament, the heart of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR was in the relationship Izzy had with her "good neighbor" Mrs. Feldman. Izzy grew up visiting Mrs. Feldman and she found that she needed her even more than ever when she returned to her childhood home. Of course, the aging Mrs. Feldman needed Izzy too making Izzy a "good neighbor" too! I loved how Izzy still made the time to regularly visit Mrs. Feldman despite the demands on her as both a mom and an employee, and the scenes between the two were definitely my favorite part of this book.

One of the main themes of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR was secrets. I've already mentioned that Izzy was keeping secrets from her friends; however, it comes out that Mrs. Feldman had a pretty big secret of her own. I don't want to give too much away, but I really appreciated how the author revealed the complexities of Mrs. Feldman's character; and I found myself wanting both Izzy and Mrs. Feldman to have some sort of resolution... and to be able to forgive themselves.

Because THE GOOD NEIGHBOR has such interesting characters, it would make a great book club selection. There is a reading guide available with ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss further include divorce, second chances, aging, parent/child relationships, friendship, secrets, forgiveness, and redemption.

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR is a sweet read about an unlikely friendship and the affects secrets can have on our lives. Recommended to fans of mom-lit and women's fiction.

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

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: Perfect Days

Summary: A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.

Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers. -- Penguin Press

It should have been a clue to me that the new novel PERFECT DAYS by Raphael Montes was exactly a typical thriller when the ARC had a sticker on the front saying, "Tell Us When You Get to Page 198. #perfectdays." Of course, I was dying to know what happened on page 198; and I don't think I put the book down until I reached that page... and then I just kept on reading! This book is one crazy ride!

The basic premise of PERFECT DAYS is that a lonely Brazilian medical student meets a girl and immediately becomes obsessed. He kidnaps her and then travels across Brazil with her. However, that brief description does nothing to convey how twisted and disturbing this novel is!

Teo is (almost) a pitiful man. He lives with his mother who is confined to a wheelchair and has virtually no friends. In fact, his best friend is a human cadaver that he works with at the university. (See... I told you this book is a little strange!) When he meets Clarice, a young woman who is everything Teo is not -- rash, creative, brave, etc., he immediately becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her. When Clarice lets Teo know she's not interested in him, Teo decides to kidnap her (hint: check out the front cover!); and together, he takes her around Brazil in the hopes that she will eventually share his feelings.

It's probably obvious to most of you, even if Teo doesn't see it, that things aren't going to work out in the way he had planned. Clarice gives Teo a run for his money, and Teo finds that keeping her kidnapping a secret involves even more troubling behavior... but he's determined to do whatever it takes to make her his own!

PERFECT DAYS is one creepy story.... but I mean that in the nicest way possible. It's a fast-paced thriller that's I found difficult to put down (although I think the sticker about page 198 did contribute to my reading frenzy!) It has many twists and turns, and I found myself questioning a lot about Teo and Clarice and their relationship. I will say this, though, page 198 (in the ARC) was one of the most shocking and disturbing pages I've ever read!

PERFECT DAYS is one of those books that will definitely have you scratching your head. Teo is one of the most insane characters that I've come across in recent memory, and his antics are almost unbelievable. He is willing to do anything, and I mean anything, to keep Clarice from escaping. I found almost everything about him to be difficult to read, and I have to warn you that the big surprise is not for the faint of heart. It's grotesque and it will definitely make you uncomfortable. You might even gasp!

As much as I appreciated PERFECT DAYS, I don't know that I'd say I loved it, but I did like it a lot. It was an intriguing read and most definitely a page turner, but I felt that the book depended an awful lot on the shocking scene. Maybe that's because I was reading for that? That's certainly a possibility. What I will say is that I found I had to suspend belief in Teo's character and his actions... which didn't bother me one bit. However, I also felt I had to do that for Clarice's character because she was certainly a little "off" too. As horrible as Teo was, I found Clarice to be almost as bad.

Having said that, I did enjoy the cat and mouse games between Teo and Clarice. The tension in the novel was pretty high for most of the story, and I honestly can say that I didn't know what to expect from either character. As Teo felt more and more pressure and became more and more paranoid, I could just feel that something major was going to happen. I thought Mr. Montes did an outstanding job with these scenes and, really, the entire tone and pacing of the novel.

I do think readers who enjoy psychological suspense will appreciate PERFECT DAYS. It is an interesting story with some very unique characters, but it's not for those readers who are the slightest bit uncomfortable with gore!

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, February 6, 2016

Kid Konnection: Fall Books from Dawn Publications

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 couple of picture books that were released in the fall from Dawn Publications -- I'm a little late to the game.

Summary: Honey is a sweet gift from nature—ALL of nature, actually. Honey is linked in a very real way to dandelions, earthworms, mushrooms, the old oak tree and even the blue jays squawking in its branches. Take another look at honey. If you love nature’s honey, you are sure to love nature too. How sweet it is! The author fell in love with bees as an amateur beekeeper, and then learned to appreciate flowering plants—even ones she once considered weeds – as an important nectar source. And then she realized how the plants were connected to insects and soil. A simple but accurate diagram in the back matter explains how bees make honey and also pollinate plants, as well as the role of beneficial insects and decomposers. Also presented are activities and a recipe for children. -- Dawn Publications

I'm a big fan of Dawn Publications picture books! IF YOU LOVE HONEY: NATURE'S CONNECTIONS by Martha Sullivan and illustrated by Cathy Morrison epitomizes what I love about their books -- they are educational and fun. In IF YOU LOVE HONEY, readers learn how honey is connected to all sorts of things in nature.

IF YOU LOVE HONEY begins, "If you love honey, Then you must love honey bees." It then explains how honey bees help make honey. The next page of the book says, "If you love honey bees, It's no wonder you love dandelions." There is a description of how honey bees use the nectar from dandelions to make their honey. The book continues like this, showing the ways that nature is interconnected, until it comes full circle back to honey!

I think IF YOU LOVE HONEY is adorable. The illustrations are beautiful and I love that each and every page of this book teaches children about the relationship of bees with the environment. In addition, there are pages at the back of the book which go into even more detail about the science of the story and some fun activity suggestions.

As is the case with all books by Dawn Publications, IF YOU LOVE HONEY is perfect for the classroom. There is even a link to additional activities that educators can use while teaching from this book.

Highly recommended!

Summary: Below your feet, Mighty Mole is on the move. Like a swimmer in dirt, she strokes through the soil. Her tunnels are everywhere! She finds food, eludes a predator, has a family, and helps to make Super Soil. Moles live almost everywhere yet are rarely seen. Similarly, soil is a largely invisible ecosystem and yet is vital to the health of the world. Following the story, two “Explore More for Kids” pages offer a matching challenge and a review of some of the remarkable traits that make moles “mighty.” Two additional pages of “Explore More for Teachers and Parents” offers activities in visual and language arts, science, technology, and math. -- Dawn Publications

MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL by Mary Quattlebaum and illustrated by Chad Wallace is another great book for budding animal lovers. In MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL, kids will learn about the elusive mole. In addition, the will discover the underground world of soil and its importance as an ecosystem.

I enjoyed the story in MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL, and I thought the illustrations were terrific. The moles almost look cute (I can't believe I'm saying that) and the other animals in the story are gorgeous and sometimes a little intimidating! I admit to knowing pretty much nothing about these animals, so I was definitely interested in their fascinating lives and I learned quite a bit!

One of my favorite things about MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL are the last few pages of the book where the author provides additional information about soil and the underground community. In addition, the tidbits about moles' super powers are extremely interesting. I like that the super power section is almost a game where readers are challenged to go back to the story and get the answers. Make sure you check out the activities page for more information about moles and soil!

Definitely recommended for teachers, librarians, and families who are interesting in animals and nature!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Review: Hot Dudes Coloring Book & Giveaway

Summary: In the tradition of Color Me Swoon, an adult coloring book featuring handsome heartthrobs and sexy bad boys.

Handsome heartthrobs and sexy bad boys have stepped out of your fantasies and slipped into the Hot Dudes Coloring Book. Enjoy bringing the men of your dreams to life—in living color! -- Berkley

There is no doubt that coloring books for adults are popular right now, but HOT DUDES COLORING BOOK by D.C. Taylor takes adult coloring to an entirely new level! This coloring book features a wide variety of sexy guys, and I'm pretty sure that there will be one (or more!) that you will find appealing... or at least hilarious!

I think Penguin is absolutely brilliant with the release of HOT DUDES COLORING BOOK this week because it's an ideal gift for Valentine's Day. I'm pretty sure that most men won't be buying their valentines this coloring book, but I think it would make a great present for your girlfriends. If nothing else, it's guaranteed for a few laughs!

I will tell you that if you like to color a lot of ornate drawings than this might not be the coloring book for you. Except for a heavily tattooed back (see front cover), there just aren't a lot of small areas to color. Seriously, there are over 50 men to color in this book, and most have men with very muscular bodies. So if you like to color skin -- or big chests, arms, backs, etc., then you should definitely take a look at this book.

I mentioned earlier that this coloring book is very funny. It definitely takes a tongue-in-cheek look at lots of beef cakes with the sexy poses and corny text. However, I will give the author credit that there is a man (or two or three) in this book for everyone. For example, there is a motorcycle guy, a business man, a swimmer, a lifeguard, and a musician to name just a few. I'm pretty certain you will find at least one man of your dreams between the pages of this coloring book!

HOT DUDES COLORING BOOK is really a lot of fun... even if you aren't into coloring. It's a hilarious coloring book full of "hot dudes," and I dare you not to smile when you flip through it!

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

I have a copy of HOT DUDES COLORING BOOK to share with one very lucky Booking Mama reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before February 10th 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!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: The Expatriates & Giveaway

Summary: Janice Y. K. Lee’s New York Times bestselling debut, The Piano Teacher, was called “immensely satisfying” by People, “intensely readable” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “a rare and exquisite story” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Now, in her long-awaited new novel, Lee explores with devastating poignancy the emotions, identities, and relationships of three very different American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong.

Mercy, a young Korean American and recent Columbia graduate, is adrift, undone by a terrible incident in her recent past. Hilary, a wealthy housewife, is haunted by her struggle to have a child, something she believes could save her foundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, once a happily married mother of three, questions her maternal identity in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives collide in ways that have irreversible consequences for them all. Atmospheric, moving, and utterly compelling, The Expatriates confirms Lee as an exceptional talent and one of our keenest observers of women’s inner lives. -- Viking

I sure hope I have THE PIANO TEACHER by Janice Y.K. Lee around here somewhere because I was extremely impressed with her latest novel THE EXPATRIATES. This story about three women who live in the same expat community in Hong Kong was marvelous. The writing was beautiful and the characters were rich and complex. It was truly a special read!

THE EXPATRIATES tells the story of Mercy, a 20-something Korean American who recently graduated from Columbia and moved to Hong Kong to for a change. She is wracked with guilt by an incident that occurred not too long ago, and it's affected her ability to live her life. Margaret, a wife and mother of three children, is also plagued by a horrific loss; and so far, she's unable to get past it. And finally, there's Hilary, a wealthy homemaker who is desperate to have a baby and, hopefully, save her marriage.

Each of these three women has their own set of baggage which is causing a tremendous amount of discontent in their lives; and for much of the novel, their stories are their own. However, when their lives do cross (or maybe I should say collide?), there are interesting effects on all of them.

Where do I even begin? I adored THE EXPATRIATES! First of all, I loved these three characters that Ms. Lee created. I should probably clarify that statement by saying that I don't know if I really "loved" any of them, but I did appreciate how well developed they were. All of these women were extremely complex and also so very real to me. Ms. Lee definitely has a special ability to tell stories about women and get into this reader's heart.

Another wonderful thing about this novel was how well the author brought the expat community in Hong Kong to life. These women were very drastically different, yet they all lived in the same few miles of the city. Their day-to-day lives didn't bring them together; however, the community was such a small one that it was almost as if everyone there was connected in some way. Ms. Lee did a great with the details of Hong Kong and especially what it would be like for an American to live and operate in this unique community.

And finally, I just adored Ms. Lee's writing. Her prose and descriptions were gorgeous; however, it was the messages that she conveyed through these three characters that really stood out to me. The description of these three women, with all of their pain, makes the book sound horribly depressing. And I will admit that these women's plights were difficult to read at times. However, the novel did a terrific job of showing the strength and resilience of women as well as the challenges of being a mother and making a life in a new place.

Of course, I'm going to tell you that THE EXPATRIATES would make a great book club selection... especially for groups made up entirely of women. The characters are so complex that you could discuss them and their relationships for some time. There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions that will also help stimulate your discussion. Some of the topics you might want to explore include life as an expat, friendship, marriage, motherhood, guilt, loss, forgiveness, and second chances.

I adored THE EXPATRIATES and highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE EXPATRIATES to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before February 16th 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, February 2, 2016

Guest Review: Pacific Burn

Summary: “Pacific Burn is a page-turning, globe-spanning tale of murder, suspense, and intrigue that grabs and holds your attention from beginning to end. Barry Lancet is truly a gifted author, and his character of Jim Brodie is unlike any private investigator you’ve ever encountered in literature.” —Nelson DeMille, New York Times bestselling author of Radiant Angel

In the third book in “what will likely be a long and successful series” (San Francisco Magazine), Japanese antiques dealer and PI Jim Brodie goes up against the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security—and a killer operating on both sides of the Pacific.

In recognition for his role in solving the Japantown murders in San Francisco, antiques dealer and sometime-PI Jim Brodie has just been brought on as the liaison for the mayor’s new Pacific Rim Friendship Program. Brodie in turn recruits his friend, the renowned Japanese artist Ken Nobuki, and after a promising meeting with city officials and a picture-perfect photo op, Brodie and Nobuki leave City Hall for a waiting limo.

But as soon as they exit the building, a sniper attacks them from the roof of the Asian Art Museum. Quick thinking allows Brodie to escape, but Nobuki ends up hospitalized and in a coma. Brodie soon realizes that, with the suspicious and untimely death of Nobuki’s oldest son a week earlier in Napa Valley, someone may be targeting his friend’s family—and killing them off one by one.

Suspects are nearly too numerous to name—and could be in the United States or anywhere along the Pacific Rim. The quest for answers takes Brodie from his beloved San Francisco to Washington, DC, in a confrontation with the DHS, the CIA, and the FBI; then on to Tokyo, Kyoto, and beyond, in search of what his Japanese sources tell him is a legendary killer in both senses of the word—said to be more rumor than real, but deadlier than anything else they’ve ever encountered if the whispers are true. -- Simon & Schuster

My dad seems to enjoy the Jim Brodie series by Barry Lancet because he keeps coming back for more. PACIFIC BURN, which is out next week February 9th, is the third book in this series; and it seems like it was another winner. Here are Booking Pap Pap's thoughts:

PACIFIC BURN is author Barry Lancet’s third novel featuring antique dealer/investigator Jim Brodie as the main character. In this latest story Brodie still sells Japanese fine antiques, still runs the Tokyo based investigation agency he inherited from his father and still has to deal with his young daughter as a single parent.

The story begins in San Francisco with the murder of the son of a famous Japanese artist, Ken Nobuki. Only days later, after a meeting with Brodie and the mayor of San Francisco concerning an art exchange program, there is an assassination attempt on Nobuki which leaves him in a coma. Meanwhile Brodie heads off to Washington D.C. where Nobuki’s daughter, Naomi, an anti-nuclear power crusader, is under investigation by the CIA, DHS and the FBI for possible nuclear threats. It appears that the entire Nobuki family is in danger so after calming the nuclear issues, Brodie heads off to Japan to make sure the rest of the Nobuki family is under protection by his agency. There is long list of suspects which include those in Japan and America opposed to the art exchange and those opposed to Naomi’s anti-nuclear stand.

Through his channels in Japan, Brodie discovers he also has been targeted for death. Brodie’s investigation delivers a high level of action including additional murders, a kidnapping, a scenic chase through a legendary volcanic part of Japan and a near death confrontation for him and his police officer girlfriend. Author Barry Lancet does a great job of exposing the reader to the Japanese culture and to the antique art world Brodie works in. He also shares through the relationship with Brodie and his daughter the difficulties of being a single parent when one’s work involves significant travel and danger. Lancet brings into the novel an interesting group of characters from business, the art world and the Japanese underworld and blends them into an exciting story with plenty of twists and turns and an ending that will definitely surprise the reader.

PACIFIC BURN is a great read for those who like a fast paced, quick read thriller.

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