Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Burning the Map (Audio)

Summary: The choices Casey Evers has made in her 26 years aren't exactly making her happy. In fact, her life is so on course - college, law school, boyfriend, job offer - that it's actually off. So, before she slides into 14-hour days at a Chicago law firm, she heads to Rome and Greece with her two best friends for one last hurrah. 

The thing is, her best friends haven't really been all that close to her since she started seeing John two years ago, she hasn't been all that close to John lately, and she's awfully partial to Mediterranean men... 

I rest my head against his shoulder. The scooter starts to fly again, and Rome whizzes by - a myriad of fountains, marble statues, larger-than-life doors with gigantic handles, streets that look like alleys... 

The rigidity that has settled in my bones and head over the past year seems to thaw a bit. Yet with the thaw comes an army of questions from some unused corner of my brain. What about John? Will you tell him about this little excursion, this man you are hugging? What happens when you get back, when you have to start work, when you can no longer escape the world? I lift my head and let the wind snarl my hair around my face, trying to forget these questions, the ones with rifles in hand that are waiting to fire holes in my flimsy curtain of contentment. 

Set against the backdrop of sparkling beaches and old-world villages, Burning the Map ignites the fire within us all, to shine in unexpected ways... -- Story Avenue, LLC

When I was recently pitched BURNING THE MAP by Laura Caldwell, I was a little surprised. I remember the book being available some time ago, and I couldn't figure out why I was being asked to read it now.  It ends up that this book was first published ten years ago to some critical acclaim, and the author decided to re-release it in a new form -- as an audio book. I figured it would be a light, fun read while I logged some miles on the treadmill.

BURNING THE MAP is exactly the type of book that I used to read... about ten years or so. It would probably have been labeled as chick lit when it was published by Red Dress Ink (my friend and I used to love that publisher!) because it tells the story of a young woman on the brink of adulthood. The novel follows Casey after she graduates from law school and takes the bar exam but before she begins work at a law firm. She is in a serious relationship with John (at the expense of the other relationships in her life); and, like many girls in their mid-twenties, realizes that her life is becoming much more routine and predictable.

In an effort to have some fun before she is forced to grow up, Casey takes a vacation to Rome and Greece with her two best friends -- despite feeling less close to them in recent months. Once Casey's in Rome and Greece, she discovers that she's not missing John much at all. In fact, she finds that Mediterranean men can be quite attractive. Between handling a variety of guys and trying to balance her relationship with her best friends, Casey has to figure out what she wants out of life and what will make her happy!

I enjoyed BURNING THE MAP but I don't know if I'd say I loved it. I think I'm probably quite a few years past the target audience, but I did find it an entertaining way to spend 9 1/2 hours on the treadmill. I thought the writing was smart and I loved all of the descriptions of the Mediterranean beaches, villages, and food; however, I just didn't really relate to Casey or feel much sympathy towards her.

If I'm being entirely honest, I thought Casey was a little immature for 26. Heck... when I was 26, I was married, working full-time and going to graduate school. I realize that I was probably in the minority with that lifestyle, and maybe I should have had more wild experiences; however, I found it difficult to feel sorry for someone who was cheating on her boyfriend and ignoring her friends. I realize Casey had a lot of pressure, so I tried to cut her a break; and I really did want her to figure out things before taking the wrong path in life, but she seemed so self-absorbed for much of the novel.

Based on this review, you probably think Casey was a horrible person. That is definitely not the case. Casey was a sweet girl, albeit a little confused, and she did feel guilty for hurting her loved ones. And in all actuality, her actions could have been a lot worse! (I should point out that her boyfriend and travel companions weren't exactly perfect either.) What I appreciated about her character is how much she had to learn about herself within just a few weeks and how she faced some very difficult decisions. Many women wouldn't have had the strength or courage to face what Casey did.

One of my favorite things about this novel was the setting. I loved that the novel took place in Rome and Greece, and I thought Ms. Caldwell did a fantastic job of bringing these areas to life for the reader. I was able to get swept up as the characters' visited various landmarks as well as the beaches; and it definitely made me long to visit these countries. Furthermore, I liked how the author explored the theme of travel and how it can change the way we see things in our lives.

The audio version of BURNING THE MAP was read by Piper Goodeve, and I thought she captured Casey perfectly. This is the first audio book that I've listened to by this narrator -- I think she usually reads romance novels -- and I had absolutely no issues with her performance. I enjoyed her sense of timing with the humor, and I found her portrayal of Casey to be very realistic. You can listen to an excerpt here.

BURNING THE MAP would make a fun book club discussion.. especially if you could include some food and wine from Rome and Greece! The author has a reading guide on her website to facilitate your discussion. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include self discovery, honestly, love, friendship, parent/child relationships, adultery, and travel.

At its heart, BURNING THE MAP was a coming-of-age story for a young woman making the jump to adulthood, and many women will relate to this story -- especially ones in their early twenties. Recommended for fans of chick lit and books that take place in exotic locales.

Thanks to Kaye Publicity for providing a review copy of this audio book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: When the Cypress Whispers

Summary: On a beautiful Greek island, myths, magic, and a colorful cast of mortals come together in a lushly atmospheric debut celebrating the powerful bond between an American woman and her Greek grandmother.

The daughter of Greek immigrants, Daphne has been brought up to believe in the American dream. When her husband dies in a car accident, leaving her with an inconsolable baby and stacks of bills, she channels everything she has into opening her own Greek restaurant. Now an acclaimed chef and restaurateur, she has also found a second chance at love with her wealthy, handsome fiancé.

Although American by birth, Daphne spent many blissful childhood summers on the magical Greek island of Erikousa, which her grandmother still calls home. At her Yia-yia's side, she discovered her passion for cooking and absorbed the vibrant rhythms of island life, infused with ancient myths and legends lovingly passed down through generations. Somehow her beloved grandmother could always read her deepest thoughts, and despite the miles between them Daphne knows Yia-yia is the one person who can look beyond Daphne's storybook life of seeming perfection to help her stay grounded. With her wedding day fast approaching, Daphne returns to Erikousa and to Yia-yia's embrace.

The past and the present beautifully entwine in this glorious, heartfelt story about a woman trapped between the siren call of old-world traditions and the demands of a modern career and relationship. When Daphne arrives on Erikousa with her daughter, Evie, in tow, nothing is the way she recalls it, and she worries that her elderly Yia-yia is losing her grip on reality. But as the two of them spend time together on the magical island once again, her grandmother opens up to share remarkable memories of her life there—including moving stories of bravery and loyalty in the face of death during World War II—and Daphne remembers why she returned. Yia-yia has more than one lesson to teach her: that security is not the same as love, that her life can be filled with meaning again, and that the most important magic to believe in is the magic of herself. -- Harper

We have a little Greek restaurant near our house that is just fantastic -- it's even BYOB. Every time I eat there, I think I should pick a book for our book club that takes place in Greece and hold the meeting there. We could sample the various appetizers, eat the amazing desserts, and drink wine while discussing the novel. It would be a wonderful time!

Well... I recently read a book called WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS by Yvette Manessis Corporon that would be perfect for my book club fantasy! This novel just happens to take place in Greece and touches upon so many of the themes my group loves to discuss including family, love, and relationships. It also has elements of Greek mythology and wonderful descriptions of the Grecian countryside and foods. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS follows Daphne, a widow and mother of a young girl, as she heads to Greece to prepare for her marriage to a successful New York businessman. Daphne has faced a great deal of tragedy in her life -- she lost her husband and both of her parents in tragedies; however, she has managed to live out her dream of running a Greek restaurant. When her fiancé proposes marriage, she decides to return to the Greek island she visited every summer as a child and get married in the presence of her Yia-Yia.

Daphne has always had a very special relationship with her grandmother. Yia-Yia sensed Daphne's feelings even from thousands of miles away, and she provided a calming presence during the rough times in Daphne's life. As Daphne spends time on the island in the presence of her grandmother, she gradually finds herself relaxing from the stresses in her big city life and appreciating the finer things in life like food, family, and friendship.

As Daphne's wedding day quickly approaches, she realizes that she has strong ties to her past; and when her fiancé appears on the island, she begins to question everything she thought she ever wanted. With this help of her grandmother and some of the island's inhabitants, Daphne discovers a great deal about her grandmother's past but also about her own self.

Sometimes you read a novel at the perfect time in your life, and honestly, I think that was the case with WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS. I have had some stress in my life recently, and I needed a book that not only took me away from all of that but actually touched my heart and made me feel. I couldn't put down this novel, and I loved how it transported me to Greece with all of its beauty and traditions.

One of the things I really liked about this novel was the relationship between Daphne and her Yia-Yia. I am a sucker for books that feature mother/daughter relationships, so it makes sense that I was drawn to this story about a grandmother and her adult granddaughter. I loved how wise and knowing Yia-Yia was, and I found her storytelling to add another dimension to this novel. Furthermore, I really appreciated learning about Yia-Yia's past and I liked how it affected Daphne and her future decisions.

The book really does have a little something for everyone. There are elements of history, mythology, friendship, romance, Greek food and customs, and life lessons. As a result, I think it would make a fantastic book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide; however, you will have no problems finding things to discuss. In addition, the author has a lot of information on her website which could stimulate your discussion. And just in case you don't have your own little Greek restaurant nearby, she includes some wonderful recipes that you could make for your meeting including tzatziki.

WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS is a book that touched my heart. Highly recommended to fans of women's fiction and readers who enjoy novels set in Greece.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Tuesday's Gone

Summary: Internationally bestselling authors Nicci Gerard and Sean French, writing as Nicci French, have sold more than eight million copies of their books worldwide. But nothing they’ve written written before has grabbed the attention of reviewers and readers like Blue Monday and its iconic heroine, Frieda Klein. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it a “superb psychological thriller . . . with brooding atmosphere, sustained suspense, a last-minute plot twist, and memorable cast of characters.”

In Tuesday’s Gone, a London social worker makes a routine home visit only to discover her client, Michelle Doyce, serving afternoon tea to a naked, decomposing corpse. With no clues as to the dead man’s identity, Chief Inspector Karlsson again calls upon Frieda for help. She discovers that the body belongs to Robert Poole, con man extraordinaire. But Frieda can’t shake the feeling that the past isn’t done with her yet. Did someone kill Poole to embroil her in the investigation? And if so, is Frieda herself the next victim?

A masterpiece of paranoia, Tuesday’s Gone draws readers inexorably into a fractured and faithless world as it brilliantly confirms Frieda Klein as a quintessential heroine for our times. -- Pamela Dorman Books

I can't believe it's been over two years since I read the psychological thriller BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French -- you can read my review here. I guess a clue should have been that the third book in the series, WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY, is now out. I feel like a major slacker because, despite really enjoying BLUE MONDAY, I missed read the sequel TUESDAY'S GONE. I figured that the time is right to catch up on this fantastic series starring Frieda Klein.

TUESDAY'S GONE picks up right where BLUE MONDAY left off. When a social worker is conducting a home visit for her client Michelle Doyce, she discovers her serving tea to a naked (and get this!) a decaying corpse. Chief Inspector Karlsson has absolutely no idea who the dead man is; and as a result, he looks to Frieda for help. Somehow, Frieda learns that the man is Robert Poole, a man who has conned almost everyone he meets.

As Frieda investigates the man's death, she can't help but feel as if there is more to the murder than what it initially seems. She even begins to wonder if someone from her past is trying to send her a message through Poole's brutal murder.

TUESDAY'S GONE was another suspenseful psychological novel, and I can now confirm what I already suspected -- I am a big fan of these books and Frieda Klein as the heroine. I love the authors' (Nicci French is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team) unique writing style and am excited by the amount of twists and surprises. These two novels definitely have a different feel to them than most other books, and I think that's a credit to the authors. They have created a very special character in Frieda who is both intelligent and complex, and while I'm not entirely sure what to make of her, I'm definitely intrigued by almost everything she does.

What I really appreciated about TUESDAY'S GONE is the balance between a murder mystery and a Frieda's past. This novel was so smart on so many levels. I loved following Karlsson and Frieda as they investigated the murder -- and it was a good one with surprises around every corner as well as a few dead ends! However, I also really liked the scenes surrounding the very complicated character of Frieda. She is such a unique character -- full of baggage and secrets, and I was so impressed with how she put everything together. And by that, I mean the current murder and some events from the prior novel.

I don't know if I'd say that you have to read the books in this series in order, but I highly suggest it. I do feel as if the authors did a good job of providing the back story; however, the second book definitely contained a lot of spoilers. And since BLUE MONDAY was full of so many amazing surprises and many of those twists are revisited in TUESDAY'S GONE, I highly recommend reading it first! But beware -- once you start this series, you'll be hooked. I can't wait to read WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY.

TUESDAY'S GONE was a terrific followup to the critically acclaimed BLUE MONDAY. I am so intrigued by this series and its characters! Recommended to fans of psychological thrillers and mysteries!

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

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Kid Konnection: Summer State of Mind

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 novel that's both fun and full of great messages.

Summary: Summer has finally arrived and fifteen-year-old Harper McCallister intends to spend her days at the mall shopping or by the pool at her country club. But after receiving her latest heart-stopping credit card bill, Harper's parents makes other plans, and ship her off to camp.

Suddenly, the clueless yet ever-popular Harper is the new girl at the bottom of a social ladder she can't climb in wedge sandals and expensive clothes. She seems to be winning over super-cute camp "Lifer" Ethan, though, and if she can manage to make a few friends--and stay out of trouble--she just might find a whole new summer state of mind.

A fresh and funny summer-camp companion novel to Jen Calonita's hit Sleepaway Girls. -- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A few years ago, Booking Daughter and I had the privilege of meeting Jen Calonita. Not only did we find Ms. Calonita to be extremely fun and cool -- she has lots of inside scoop on Hollywood life, but we also discovered that we really like her novels. Her latest book is titled SUMMER STATE OF MIND, and it comes out next week. I'm pretty certain she has another winner!

SUMMER STATE OF MIND follows 15 year old Harper McCallister. Harper has a privileged life to say the least and she usually spends her time shopping or hanging out at a country club. When Harper finally pushes her parents too far after once again running up her credit card with "frivolous" purchases, they decide they need to teach her a lesson. They send Harper to a summer camp.

Needless to say, Harper finds herself miserable. She isn't used to "roughing it" and the kids at the camp are quite different from the friends she normally would choose to spend time with. Throughout the course of the summer camp, Harper discovers quite a bit about herself and the real meaning of friendship.

I really enjoyed SUMMER STATE OF MIND. Like Ms. Calonita's other novels, it's the perfect blend of entertainment and lessons; and as a mom, I always know I can count on her to write books that young girls and mom like (although they might be for entirely different reasons!) Booking Daughter just adores her novels; and although she hasn't read this one yet, she was very excited when it arrived. I actually had to look in her room to find the book -- she immediately ran off with it!

Sometimes I think that in my heart, I am still a twelve year old girl because I love books like SUMMER STATE OF MIND so much. And while I definitely liked this novel, I know as a tween, I would have read it over and over again. It's always fun to see how the wealthy live -- even I was envious of Harper's shopping trips; however, I loved how much Harper changed by the end of the novel. I liked that she saw how shallow and selfish she could be, and I especially appreciated how much she learned about the true meaning of friendship and what's important in life.

Ms. Calonita is certainly talented and in tune with pre-teen girls -- which is ironic since she has two sons! She knows how the make her novels fun while also creating enough drama to keep her readers interested in the story. I think her background as an entertainment writer definitely has definitely helped her in providing a realistic portrait of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And honestly, what young girl doesn't want to be swept up in a story about that world?

In the case of SUMMER STATE OF MIND, she did a great job of juxtaposing Harper's privileged lifestyle with her life at the camp. Since going to a sleepaway camp would have been one of my worst nightmares as a teen, I could actually relate to Harper on that front. However, I admit that I
was actually a little worried when I first started reading the book. Harper was really hard to like and, despite feeling a little bad for her for having to rough it at camp, I thought she deserved to suffer a bit. Fortunately, Ms. Calonita gave hints of Harper's potential so I ended up rooting for her before too long!

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is a companion book to one of Ms. Calonita's earlier novels SLEEPAWAY GIRLS. That basically means that you don't have to read the first book to appreciate this one. Since I haven't read SLEEPAWAY GIRLS, I can vouch that SUMMER STATE OF MIND works as a stand-alone; however, I know that Booking Daughter will enjoy revisiting the setting of that novel.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is an ideal book for tween girls to read as summer approaches. Highly recommended!

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: The Shadow Queen

Summary: From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France. -- Doubleday

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of historical fiction anymore. A few years ago, I'd probably say it was one of my favorite genres, that is no longer the case. I think I burned out on all those stories of kings and queens as well as their deceptions at court. However every once in awhile, I find that I'm in the mood for a good historical drama. THE SHADOW QUEEN by Sandra Gulland definitely hit the spot!

THE SHADOW QUEEN tells the story of Claudette, the daughter of two French actors who works her way up from poverty to become the personal assistant to one of Louis XIV's mistress. Claudette's story has humble beginnings as her family travels across the French countryside as part of an acting troupe. However by a strange twist of fate, Claudette gets involved with Athenais de Montespan and eventually ends up following her to court and becoming very involved in her life.

Claudette's new position forces her into some difficult situations as she is becomes a confidant to Athenais. She finds herself part of Athenais' twisted life as she spies for her and even becomes involved in some of her efforts to use Black Magic to increase her own power.  When Athenais fears that she is losing her control over the king, Claudette becomes caught up in some very serious actions that put everything she's known and loved at risk!

I adored THE SHADOW QUEEN and I have to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations. While stories about kings and queens aren't exactly on the top of my list, I loved this one. It had all of the elements that I look for in historical fiction from intriguing characters, to lots of drama, to romance, and even to deception. Plus it had some historical information that I found extremely interesting.

One of my absolute favorite things about THE SHADOW QUEEN was how there was so much information about the early years of French theatre. Ms. Gulland managed to incorporate many of the players in the theatre scene into the story, and I found all of this to be fascinating. I knew pretty much next to nothing about the history of theatre and actors in France, and the drama between the different groups was almost as full of deception as anything that happened at court. In fact, I actually liked how I was able to compare and contrast the two worlds in this novel.

Another good thing about this novel was the character development. I thought Claudette was a great character and I actually enjoyed seeing court life through a servant's eyes. In addition, I loved how she went back and forth between life at the court and life in the theatre. As far as Athenais goes, all I can say is "wow -- what a character!" I wasn't all that familiar with her story, but after further looking into her character, I discovered that Ms. Gulland took a very unique approach to portraying her. I especially loved how the author included the Black Magic angle into the story!

THE SHADOW QUEEN would make an interesting selection for book clubs. There is a reading guide available on the author's website that has eleven thought-provoking questions. Some of the things you might want to discuss include French society, the church at that time, rules -- both formal and informal, betrayal, trust, family, devotion, friendship, black magic, and love.

Overall, I enjoyed THE SHADOW QUEEN quite a bit. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating

Summary: The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating is Carole Radziwill's deliciously smart comedy about a famously widowed young New Yorker hell-bent on recapturing a kind of passionate love she never really had

Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture ... a Giacometti, no less! 

Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a "botanomanist," enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love. -- Henry Holt

When I initially heard about the novel THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING by Carole Radziwill, I wasn't entirely sure that it appealed to me. However, once I saw the author being interviewed on a few talk shows, I admit that I suddenly was very curious about this book. The descriptions (and the praise) made it sound like a very special story -- one that was both funny and touching, and I decided to give it a shot.

And I'm actually glad I did. I definitely enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING and it was a unique novel. It managed to entertain me while also providing some food for thought, and I was impressed with Ms. Radziwill's storytelling skills. I also liked how the book just had a different feel to it than the other books I've recently read.

THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING tells the story of Claire Byrne, a 34 year old woman whose older husband Charlie dies in an unfortunate (albeit kind of funny) accident. Charlie is a larger-than-life man who is famous for being a sexologist and best-selling author. He has some unique ideas including that sex and love can't coexist for very long. Not exactly what you want your husband to think, right?

Claire has lived in Charlie's shadow for years and even tolerated his womanizing ways; however, when she finds herself suddenly alone, she must find a way to bring the focus back to her own needs. Claire was once a successful writer in her own right, but she gave up her aspirations to be Charlie's wife. After Charlie's death, Claire tries to rediscover herself through a variety of ways including therapy, dating,  sex, and even visiting a psychic. As Claire tries to navigate her way as a newly widowed woman, she has many ups and downs; however, through it all, she just might be able to find some personal satisfaction and happiness.

While I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING, it did take me a few dozen pages or so to really get into it; however, once I did, I really liked this story. At first, I thought the writing was a little unusual and the tone of the book seemed to be a little "off." I definitely didn't feel that way by the end of the book, though. I came to really appreciate Ms. Radziwill's writing style, and I loved the unique feel of the story. I especially liked that humor that was woven into the book, although I admit that, at times, I wasn't sure if I should be laughing at certain situations.

I suspect that many of Claire's reactions to losing a husband, even though he was a philandering one, were actually quite honest. Since I've never really known any younger widow and the only other books I've read about widows were very depressing, I'm certainly not speaking from any actually experience, but I really liked seeing another side to the widow character. Claire's emotions went up and down and her actions were most definitely erratic; however, I believe that many of her feelings -- even the strange ones -- were probably quite reasonable given what she experienced. My heart went out to her, so it was all the more exciting to see her eventual healing process and self-discovery journey.

One thing that made this book special was the balance between the humor. and seriousness of the story. I loved the author's sense of humor and her ability to create some very funny situations for the characters. There were definitely some scenes that poked fun at the rich and famous, and there were also some rather silly characters and events. What Ms. Radziwill managed to do so well was to offset the humor with some poignant moments for Claire. While I did laugh a lot in this book, I also thought the book was insightful with some very smart writing.

THE WIDOWS GUIDE TO SEX & DATING would make an interesting book club selection. Although I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, I don't think one is necessary for a lively book club discussion. Claire is an extremely interesting character and I think most women would have a lot to say about her actions and emotions. In addition, her choice of men is certain to generate some ideas. Some of the other things you might want to discuss include marriage, love, friendship, grief, second chances, and romance.

Overall, I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING quite a bit. It's an entertaining read that is both serious and witty. Highly recommended.

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kid Konnection: Think Spring!

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 some adorable children's books which are perfect for this time of year.

Summary:When the flowers begin to bloom and the world starts turning green, animals everywhere are born . . . including the noisy ducklings!

From the creator of A Book of Sleep and Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit comes a beautiful book of baby animals. Travel with the curious duck and visit babies around the world on their very first day of life. -- Knopf

A BOOK OF BABIES by Il Sung Na is a perfect springtime book because it is all about new baby animals... and their mommies.  In this delightful picture book, children see many different types of animals that are born in the spring including ducklings, zebras, polar bears, and more!

Each page layout features a different mommy animal with her babies. In addition, the author has included something about that animal which makes it special. For example, new kangaroos are carried in their mother's pouches while zebras can walk right away.

A BOOK OF BABIES has already received a starred review form Kirkus Reviews and I can definitely see why. It's very cute and parents and toddlers alike will love learning about baby animals.

A BOOK OF BABIES would be a great addition to an Easter basket, but it would also make a very special Mother's Day gift!

Summary: Featuring Phoebe Dunn's classic animal portraits in a new board book education, The Little Rabbit will charm parents and children alike. 

The story and photographs follow Buttercup the rabbit as she explores her meadow and makes new and special friends. Paired with The Little Duck, this will make a perfect Easter gift for toddlers. -- Random House

Summary: Just in time for Easter comes this new board book edition of a springtime classic: The Little Duck, written by Judy Dunn and photographed by Phoebe Dunn.

Photographs depict everything from the thrill and jubilation of watching an egg hatch to a baby duck's adventures exploring his new world and making friends. The 8x8 edition has sold over 670,000 copies -- and the new board book edition will surely waddle its way into toddlers' hearts! -- Random House

THE LITTLE RABBIT and THE LITTLE DUCK, written by Judy Dunn with photographs by Phoebe Dunn, are very sweet picture books that are perfect for little one's Easter baskets. Both books are heavy 8x8 board books that are ideal for toddlers little hands since they are easy to turn as well as durable.

THE LITTLE RABBIT follows the adventures of Buttercup as she meets new animals and plays with them in a meadow, while THE LITTLE DUCK shows Henry the Duck's experiences from birth to when he makes new friends on the farm. I thought both books were adorable and I loved the photographs of the animals.

When my kids were toddlers, they were definitely drawn to picture books with photographs. Maybe they found them to be more "real," but I honestly have no idea why. They just loved actual pictures of animals. I have no doubt that they both would have enjoyed seeing experiencing these animals' adventures!

Summary: The U.S. Children's Poet Laureate and an award-winning children's poet join their prolific forces in this picture book of poems about cars. But they're not just any cars: there's the "Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy" ("So unique there is no copy"); the Bathtub Limosine ("With hot water heating / And porcelain seating"); and the "High Heel Car." Each of the thirteen quirky, inventive poems will speak directly to the imaginations of children, as will Holmes's high-concept, detail-filled illustrations. -- Schwartz & Wade

And since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd feature a fun little poetry picture book called POEM-MOBILES: CRAZY CAR POEMS by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian with pictures by Jeremy Holmes. This book is not only a good way to introduce poetry to your children, but it also has some fantastic illustrations!

POEM-MOBILES is pretty much what it sounds like -- a book with poems about cars. But the cars in this book are something special! One is "mini-mini," while another is a "paper car." There are futuristic cars and even cars that look like different types of food. As you can probably tell by now, these poems (and the cars they describe) are extremely silly and perfect for children with big imaginations!

I admit that I'm not a huge fan of poetry, and I definitely appreciate children's poems more than ones geared towards adults, so POEM-MOBILES is just perfect for me. I love the zany feel of this book, and that most definitely includes the illustrations. They are very whimsical and full of detail, and I think they are the perfect complement to these fun poems.

Highly recommended!

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!