Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Joe Wallace

Guess who's back? One of my favorite authors and favorite people, Joe Wallace. He is the author of DIAMOND RUBY -- you can read my gushing review here -- and I guarantee that it is the perfect book for book club discussions!

I love the approach Joe took to this guest post. He asks himself some very interesting questions about book clubs. He also shares some of the reasons why DIAMOND RUBY is such a discussion-worthy novel.


QUESTION: Why don’t men organize or join book clubs?

ANSWER: I have no idea.

Sorry. If you were looking for insight from this writer and reader who happens to be a man, sorry. I’m coming up empty. I don’t know why almost every book club member I’ve met or heard of is a woman.

It can’t be because we men are “too busy.” Most of the women I know have at least as much on their plates as the men, and often far more. And while statistics show that women read more, especially fiction, I know plenty of men who love books, including novels. So why no (or so few, because there must be some) book clubs with men? Ask me another.

Luckily, there is a question that I can answer, one that I never guessed at before my first novel, Diamond Ruby, was published in May.

QUESTION: What has been the most unexpected gift to you as a writer since your novel came out?

ANSWER: Getting to visit book clubs and catch a glimpse of a vibrant, enthusiastic society that gives me hope for the future of books, of publishing as a whole.

It’s been remarkable, encouraging, even soul-warming. (If that’s a phrase.) My early experiences with Diamond Ruby have given me the opportunity to meet women I never would have otherwise. I’ve gotten to learn something about their lives, their reading tastes, the vital role that books play in who they are.

Just as importantly, my book-club visits have taught me an enormous amount about my novel—and, by extension, about myself. That’s what happens when you share something incredibly important to you with strangers: They surprise you, which gives you the chance to surprise yourself.

Perhaps it helps that Diamond Ruby is a novel that provokes questions. As some of you know already, it’s a historical novel set in the 1920s that mixes fictional characters (Ruby herself, her nieces and friends) with people who really existed (most crucially Yankees slugger Babe Ruth and the great boxing champion Jack Dempsey). I almost always get questions about what’s real and what’s not; about how I did my research; and about the real-life events themselves, including the great influenza epidemic of 1918 and the Coney Island sideshows of the Roaring Twenties.

But the richest discussions are the ones that focus on the book’s very core: Ruby herself, the character you follow for 400 pages and, I hope, root strongly for. Every book club, every female reader, has been interested and curious about why I, a man, chose to write a novel with a teenage girl at its heart. Did I worry that I was overreaching? That women especially would be skeptical, even suspicious, of my ability to create a convincing character in Ruby? And did Ruby have inspirations in my own life and if so, who?

Facing these questions, and those that follow naturally from them, have forced me to think more deeply about the novel, about the people and worlds I find most intriguing, about my own teenage daughter and others who live inside Ruby and the other female characters in the novel. I have learned so much along the way—insights that I think will help shape my next novel about Ruby and all the books I hope to write thereafter.

The book clubs I’ve spoken to are always grateful that I’ve taken the time to visit. What I always tell them is that I’m the grateful one. In this busy, noisy world, to meet avid readers is a gift. To get the chance to learn is more than a gift. I believe it’s a treasure.

QUESTION: What do I hope the next months will bring?

ANSWER: The chance to visit—in person, via Skype, or by telephone—with as many book clubs as will have me.

Another easy one.


Joe Wallace was born in Brooklyn, where he fell in love early with nature, travel, and writing. Lucky enough to make a career of the latter, he spent more than two decades writing nonfiction (on nature, travel, and other subjects) before making the leap into fiction in 2006. He is the author of half a dozen noir stories (including "Custom Sets," chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010) and now a novel, Diamond Ruby.

As I mentioned above, DIAMOND RUBY is a fantastic choice for book clubs. In fact, you might even want to arrange an author chat with Joe -- he loves talking about his novel with readers! Joe has also graciously offered to provide Ruby baseball cards to every member of a group that selects DIAMOND RUBY for a book club selection. I have my own card, and they are very cool. All you have to do is contact him at and let him know!

I am so grateful to Joe for sharing some of his thought-provoking book club questions with us. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Review: Shoulder Bags and Shootings

Summary: Fashionista and amateur sleuth Haley Randolph is in hot pursuit of the season’s newest must-have handbag. But soon she’s also in hot pursuit of a killer—when she discovers the corpse of none other than her designer purse party rival…

Life is beyond fabulous at the moment for Haley Randolph. She just spent two amazing weeks in Europe with her boyfriend Ty Cameron, owner of Holt’s Department Store where Haley works. And now Ty’s grandmother, Ada, is letting Haley drive her way-cool Mercedes. Things would be perfect if she could just get her hands on her latest fashion obsession: the new Sinful handbag.

Every store in town is out of stock, and Haley would rather die than buy a knockoff. But when she finds the body of her nemesis, Tiffany Markham, in the trunk of Ada’s Mercedes, she’s not so sure she wants to trade places after all…

Topping the list of suspects, Haley doesn’t deny seeing red when Tiffany and her business partner not only stole her purse party idea, but also made more money. But Haley wasn’t jealous enough to commit murder. Now she’ll have to solve this mystery quickly—and find that Sinful bag—before she becomes a killer’s next fashion fatality… -- Kensington

In my pre-blogging days, I read quite a few mystery books. I can't say that I read a lot of them anymore, but I have to admit that every once in awhile, I really enjoy sitting down with a light, fun mystery book. SHOULDER BAGS AND SHOOTINGS by Dorothy Howell definitely fit the bill!

SHOULDER BAGS AND SHOOTINGS is a very quick, yet very fun, book. The book is written in the first person voice of Haley, a woman who is absolutely obsessed with handbags. She is irresponsible and very shallow (and she might get on some people's nerves), but I found her to be entertaining. She hates to work, loves to shop and especially enjoys buying purses; however, she also has a knack for finding dead bodies and wanting to solve the mystery.

There were quite a few times when I was reading SHOULDER BAGS AND SHOOTINGS that I found myself laughing at Haley's completely self-absorbed behavior. I especially thought it was cute when Haley would be working on solving the crime and get completely distracted with finding a new purse. One thing's for sure -- if you are like me and love handbags, then you will definitely appreciate certain aspects of Haley's personality!

As memorable as Haley was as an amateur detective, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the mystery part of this story. I thought the author did a good job of creating the crime as well as teasing the reader, although I have to say that I usually don't spend a lot of time trying to solve the mystery in a book like this one.

SHOULDER BAGS AND SHOOTINGS is actually the third book in the Haley Randolph Mystery series. Usually, I like to read series' books in order, but I will make an exception for cozy mysteries. I think SHOULDER BAGS AND SHOOTINGS stands on its own, but I wouldn't mind reading the first two books and learning more about Haley's purse obsession and crime-solving adventures.

I actually read SHOULD BAGS AND SHOOTINGS one afternoon at the swimming pool, and it was an ideal read. (Plus, the cover is so adorable that I caught a few women checking it out!) It was light and funny and I definitely recommend it for fans of chick lit and/or mystery books.

Thanks to FSB Associates for sending me a copy of this book.

Wondrous Words Wednesday - June 30, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.


cornichons - Afterward they drank a bottle of champagne in the sitting room and ate a feeast of cold pate and bread and cheese and cornichons. (p. 117)

a cucumber pickle; gherkin.

charrette - Classes began the first Monday of January with a two-day charrette. (p. 123)

a final, intensive effort to finish a project, esp. an architectural design project, before a deadline.

sybarite - "He's a sybarite and a fond old fool." (p. 438)

a person devoted to luxury and pleasure.

What new words did you discover this week?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Christine Lemmon

I'd like to welcome author Christine Lemmon to Book Club Exchange, a regular feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! Her most recent book SAND IN MY EYES sounds like an ideal summer book club pick! Some of the themes it explores include motherhood, marriage, self-discovery and friendship. Plus it's set on the beautiful Sanibel Island.

Today, Ms. Lemmon wrote a very honest guest post about her first experience with a book club. As a reader and book club member, I love getting this insider's glimpse into an author's feelings!

Book Club Experience

“Once a book is released into the world there is no going back, no changing the things you wish you could change, no spending more time with the chapters you knew you should have spent more time with. It’s the same as when a loved one dies. There are no last kisses to be kissed, hugs to be hugged, words to be spoken—no going back, apologizing for what was or wasn’t.”—excerpt from the book Sand in My Eyes

Writing is intimate to me. It’s intimate because it has always been a part of me—writing in my diary since I was a little girl. When writing a novel, hardly do I talk about what I am writing and my husband is usually the only one I allow to read my manuscripts. When a copy of the finished book arrives at my house, I can hardly open it. What if no one likes it? For weeks I hide under a rock of vulnerability, ignoring my husband as he reminds me that now it’s time to promote!

When I got my first invitation as an author to attend a book club in which the group of ladies had read one of my novels, I sat in my car outside the house where they were meeting, nervously flipping through the pages of my own book. What were they going to say to me? How could Lydia keep that secret from Josh, and why didn’t you have Jaden run, run, running across the country after Ava? This invitation to attend the book club had me revisiting my story as if I were revisiting loved ones who died long ago. I had felt sad when I finished writing the story and now, I missed my characters—all that time spent creating them and working through the issues of their lives.

Filled with emotion and trepidation, like a person entering a courtroom ready to face interrogation, I entered the living room where the twenty women were waiting for me. But one after the next, they came up welcoming me with hugs, handshakes, kisses on the cheek, telling me their favorite quotes, sharing with me stories from their lives in relation to what they had read in my book, and how this character spoke to them personally, and that theme inspired change in their life and this went on until one lady was wiping tears from her eyes and so was I. Books do this to people. They bring us together. And some books tear us apart.

Interacting with the members of this book club, hearing their reactions and seeing their emotions have made me a better writer. I have learned that no matter the age, background, financial status or education of a person, we are all similar when it comes to wants and dreams, heartache and sorrow. I left the discussion that night feeling a unique attachment to this group, the kind that only a writer feels when she encounters a roomful of her readers. And I took with me a new sense of accountability for what a write. If what I write is going to take up hours, days, and nights from a person’s life, then I want to write something worthy of their time and if nothing else, add a little beauty to their life.

I have since had the opportunity to attend numerous book clubs in my area. Sometimes I still think my writing is an intimate part of me but it isn’t. It’s no longer something locked up in the pages of my diary but rather a part of my heart and soul that I am sharing with others. Due to an influx of book clubs nationwide selecting my novels for their discussions I have recently launched a brand new website that includes a letter to groups, ideas for themed get-togethers, and of course, discussion questions I came up with that should spur meaningful conversations. For those groups far away from where I live, I am happy to answer emailed questions so I can in a way be a part of the experience.

For more on Christine Lemmon and her books, visit: or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Christine Lemmon is the author of three novels - SANIBEL SCRIBBLES, PORTION OF THE SEA, and SAND IN MY EYES, and the gift book, WHISPER FROM THE OCEAN. She has lived all over the country writing for radio, newspaper, television and magazine.

She currently lives with her husband and three children on Sanibel Island, a subtropical island off Florida's Gulf Coast, which is the setting for her novels. She gets most of her inspiration while biking, kayaking or walking around the island, and watching sunsets with her family, but then she must hold her ideas until night, when her children are sleeping and she can write.

Christine is a frequent speaker at luncheons, book clubs and women's groups where she discusses writing and creativity. She is writing her next novel. Her website blogs appear as columns in the ISLAND SUN.

Giveaway Alert: Between today and July 1 when SAND IN MY EYES releases, Christine Lemmon is giving away some of the best beach books of summer!

Pre-order Christine Lemmon's new book, SAND IN MY EYES, from Amazon now, email your receipt to with subject line Beach Bag Giveaway, and you'll be entered to win a beach bag full of 7 fabulous new summer beach reads including SEVEN YEAR SWITCH by Claire Cook, THE ISLAND by Elin Hilderbrand, FLY AWAY HOME by Jennifer Weiner, THE ONE THAT I WANT by Allison Winn Scotch, THE OPPOSITE OF ME by Sarah Pekkanen, THE NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst, and THIN RICH PRETTY by Beth Harbison.

Added bonus: She's throwing in a sweet pair of women's Oakley sunglasses and a $50 Amazon gift card for even more reading fun.

I am so grateful to Ms. Lemmon for sharing some of her book club experiences with us. And don't forget to check out her huge giveaway! If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Guest Review: Heaven

Summary: A groundbreaking and accessible history of heaven—from the earliest biblical conceptions of the afterlife to the theologians who frame our understandings to the convictions and perceptions of everyday people

Drawing on history and popular culture, biblical research and everyday beliefs, Heaven offers a new understanding of one of the most cherished—and shared—ideals of spiritual life. Lisa Miller raises debates and discussions not just about our visions of the afterlife, but about how our beliefs have influenced the societies we have built and the lifestyles to which we have subscribed, exploring the roots of our beliefs in heaven and how these have evolved throughout the ages to offer comfort and hope.

She also reveals how the notion of heaven has been used for manipulation—to promulgate goodness and evil—as inspiration for selfless behavior, and as justification for mass murder.

As Miller demonstrates in this absorbing and enlightening book, the desire for a celestial afterlife is universal—shared by the faithful around the world and across religions. It is as old as the Bible itself. While there are many notions of what exactly heaven is and how we get there, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree that heaven is God's home. From the Revelation to the Left Behind series, Augustine to Osama bin Laden, Muslims in the West Bank to American Mormons baptizing their dead, Heaven is a penetrating look at one of our most cherished religious ideals. -- Harper

When I first read about HEAVEN: OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE AFTERLIFE by Lisa Miller, I just knew I wanted to read this book. I think an entire book that looks at the concept of an afterlife sounds fascinating. But since I have a pretty big need-to-read stack right now, I handed it off to my dad, Booking Pap Pap. He quickly read HEAVEN and here are his thoughts:

In HEAVEN: OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE AFTERLIFE, author Lisa Miller takes the reader on an interesting trip through the history of people’s beliefs and concepts of heaven. Lisa Miller is the religion editor for Newsweek magazine.

The author bases her book on research as well as interviews with a wide range of individuals including Christians, Jews, Muslims, religious scholars, devout believers, non-believers, near death experience survivors, and even a modern day singer and a Swedenborgian, a small religious sect based on the teachings of eighteenth century Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg.

Miller bases most of the early history of heaven on the monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Miller claims that the original Jewish concept of heaven was as a home for God. The Jewish people were content in being buried with the bones of their families and did not consider a life after death. It was only after the Jewish people were dispersed during the period of Greek dominance and could not get home to be buried that heaven began to be viewed as a place to be joined again with your family.

Miller traces the concept of heaven through the Catholic Church’s pay for indulgences to attain heaven to the Protestant Reformation concept that heaven was only for those who lived an austere and disciplined life. HEAVEN also describes the unique visions of heaven held by the Muslims and Mormons. The organized religions often used heaven to intimidate and control their believers. Promises of heaven as a reward for joining the Crusades and the promises of heaven by today’s Islamic terrorist to those who commit atrocities are two examples.

The author points out that heaven is difficult to envision and one’s concept is based on what he or she believes about God. She draws no definitive conclusions about heaven other than there are many ideas as to what heaven is. Questions like is it physical or spiritual? what does heaven look like? where is it? how do we get there? does it even exist? are left to each individual to decide. The author herself has a strong skepticism about the existence of heaven and enhances the book by interjecting her own feelings and thoughts throughout.

HEAVEN is a well written, easy to read assortment of observations about heaven. Miller does a good job of contrasting general concepts of heaven with the viewpoints of scholars and religious leaders. Heaven would be an interesting book for religious study groups or for anyone who has their own curiosity about heaven.

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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown & Guest Blogger: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Summary: Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch kids are looking forward to a relaxing summer vacation with no funny business. What evils could befall them at summer camp? Of course, there is the legendary swamp monster. Stories say he haunts the camp at night. But that's just a legend. Or is it? Once again, Dee, Hector, and Terrence must help Lunch Lady prevail against a secret enemy! -- Knopf

I have to start this review by saying that I already am a big fan of author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka and the Lunch Lady series -- see this and this! So when the opportunity came to participate in a blog tour for the fourth Lunch Lady book, LUNCH LADY AND THE SUMMER CAMP SHAKEDOWN, I jumped at the chance!

I'm excited to say that LUNCH LADY AND THE SUMMER CAMP SHAKEDOWN had everything I've come to expect (and love) from a Lunch Lady book! It was filled with terrific illustrations and a very entertaining storyline. I just know kids are going to gobble up this book!

The fourth book takes place in a different setting than the first three -- a summer camp. Dee, Hector and Terrence, as well as Lunch Lady, head off to a summer camp where they hope to have an event-free vacation. But they quickly realize that something is amiss when they find evidence of a swamp monster. Of course, Lunch Lady (with the help of the three kids) solves the mystery using her famous food-related weapons.

While I definitely enjoy the characters and the plots in the Lunch Lady books, I have to say that the biggest draw to me, as a parent, is that even the most reluctant readers will love these books. The illustrations are adorable and there aren't too many words per page. These books are geared towards ages seven to ten, and I think it's fairly safe to say that kids in that age range won't get frustrated reading these books.

Needless to say, I just think the Lunch Lady book books are terrific. And even though my daughter is reading at a higher level, she always grabs these books right away and scurries off to read them. This book also caught my five year old son's eyes and he asked me if it was a book for little boys. I'd just love it if his interest in this book would fuel his interest in reading!

I am extremely flattered that the author and illustrator of the Lunch Lady books, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, has taken time to write a guest post for Booking Mama. Keep on reading to get an insider's look into the inspiration behind the Lunch Lady series!

Way back in 2001, I was celebrating the release of my first picture book, Good Night, Monkey Boy, and went back to my old elementary school in Worcester, MA to talk to the students about being a writer and illustrator. When I was there, I ran into my old lunch lady. I hadn’t seen her since I was a kid and I just had to go over to say hello. She at first mistook me for my uncle, who is twenty years older than I am, a clear sign of her years of service! When I introduced myself, she remembered me and began to tell me about what she had been up to, her grandkids, etc. It blew my mind! My lunch lady had kids who then in turn went on to have kids? Suddenly images of my lunch lady as the grandmother to a family at holiday parties flashed in my mind. And to think, all this time, I thought she lived in the kitchen with the tater-tots!

I immediately got to work on a story about the secret lives of lunch ladies. One thing led to another and I eventually settled on the concept of the lunch lady as a secret super-hero spy, who was the most powerful individual at the school. (Not too far from the truth.) And that the series should be told in the graphic novel format. (Perfect for the super-hero theme.)

Lunch Lady uses weapons like the fish stick nunchucks and the spatucopter to stop the bad guys, while spitting out expressions like, “Who’s ready for a knuckle sandwich?” or “Should I serve up some whaaaamburgers and cries?!” The fourth book, LUNCH LADY AND THE SUMMER CAMP SHAKEDOWN, was just released and I’ve already finished the 5th book and am hard at work on the 6th book.

I hope that you enjoy reading the books as much as I have enjoyed writing and illustrating them.

I am extremely honored to be part of the tour for LUNCH LADY AND THE SUMMER CAMP SHAKEDOWN. Make sure you check out the next stop on the tour: Suvudu (

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this very fun book. And a huge thanks to Mr. Krosoczka for writing this special guest post.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Mary Engelbreit's Fan Fare Cookbook

Summary: Mary Engelbreit's Fan Fare Cookbook collects 120 delicious recipes submitted by some of her most devoted fans and brings them to you all wrapped up in Mary's delightful original artwork.

Prior to being included in Mary Engelbreit's Fan Fare Cookbook, these scrumptious recipes from Mary's fans underwent extensive testing and resulted in resounding approval by their families! Rest assured that these recipes offer easy, mouth-watering dishes for any occasion, including appetizers, breakfast foods, breads, soups, salads, side dishes, entrées, and desserts.

Although Mary Engelbreit's Fan Fare Cookbook is a perfect addition to the cookbook shelf for anyone already a fan of Mary's warm and witty work, anyone who cooks or bakes will find this handy collection of family-favorite recipes to be an entertaining introduction to Mary's world. -- Andrews McMeel

When I first picked up MARY ENGELBREIT'S FAN FARE COOKBOOK: 120 FAMILY FAVORITE RECIPES, I wasn't exactly sure that it would appeal to me. While I think Mary Engelbreit illustrations are cute, I was afraid that this book would be filled with recipes that I would never make. Wow - was I ever wrong! I was pleasantly surprised by how many recipes I marked to try, and I think this cookbook will quickly become one of my favorites!

Once I read the premise behind this cookbook, I realized that it is exactly the type of cookbook I enjoy. It's chock full of recipes from friends and fans of Mary Engelbreit, and usually individuals only submit their "best" recipes to cookbooks like this one. I found that there was a wide range of recipes from appetizers and beverages, to breakfasts and breads, to soups and stews, to salads and sides, to main dishes, and finally to desserts. I recognized many classic recipes as well as some very original new ones.

Ms. Engelbreit admits up front that she is not what you would call a cook. And that's why she asked her fans and friends for recipes. She does say that she appreciates good food though (who doesn't?) and these recipes were each tested in her studio. What I love is that these recipes are easy enough for those of us who don't have the time to cook or the desire!

As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens of recipes that I want to try, but I decided to first try the Pull-Apart Caramel Buns. I have seen recipes similar to this one, but I decided to make them for myself since the recipe was so easy. You start with thawed, frozen bread dough and you add butterscotch pudding and a caramel mixture that you make over the stove. I made these rolls up the night before and put them in the refrigerator. Then, I threw them in the oven first thing the next morning. The recipe couldn't have been easier or more delicious. My only problem was that it made a lot of cinnamon rolls (a 9x13" pan) and I didn't want to eat all of them! I think it's an ideal make-ahead recipe, and I can't wait to make it the next time we have overnight guests.

There are also quite a few main dishes that I want to try including Peppy Pasta (see below), the Hot Chicken Pasta Salad, the Sun-Dried Tomato & Chicken Pasta, the Penne with Artichoke Hearts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Herbs, and especially the Chicken Limon! Some of the recipes aren't exactly low-fat, but quite a few definitely lean towards fresh and healthy side!

Peppy Pasta
Makes 4 servings

8 ounces angel hair (capellini) pasta
1 large tomato, chopped
1 (3.5-ounce) package sliced pepperoni
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 (2 1/2-ounce) can sliced black olives, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (4-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
1 (6.5-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, combine the tomato, pepperoni, Parmesan cheese, olives, oil, salt, garlic powder, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato mixture and toss to coat.


Of course the cookbook has loads of adorable Mary Engelbreit illustrations throughout as well as little personal tidbits from the authors of the recipes. MARY ENGELBREIT'S FAN FARE COOKBOOK is an extremely nice (and useful) cookbook that would also make the perfect gift!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this cookbook.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kid Konnection - Summer YA Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I'd like to share with you two Young Adult books that I think are just perfect for summer reading.

Summary: Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew--just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn’t seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she’s coming to terms with her father’s death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. Told in traditional narrative as well as scraps from the road--diner napkins, motel receipts, postcards--this is the story of one girl's journey to find herself. -- Simon & Schuster

If you are looking for a terrific YA book that's guaranteed to capture your heart, then look no further than AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR by Morgan Matson. I thought the cover was kind of cute, and I liked that it included bits and pieces from Amy and Roger's trip (kind of like scrapbook memorabilia), but I honestly had no idea how much I would enjoy this book. It was so good and I think many, many teens (and adults) are going to love AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR!

I realize that AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR probably isn't geared towards me at all. (It's actually recommended for 12 year old and up, but I think I might wait until my daughter is a little closer to 14 before giving it to her.) However, I couldn't put this book down and even read it one day. It was everything I hope for when I read a book, and by that I mean any book -- even adult ones. It had great characters, an entertaining story line, good writing, and lots of humor. And to top it off, I was deeply affected while reading it -- I found myself tearing up quite a few times.

AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR tells the story of Amy, a 17 year old girl whose father has just died unexpectedly. Her family is torn apart when her twin brother enters a rehab facility and her mother moves across the country to start a new job. Amy is forced to stay by herself in the family home until she finishes her junior year in high school -- how hard would that be? And then, she is asked to drive across the country to bring her mom's car to her. The problem (well one of the problems) is that Amy won't drive so her mother asks a guy -- a very cute and hot one -- to drive Amy to her new home. This book tells the story of Amy and Roger's cross-country adventure!

There are just so many good things about this book that I hardly know where to start...

In quite a few ways, AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR was a coming-of-age story for Amy (and even for Roger); and I just love coming-of-age stories. What started as a pretty specific trip with pretty specific stop and start times as set by Amy's mother, ended up being a huge adventure for Roger and Amy. Rather than following the most direct route across country, they began creating their own route based on their own wishes. As a result, throughout their trip, they encountered many people and places that forever changed their lives.

I absolutely loved the character of Amy and my heart totally went out to her. She was in so much pain after her father's death, and rather than sharing it with her loved ones and friends, she turned away from everyone and internalized her feelings. When the book begins, she was so lonely and almost suffocating in her grief. I could almost feel her pain! Throughout the course of the book (and of course the cross-country trip), Amy learns not about what the United States has to offer, but she also learns a great deal about herself and her family.

I also thought the way the author incorporated little bits and pieces from the trip, like receipts and playlists, was such a treat. I'm not sure the book "needed" them to be terrific, but it was just the icing on the cake. It added a very cute, and very real, dimension to their trip. I especially enjoyed seeing Roger's, and eventually Amy's, playlists because they added some additional insight into their characters.

Finally, I thought Ms. Matson did a terrific job of taking the reader on the road trip with Roger and Amy. I felt as if I were riding in the car alongside them (especially on the Loneliest Road in America), and I liked seeing the sites through their eyes. While I'm definitely not adventurous (or even a patient car rider for that matter), I can definitely see the appeal of setting off on a trip with no agenda and just following my gut. I really feel as if Amy and Roger's experience made them stronger individuals!

As you can see, I just loved AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR and I highly recommend it!

Summary: Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer -- they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one wonderful and terrible summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along. -- Simon & Schuster

THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY by Jenny Han is one of those books that I can't wait to hand to my daughter because I know she will love it. The recommended age range is seventh grade and up, and that's only a year away for Booking Daughter. Plus, I actually think THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY is perfect for the younger YA age range because it's just so sweet!

THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY really is an ideal summer book. It takes place over an entire summer at Cousins Beach, and it tells the story of Belly, a 15 year old girl who is on the cusp of womanhood. Each and every summer, Belly visits the shore with her mother, her brother, and long-time family friends. For years, Belly was the only girl and she often times felt left out when it came to her brother, and friends Conrad and Jeremiah. However this summer, Belly realizes that these two boys who have been like brothers to her might actually be something more!

In so many ways, THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY is also a coming-of-age story. Granted, it took place over a summer so it was kind of a short time period; however, Belly really went through many changes and definitely grew up. During these three short months, Belly had a few crushes, went on a first date, coped with her parents' divorce, and accepted that there aren't always happy endings -- even during a magical summer at the beach.

I absolutely loved the character of Belly and I could relate to many of her conflicted feelings about growing up. One one hand, she was still incredibly naive about certain things, but on the other hand, she was discovering boys and all of those strange feelings that come with it! I loved how well Ms. Han captured the spirit of a teenager, and I thought Belly's voice was incredibly authentic.

While this book was filled with many of the themes that I loved reading about as a young girl -- friendships, crushes, falling in love, and the beach to name a few, it also dealt with some pretty serious issues. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but Belly's summer was filled with lots of ups and downs. Belly was actually forced to see some of the very unfortunate parts of life -- ones that you hope your child never has to experience.

THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY was a great summer read and one that I highly recommend. It was awarded an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, so I know I'm not alone in my appreciation of this novel. I really loved the character of Belly and I'm so glad that Ms. Han wrote a sequel to THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY because I kind of feel like I was left wanting more after I finished this book. It's called IT'S NOT SUMMER WITHOUT YOU and deals with more changes that are in store for Belly. Needless to say, I'm just dying to read it!

A little aside....Last fall, Booking Daughter and I had the privilege to meet Ms. Han at the Kidlit Festival hosted by Aaron's Books. She is positively adorable and so much fun. In fact, Booking Daughter immediately fell for her when they started talking about The Baby-sitter's Club over pizza. When I was in New York a few weeks ago for BEA, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ms. Han was participating in a panel that I was attending at a Borders bookstore. She read a few pages from her new book and talked about some her favorite summer reads as well as her progress on her next book. After the panel was over, I went up to her and re-introduced myself. I'm not so sure she remembered me, but she definitely remembered Booking Daughter!

I'd like to add that both of these books would be marvelous choices for a teen book club or even a Mother-Daughter book club. There are lots of terrific topics/issues to discuss.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me 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!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: The House on Oyster Street

Summary: Sensitive but practical, Charlotte Tradescome has come to accept the reticence of her older, work-obsessed husband Henry. Still, she hopes to create a life for their three-year-old daughter. So when Henry inherits a home on Cape Cod, she, Henry, and little Fiona move from their Manhattan apartment to this seaside community. Charlotte sells off part of Tradescome Point, inadvertently fueling the conflict between newcomers and locals. Many townspeople easily dismiss Charlotte as a "washashore." A rare exception is Darryl Stead, an oyster farmer with modest dreams and an open heart, with whom Charlotte feels the connection she's been missing. Ultimately he transforms the way she sees herself, the town, and the people she loves... -- NAL Accent

I think I might be in a little reading rut. As I mentioned a few days ago, I've read quite a few books that I positively adored in the past few weeks -- for which I'm very grateful. But I'm afraid that it might have altered my expectations for books. The past few books I've read have been good (and even very good), but not great in my opinion. The latest one is THE HOUSE ON OYSTER STREET by Heidi Jon Schmidt. I have a feeling that if I had read this novel at a different time, I might have enjoyed it a great deal more.

Having said that, I did like THE HOUSE ON OYSTER STREET, but I just didn't love it. Most of my issues were of a personal nature and not related to the quality of this book. I thought this novel had a great deal of potential based on its description because I do enjoy women's fiction and especially books about a woman discovering herself; however, I just didn't feel like I related to the character enough to take my enjoyment to the next level. I did appreciate the author's writing style though and I thought she did a very good job with the story.

There were many things about this book that did work for me including much of the character development as well as the author's portrayal of the setting; however, I admit that I had a hard time with the character of Charlotte's husband Henry. For the vast majority of the book, he just seemed like such a flat character to me and I wanted more from him. I'm pretty sure that I would have appreciated his character more if some of his complexities came out earlier in the story, and I think a "human" (and realistic) portrayal of Henry might have added to the dynamics of Charlotte's relationship with Darryl.

I also found myself having a hard time accepting Charlotte. It's not that I didn't like her -- she was a good mother with a huge heart, but I was conflicted with some of her actions. One on hand, I liked that she was complex and not entirely predictable, but on the other hand, I just wasn't sure I always believed some of her feelings. I understand that she was a woman who felt the need to "save" people; and obviously, I'm missing that gene. But her need to help others brought her a lot of stress and heartache. It not only caused her to marry Henry (because he was childlike and needed her), but it also affected her drastic move to Wellfleet as well as her desire to "save" the fishermen (and one in particular.)

One thing I did appreciate a great deal about this novel was the author's writing style. She is a beautiful writer and her descriptions of Cape Cod and its community were incredible. As I read this book, I could absolutely picture not only the sand and water, but I could also see all of the characters about town. Without a doubt, she brought this community to life for the reader. I could almost feel the wind and waves as well as the bitter cold winter. In addition, I appreciated how she captured what it is like for a person to move into an established community. I thought Charlotte's feelings on this subject matter were spot on, and I also thought the townspeople's actions were appropriate.

I did appreciate many of the themes of this novel including all of the various meanings of love; however, I'm not entirely sure about how I feel about the ending. In some ways, I admit that I felt a little bit let down; but in other ways, I thought it was a pretty realistic resolution. As I read this book, I wanted a happy ending for Charlotte and her daughter, but I just wasn't entirely sure that that encompassed. I have a feeling that each reader will have their own opinion about how things ended up for Charlotte and her family.

Despite my misgivings with some of the characters and their actions, I do feel as if THE HOUSE ON OYSTER STREET would make a terrific book club pick. Just as I had a few issues relating to Charlotte, I'm pretty sure that many of the women in my group would totally "get" her. I think the disagreement would make for some pretty interesting discussion. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but some of the topics you could explore include love, marriage, fidelity, mother-daughter relationships, new beginnings, courage, wealth, class distinctions, guilt, redemption, and sacrifice.

I have a feeling that many of you will absolutely love this book. I do recommend it for book clubs as well as people who enjoy women's fiction. It definitely would be an entertaining book to read by the beach or pool this summer.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: Time of My Life

Summary: Jillian Westfield has a life straight out of the women’s magazines she obsessively reads. She’s got the modern-print rugs of Metropolitan Home, the elegant meals from Gourmet, and the clutter-free closets out of Real Simple. With her investment-banker husband behind the wheel and her cherubic eighteen-month-old in the backseat, hers could be the family in the magazines’ Range Rover ads.

Yet somehow all of the how-to magazine stories in the world can’t seem to fix her faltering marriage or stop her from asking "What if?" Then one morning Jillian wakes up seven years in the past. She’s back in her Manhattan apartment. She’s back in her fast-paced job. And she’s still with Jackson, the ex-boyfriend, and star of her what-if fantasies.

Armed with twenty-twenty hindsight, she’s free to choose all over again. She can reconnect to the mother who abandoned her, she can use ad campaigns from her future to wow her clients, and she can fix the fights that doomed her relationship with Jackson.

Or can she? -- Three Rivers Press

Can I just tell you how much I love Allison Winn Scotch? I enjoyed THE ONE THAT I WANT (my review) so much that I had to pretty much drop everything and read TIME OF MY LIFE. Forget about my prior commitments, I just wanted to read a book because I wanted to read it! And I'm so glad I did because I think I enjoyed TIME OF MY LIFE even more that THE ONE THAT I WANT!

TIME OF MY LIFE is the story of Jill, a young mother who on the outside has it all -- a beautiful daughter and a successful husband. However, Jill begins to question her life and especially her marriage; and she even starts to wonder "what if?" Well there is definitely some truth to the saying, "Be careful what you wish for" because Jill finds herself thrown back in time. A time when she was living in New York City with her ex-boyfriend and working as at an advertising agency. A time when there was no husband and no baby. Jill was suddenly given the opportunity to make all new choices in her life, and she now had the added gift of hindsight.

I thought the premise of this novel was just terrific! I loved the idea of a woman who seemingly has it all, yet finds that she isn't totally happy. When Jill is thrown back in time, she has the opportunity to learn a great deal about the people in her life as well as her choices. Who hasn't yearned for that chance to hit a re-do button at some point in our lives -- am I right? What I was really looking forward to was seeing how Jill operated given this "second chance."

As was the case in THE ONE THAT I WANT, there was a little bit of magic in this novel -- Jill kind of traveled back in time seven years after having a really intense massage. Yet I felt that the supernatural elements were done extremely well, and I thought they were a very effective way to have Jill assess her life -- both her past and her present one.

I love it when a book really resonates with me, and there were huge parts of this book where I found myself nodding and in total agreement. I didn't find that I related so much to Jill's issues with her husband; however, I totally understood her feelings as a mother. In fact, I had quite a few things in common with the main character. Like Jill, I quit my job and moved away from the city (except I ended up moving to the very rural Central Pennsylvania instead of outside New York City.) And like Jill, I just knew that I would be the perfect mother with the perfect child. (Oh how I can laugh at this one now!) I read magazine after magazine, spent countless hours decorating my home, and even planned my daughter's birthday parties months in advance. I have to admit some of Jill's character traits did resemble my own. By what really struck a chord with me were some of Jill's feelings about becoming a little lost around the same time she became a mother.

I don't want to go so far as to say that TIME OF MY LIFE was predictable because I don't think it was. But what I will say is that I really wanted the novel to end like it did, and I desperately wanted Jill to see the writing on the wall! While Jill had to take some pretty drastic measure to realize what's important in her life, ultimately she did come to terms with many of her life's decisions. And I absolutely loved the overall message about looking inside yourself to "fix" things. I have to say that I will never get tired of books that remind me that I need to keep a good perspective on what I do have!

Needless to say I would love to discuss TIME OF MY LIFE with some friends. This is no doubt that this novel will have staying power in my mind, and I know many other women will feel exactly the same way. I have a pretty strong suspicion that many of my closest friends will also relate to Jill, and I think it would be a very fun time to discuss some of our life choices with each other (especially if we pop open a bottle of wine or two...) There is a reading guide available which will definitely help to keep your conversation focused. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include mother/daughter relationships, female friendships, motherhood, perfectionism, marriage, doubts, insecurities, and self-discovery.

If you haven't read Allison Winn Scotch's books yet, then you are really missing out. TIME OF MY LIFE is just a wonderful book that really made me look at my life differently and remind me of how very lucky I am!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Giveaway: 2010 EW Summer Book -- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Surprise!!! I have a brand-new copy of THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender to share with one lucky participant in the 2010 EW Summer Books Reading Challenge. I recently read and reviewed this beautiful novel, and it's on almost every summer book/reading list that I've seen!

Summary: On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose. The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. -- Doubleday

To qualify, you must be signed-up for the 2010 EW Summer Books Reading Challenge. You will receive an entry for just being signed up plus an extra two entries for every review that you have written -- so make sure your review links are here. If you aren't signed up for the challenge, it isn't too late! I will be randomly selecting the winner on July 1st! This contest is open to those of you in the United States and Canada only. Good luck!

Review: Guest House

Summary: Driving home from work on a summer afternoon, Melba Burns witnesses a nightmare collision. The wreck ends her pursuit of success at any cost—Melba parks her car, quits her job and stops driving. She retreats into her beloved old farmhouse, yearning for a simpler peace.

But peace and Melba’s new roommate, JoLee Garry, have never met. A shallow, self-absorbed stunner, JoLee magnetizes messes and trouble. She brings boyfriends, booze and a tag-along son with her—a series of unexpected guests who transform Melba’s solo life into something different, daring and richer.

This fast-paced, contemporary novel moves between Portland, Oregon and Atomic City, Idaho, the absolute center of nowhere.
Guest House explores the grace that comes from daring to intervene in a stranger’s suffering. It will appeal to those who have forgotten the power that comes from living simply, and to anyone in their middle years whose life has been hijacked by love.

Despite my effort not to judge a book by its cover, I have to admit that I fell in love with the cover for GUEST HOUSE by Barbara K. Richardson. It's probably what first made me want to read this book. But then I read the description of this novel and thought it sounded like a good fit for me. I usually enjoy books about women who undergo major life changing events.

However, I'm not entirely sure that GUEST HOUSE lived up to my expectations. I won't go so far as to say that I didn't like this novel, but it definitely didn't resonate with me like I had hoped. (I have to be upfront and say that it might just be me right now. I have read some outstanding books in the past few weeks, and it now seems like the few I've recently read aren't doing it for me.) I enjoyed parts of this book and I did feel more towards the characters by the end. I just think it took me awhile to really "get into" this story. However, based on the reviews that I've read, I am definitely in the minority on this one.

This book was little bit strange for me in that I found myself conflicted over the author's writing style. It did take me a little longer than I would have liked to appreciate her writing, but then I would stop and reflect on a passage that I thought was really well done. By the end of the novel, I'd come to appreciate her prose, but I do wish that my reaction would have been more consistent.

While there were a few characters that I didn't care for (and one that I couldn't stand), I did find that most of the characters in this novel were nothing if not interesting. I did really come to like Melba though. After being a witness to a horrific accident, Melba reevaluates her life and makes some pretty drastic changes. I enjoyed seeing how Melba evolved throughout the novel, and I liked how the author used her character to convey a a feeling of comfort and hope. I also really appreciated the character of Matt. Matt was a young boy who at times was forced to be much older than he was because of the lack of parental guidance. As a mother to a child who is close to Matt's age, my heart just broke over and over again for him.

In fact, this novel did evoke some pretty strong feelings in me -- mainly because I couldn't stand to see a child neglected so much. And, I did find big parts of this book to be extremely depressing. Even Matt's parents had very valid and very unfortunate reasons for their actions that caused me to pause and feel a teeny bit of compassion. While they were indeed flawed, the characters were trying to do the best they could given their circumstances.

Ultimately, I did appreciate the messages that the author hoped to convey in this novel. I enjoyed seeing Melba and Matt's relationship develop as well as Melba's sacrifices for Matt; and I liked that they both realized that how important they were to each other. I also enjoyed that this book makes the reader look at the question -- what constitutes a real family? And despite the despair that I felt at times while reading this book, I have to say that I was very grateful that the story ended with an upbeat note of hope.

If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Richardson, there is a very interesting interview with her here -- you can either listen to the 20 minute conversation or read a few of the highlights. In addition, Good Morning America recently posted an essay written by Ms. Richardson about her novel and spirituality in general. I found both to be insightful, and I especially enjoyed learning the story background on the gorgeous cover.

Thanks to The Book Report Network for sending me a copy of this novel.

Wondrous Words Wednesday - June 23, 2010

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.


gouaches - Instead, anxious to please this woman she'd never met before and would never see again, she gave up the crystalline gouaches on the living room wall. (p. 72)

gouaches: a technique of painting with opaque watercolors prepared with gum.

by Julie Orringer

tatterdemalion - It didn't cheer him to think he was preserving its memory in cardboard; his model was a flimsy homage to a tatterdemalion relic. (p. 82)

ragged; unkempt or dilapidated.

oubliette - He turned away and moved on to the next model, and Andras fell into an oubliette of humiliation and misery. (p. 98)

a secret dungeon with an opening only in the ceiling, as in certain old castles.

What new words did you discover this week?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: A Fierce Radiance

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of City of Light comes a compelling, richly detailed tale of passion and intrigue set in New York City during the tumultuous early days of World War II.

Claire Shipley is a single mother haunted by the death of her young daughter and by her divorce years ago. She is also an ambitious photojournalist, and in the anxious days after Pearl Harbor, the talented Life magazine reporter finds herself on top of one of the nation's most important stories. In the bustling labs of New York City's renowned Rockefeller Institute, some of the country's brightest doctors and researchers are racing to find a cure that will save the lives of thousands of wounded American soldiers and countless others—a miraculous new drug they call penicillin. Little does Claire suspect how much the story will change her own life when the work leads to an intriguing romance.

Though Claire has always managed to keep herself separate from the subjects she covers, this story touches her deeply, stirring memories of her daughter's sudden illness and death—a loss that might have been prevented by this new "miracle drug." And there is James Stanton, the shy and brilliant physician who coordinates the institute's top secret research for the military. Drawn to this dedicated, attractive man and his work, Claire unexpectedly finds herself falling in love. But Claire isn't the only one interested in the secret development of this medicine. Her long-estranged father, Edward Rutherford, a self-made millionaire, understands just how profitable a new drug like penicillin could be. When a researcher at the institute dies under suspicious circumstances, the stakes become starkly clear: a murder has been committed to obtain these lucrative new drugs. With lives and a new love hanging in the balance, Claire will put herself at the center of danger to find a killer—no matter what price she may have to pay.

Lauren Belfer dazzled readers with her debut novel,
City of Light, a New York Times notable book of the year. In this highly anticipated follow-up, she deftly captures the uncertainty and spirit, the dreams and hopes, of a nation at war. A sweeping tale of love and betrayal, intrigue and idealism, A Fierce Radiance is an ambitious and deeply engaging novel from an author of immense talent. -- Harper

Have you ever read a book and loved it so much that you wanted to share it with everyone? Well, that's how I feel about A FIERCE RADIANCE by Lauren Belfer! I'm not even sure that I can articulate how much I appreciated this book. Maybe I should just wrap up my review with two words, "READ IT!" I just loved this book and thought it was so good!

I do have to say that I love historical fiction books -- it's definitely one of my favorite genres. And I'm beginning to think that I love ones that take place around World War II. (Maybe because it was such a huge time of change for the world?) What I enjoyed so much about A FIERCE RADIANCE is that while it was a book about the United States and its role in World War II, it wasn't your "typical" WWII book. A FIERCE RADIANCE actually covered events that aren't well known and definitely not in any of my history books. I guess I knew in the back of my mind how important the discovery of penicillin was, but I also know that I take the availability of antibiotics for granted (which I will never do again!) In addition, I had no idea how the production of penicillin was related to the war and how long and complicated the path to mass production was.

Besides all of the fascinating historical information in this book, I also loved the more "human" side of this book. In so many ways, A FIERCE RADIANCE was a love story, and by that I don't just mean a romance. It definitely had some romantic elements which I loved, but it was also a love story between family members -- a mother and child, a brother and sister, a father and daughter, and a grandfather and grandson, etc. This book showed the heartache and loss that many families experienced because of the war and illnesses; however, it also showed the strength and resilience of these same people. As I read this book, it became so very real to me how many families lost loved ones prior to the discovery of antibiotics -- and for what we now consider minor things like scrapes and cuts.

I also really loved how this book demonstrated so many of the social changes that were occurring in the 194os. This book definitely delved into many of the ethical dilemmas about war, medical research, and the economics of big business. In addition, the author did a wonderful job of making these dilemmas even more complex because she inserted some personal issues into them well. This novel really made me think not only about what is right for the individual versus what is right for society, but she also made me ponder to what extent I would go to save a loved one's life.

Another fantastic thing about this novel were the characters. Occasionally when I read a historical fiction book, I don't find that the characters are as well developed as I had hoped. That certainly wasn't the case with A FIERCE RADIANCE. Ms. Belfer created some memorable characters (namely Claire) who really resonated with me. In addition, she created many supporting characters who were also very well developed and extremely complex. I loved how even the most flawed characters were multi-dimensional; and like many of the issues in the rest of the book, their actions weren't always clear cut.

I really have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Lauren Belfer for writing this novel. Granted, the idea behind the book is fascinating to me (the beginning of penicillin production), but she really managed to bring the story to life. Her descriptions of New York City, World War II and even the research laboratories were terrific; but she also managed to create a story with some mystery, intrigue and romance. I also think she managed to capture the essence of this time period perfectly. It was evident to me that she did an amazing amount of research to write about World War II and the origins of penicillin because the book was just chock full of historical references (check out these surprising facts.) This book really had it all -- at times it read like a history book, at times a science book, at times a romance book, and at times a thriller. A FIERCE RADIANCE really encompassed everything I could hope for in a novel!

A FIERCE RADIANCE was the first book that I've read by Ms. Belfer, but it won't be the last. I was very excited to discover that she has another novel called CITY OF LIGHTS which tells the story of Niagara Falls in the early 1900s. This novel also has been given rave reviews, and I absolutely can't wait to get my hands on it. If CITY OF LIGHTS is even half as good as A FIERCE RADIANCE, I just know I'll love it!

I seriously think A FIERCE RADIANCE would make an excellent book club pick. My only hesitation in recommending it is its length -- it's over 500 pages. However, I promise that the book didn't read like a huge chunkster. I think because the book is so well written and so interesting that it seemed a much quicker read. There is an excellent reading guide available which delves into some of the very same things I thought about while reading this novel. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include the importance of medicine, the role of women through modern times, the effects of war on society, the economics of war and pharmaceuticals, and especially medical ethics. This book definitely touched on a great deal of very important ethical issues which would certainly make for a fascinating discussion.

Needless to say, I highly recommend A FIERCE RADIANCE! This is definitely going to be one of my very top books of the year -- maybe even my favorite; and I think readers who enjoy historical fiction are going to agree! I know many of you picked up this novel at BEA and I'd love to hear what you think about it.

Thanks to Kelley & Hall Book Publicity for sending me a review copy of this novel.