Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guest Review: The Greater Journey

 Summary: The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work.

After risking the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, these Americans embarked on a greater journey in the City of Light. Most had never left home, never experienced a different culture. None had any guarantee of success. That they achieved so much for themselves and their country profoundly altered American history. As David McCullough writes, "Not all pioneers went west." Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, who enrolled at the Sorbonne because of a burning desire to know more about everything. There he saw black students with the same ambition he had, and when he returned home, he would become the most powerful, unyielding voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate, almost at the cost of his life.

Two staunch friends, James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse, worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Cooper writing and Morse painting what would be his masterpiece. From something he saw in France, Morse would also bring home his momentous idea for the telegraph.

Pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk from New Orleans launched his spectacular career performing in Paris at age 15. George P. A. Healy, who had almost no money and little education, took the gamble of a lifetime and with no prospects whatsoever in Paris became one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the day. His subjects included Abraham Lincoln.

Medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote home of his toil and the exhilaration in "being at the center of things" in what was then the medical capital of the world. From all they learned in Paris, Holmes and his fellow "medicals" were to exert lasting influence on the profession of medicine in the United States.

Writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Henry James were all "discovering" Paris, marveling at the treasures in the Louvre, or out with the Sunday throngs strolling the city's boulevards and gardens. "At last I have come into a dreamland," wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe, seeking escape from the notoriety Uncle Tom's Cabin had brought her. Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris and even more atrocious nightmare of the Commune. His vivid account in his diary of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris (drawn on here for the first time) is one readers will never forget. The genius of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the son of an immigrant shoemaker, and of painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, three of the greatest American artists ever, would flourish in Paris, inspired by the examples of brilliant French masters, and by Paris itself.

Nearly all of these Americans, whatever their troubles learning French, their spells of homesickness, and their suffering in the raw cold winters by the Seine, spent many of the happiest days and nights of their lives in Paris. McCullough tells this sweeping, fascinating story with power and intimacy, bringing us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens's phrase, longed "to soar into the blue." The Greater Journey is itself a masterpiece. -- Simon and Schuster

THE GREATER JOURNEY: AMERICANS IN PARIS by David McCullough is exactly the type of book that my dad, Booking Pap Pap, loves to read. He is a huge fan of Mr. McCullough's and he has been waiting for his latest book for quite some time. Here are his thoughts:

When my daughter asked me to review THE GREATER JOURNEY: AMERICANS IN PARIS by David McCullough I was pretty excited since McCullough’s THE JOHNSTOWN FLOOD, TRUMAN and JOHN ADAMS are three of my favorite books. To me, THE GREATER JOURNEY did not rise up to the level of these three novels, but was still an excellent book.

The novel covers the period from 1930 until the turn of the century when many Americans in art, education, literature, music, medicine and science traveled to Paris seeking experiences and inspiration not available in the United States. As a perspective, during this period the United States was dealing with the Indian Wars and later the Civil War.

McCullough pieces together a collection of stories and characters that brings Paris to life during this 70 year period. The author shares with the reader stories about many Americans who came to Paris but the main character of the story is the city of Paris. McCullough tells of the beauty of Paris in the spring and how Paris was transformed politically, economically and socially during that 70 year period. The reader gets to learn of the difficulty of the survival of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and the destruction of the Paris Commune which politically controlled Paris for a brief period in 1871. The reader is entertained with the stories of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty and gets a feel of the importance of Paris as a world city.

The first American travelers to Paris were young ambitious men but in time many women followed. McCullough tells great stories about Mary Cassatt, a great impressionist painter; Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American female doctor; Margaret Fuller, a feminist and the first American professional writer to visit Paris; Emma Willard, a schoolmaster; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, trying to escape from her fame in the United States. Some of the more interesting stories of men in the book include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. who brought to the U.S. techniques from Paris that revolutionized medicine; Samuel Morse, a painter turned inventor; August Saint-GaudensWashburne, U.S. Ambassador to France whose diary provided significant details about the suffering in Paris during the Prussian siege. There were also interesting accounts of visits to Paris by Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb, and Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.

Although the book is about Americans in Paris, McCullough includes famous French characters like Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution; King Louis-Philippe, who traveled the United States extensively during his exile and Prince Louis Bonaparte, ruler of the Second Republic.

In THE GREATER JOURNEY McCullough does a brilliant job of piecing together various unconnected stories of famous Americans in Paris by placing the characters within the history of Paris. Through his detailed research and entertaining writing style McCullough helps the reader understand the influence of Paris science, medicine, music, literature, education and art on the United States.

If you are interested in understanding the influence Paris had on America and in learning about the struggles and achievements of several Americans who traveled to Paris in the nineteenth century to fulfill their dreams, then you should read THE GREATER JOURNEY.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of THE GREATER JOURNEY and for Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Things We Didn't Say

Summary: What goes unsaid can sometimes speak the loudest . . . 

What makes up a family? For Casey it's sharing a house with her fiancĂ©, Michael, and his three children, whom she intends to nurture more than she ever took care of herself. But Casey's plans have come undone. Michael's silences have grown unfathomable and deep. His daughter Angel seethes as only a teenage girl can, while the wide-eyed youngest, Jewel, quietly takes it all in. 

Then Michael's son, Dylan, runs off, and the kids' mother, a woman never afraid to say what she thinks, noisily barges into the home. That's when Casey decides that the silences can no longer continue. She must begin speaking the words no one else can say. She'll have to dig up secrets—including her own—uncovering the hurts, and begin the healing that is long overdue. And it all starts with just a few tentative words. . . .-- Wm Morrow

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY by Kristina Riggle for some time now. I have been a pretty big fan of Ms. Riggle's ever since she was a member of The Debutante Ball, and I've enjoyed both of her prior novels REAL LIFE & LIARS (my review) and THE LIFE YOU'VE IMAGINED (my review.) So I guess I had some high expectations for this novel.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the novel didn't live up to my expectations, but I don't think it resonated with me quite a much as her prior two books did. I still thought the novel was well written and there were definitely signs of the interesting characters that I've come to know and love from Ms. Riggle, but I just didn't feel an affinity to any of the characters (with the exception of the children.) I have said over and over again that it shouldn't matter whether I like the characters or not to appreciate a book, but I have to be honest when I say that it does help.

I do think one of the strengths of Ms. Riggle's writing is her character development, and once again, I thought she did a great job of creating some very complex characters. I think she tackled some very relevant issues in today's society about blended families; and in THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY, she definitely created a very dysfunctional, yet also somewhat entertaining, family. While I felt that some of the relationship dynamics were a little extreme, I have no doubt that some readers will be able to relate to the characters, their reactions and their emotions.

There were a few things that I did really appreciate about THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY. First of all, I thought the story was intriguing and kept my interest. It was a quick read for me and the story was fast-paced. Their was enough tension and drama between the characters to entertain me; and I did find myself laughing at the ex-wife more than a few times (of course, that's before I wanted to wring her neck for causing her family so much pain.) In addition, I enjoyed how Ms. Riggle decided to tell this family's story -- she wrote the various chapters in multiple characters' voices. I think Ms. Riggle certainly has a talent in bringing each of the characters to life and I thought she did a wonderful job of making each voice individual and distinct. I also liked seeing the "crisis" situation through the different characters' eyes.

But what I found the be the best part of this novel were the messages that it contained. I thought Ms. Riggle demonstrated many of the difficulties that blended families face from difficult children, to crazy exes, to young step moms, etc. THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY also tackled some other very real issues including parent/child relationships, love, self acceptance, forgiveness, and addiction. I also liked that most of the characters actually changed throughout the course of this novel and eventually became more aware of themselves as well as their role in the family.

And that brings me to my next point. THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY would make a great book club pick. As I mentioned in the prior paragraph, there are so many discussion worthy topics. In addition, there is a great reading guide which touches on these topics as well as mental health issues, baggage from the past, and unrealistic expectations. You can also discuss the meaning of the novel's title -- I think it's a great one!

If you enjoy well written stories about dysfunctional families, then you should definitely check out THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY.

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Giveaway: The One That I Want

Summary: Tilly Farmer is thirty-two years old and has the perfect life she always dreamed of: married to her high school sweetheart, working as a guidance counselor in her hometown, trying for a baby. Perfect. 

In fact, on the surface you might never know how tough things used to be. At seventeen, Tilly lost her mother to cancer, her father drowned his grief in alcohol, and she played parent to her two younger sisters more often than being a kid herself. Still Tilly never let tragedy overtake her belief that hard work and good cheer could solve any problem. Of course she’s also spent a lifetime plastering a smile on her face and putting everyone else’s problems ahead of her own.

But that relentless happiness has served her well—her sisters are grown and content, her dad is ten years sober, and she’s helping her students achieve all their dreams while she and her husband, Tyler, start a family. A perfect life indeed.

Then one sweltering afternoon at the local fair, everything changes. Tilly wanders into the fortune teller’s tent and is greeted by an old childhood friend, now a psychic, who offers her more than just a reading. “I’m giving you the gift of clarity,” her friend says. “It’s what I always thought you needed.” And soon enough, Tilly starts seeing things: her father relapsing, staggering out of a bar with his car keys in hand; Tyler uprooting their happy, stable life, a packed U-Haul in their driveway; and even more disturbing, these visions start coming true. Suddenly Tilly’s perfect life, so meticulously mapped out, seems to be crumbling around her. And she’s not sure what’s more frightening: that she’s begun to see the future or what the future holds . . . 

As Tilly furiously races to keep up with—and hopefully change—her destiny, she faces the question: Which is the life she wants? The one she’s carefully nursed for decades, or the one she never considered possible? -- Broadway

If you have followed my blog much over the past few years, then you know I just adore Allison Winn Scotch. I have not only read and reviewed all of her books, but I've also been lucky enough to have her write a great guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature. And I've even had the opportunity to interview her at SheKnows. Needless to say, I'm a big fan!

I am excited to share that THE ONE THAT I WANT is being released in paperback today! I loved this book as you can clearly see in my review from last year. Ms. Scotch is a fantastic writer and creates some very memorable characters, but I most appreciated how she explored so many real issues about today's women.

If you would like the chance to win your very own copy of THE ONE THAT I WANT, please fill out the form below before July 11th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Review: Discovery Girls Magazine & Giveaway

Recently, Booking Daughter and I discovered the most wonderful magazine which is geared towards pre-teen girls called DISCOVERY GIRLS. When the April/May issues and the Survival Guide arrived in our mailbox, Booking Daughter immediately gobbled them up... and then she asked for more. She wasn't even sure she could wait another two months for the next issues. I have to admit that I had a similar reaction. This magazine is fantastic and exactly the type of thing that I want my daughter to read.

Here's a little bit about DISCOVERY GIRLS straight from their website:

Discovery Girls is a destination where tween girls can express themselves, share ideas, connect with other girls and discover helpful tips for handling life’s ups and downs.
Discovery Girls articles and features are written by girls, for girls--which means our content touches on topics that really matter to tweens. Our goal is to help girls grow and develop, forming a positive sense of self through solutions that build confidence, resilience and independence.

  • Created by girls, for girls ages 8-12
  • Features real girls, dealing with real-life situations
  • Provides a community where girls can interact, share ideas, and realize they’re not alone
  • Includes fun, age-appropriate articles, quizzes and tools to help girls thrive
  • Empowers girls to celebrate who they are and strive to realize their potential
I actually received two different copies of the April/May 2011 edition. One of the regular magazine which is geared towards eight and up. The other one looks almost exactly the same, but it is called the Middle-School Edition and is geared towards eleven year olds and up. Both magazine had almost exactly the same content, but the Middle-School Edition included a few articles that were for a more mature audience.

Just to give you an idea about some of the content in these magazines, I thought I'd share with you some of the article titles. There are advice columns like Ask Ali, I Wish I'd Known..., and Your Body. In addition, there are some fun sections about Embarrassing Moments and Worst Day; and there are even lots of quizzes that girls can take. There are also sections on crafts and book reviews -- two of my favorites!

In the April/May issue, there was a section on different hair styles for different types of hair. Booking Daughter immediately started trying out the various hairstyles for each day of the week. All of the ideas were simple and very cute (except for the French braid) and she looked adorable!

As a mother, I truly can't rave enough about this magazine. It focuses on those things that I feel are important to my daughter at this difficult age. It covers everything I can think of that matters to a tween girl from body changes, to friendship problems, to school issues, to fashion. And it also offers sound advice for dealing with many of those tween problems that occur on a regular basis including embarrassing and sticky situations.

I also love that the "models" in the magazine are real girls -- ones that my daughter can relate to. They look like her, have similar interests to her, etc. In a nutshell, DISCOVERY GIRLS focuses on real issues for real tweens. And... this is the big one... it encourages positive self-esteem -- a concept that can never be said too many times to pre-teen girls.

In addition to reading both editions of the magazines, I had the chance to check-out the all-new Collector's Edition Survival Guide. This special "Best of" edition includes loads of advice for girls... and from girls. It also includes the "best" quizzes, embarrassing moments, sticky situations, etc. from the past ten years.

I also had the opportunity to check out one of the Fab Girls books called FAB GIRLS GUIDE TO FRIENDSHIP HARDSHIP. This cute little book offers all sorts of advice on friendship for girls eight and older. It discusses many of the very, very relevant topics such as Mean Girls and Frenemies, To Clique or Not to Clique, and Stop Playing the Popularity Game. I also appreciated that it covered the important themes of how to get all the good friends that you want and how to be the best friend you can be. Like the DISCOVERY GIRL magazine, there are sections with advice as well as many quizzes; and I thought the entire format of the book was very easy to read and follow.

Besides the magazine, books and special editions, there is also a fun website devoted to DISCOVERY GIRLS. I have a feeling that Booking Daughter will be spending a lot of time on this site over the summer. The content on the website is very similar to the magazine -- you can find many of the same features. But you can also enter contests, get free downloads, and play games. There is even a DG blog!

If you have a tween girl in your life, then I highly recommend getting them a subscription to DISCOVERY GIRLS magazine. It is just an amazing publication that focuses on the positive aspects of today's young girls. Plus it loads of fun. I have been telling every mom I know that they have to get this magazine for their daughters and friends! It's that good!!!

To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of DISCOVERY GIRLS, I have a huge Discovery Girls Prize Pack to share with one lucky reader courtesy of DISCOVERY GIRLS magazine. You could win the following:

1 Year Subscription to the magazine - 6 issues ($20 value)

1 Copy of the Collector's Edition Survival Guide with 2 free gifts ($10 value)

To enter, just fill out the form below before July11th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This giveaway is open to those of you in the U.S. and Canada only. Good luck!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cool Down with AC -- Endless Night

Summary: Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night . . .

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen. -- Harper

Although I did read my fair share of Agatha Christie books in my youth, I never read ENDLESS NIGHT by Agatha Christie... until now. ENDLESS NIGHT is one of Agatha Christie's favorite novels and I can certainly see why. This novel was very different from any other Agatha Christie novel that I've read, and it was soooo good!

ENDLESS NIGHT tells the story of Michael Rogers, a relatively poor young man who jumps from job to job. He falls in love with an heiress named Ellie and is absolutely thrilled when she agrees to marry him. When Michael and Ellie build their dream house at Gypsy's Acre, their life together seems to be perfect... until a strange woman begins giving dire warnings about Gypsy's Acre and suspicious accidents start occurring.

The story is told through the eyes of Michael and I was pleasantly surprised by how well Ms. Christie captured his voice (although, by now, I shouldn't be surprised with anything Ms. Christie writes!) Much of the novel is spent telling about the love story between the very wealthy Ellie and Michael as well as some of the challenges they faced in their marriage. And what I found surprising is that the murder didn't take place until very late in the book. As I read ENDLESS NIGHT, I kept wondering when the "crime" was going to occur. The book is wrapped up very neatly in the last few pages, but I will tell you that it's definitely a shocking conclusion. Needless to say, I had absolutely no clue how things would wrap up and I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped as I began to figure things out.

ENDLESS NIGHT is one of those books that you just have to read for yourself. I really can't say too much about it or I'll be sure to give away the surprise ending. Suffice it to say that this might end up being one of the Agatha Christie books I most enjoyed reading this summer. The characters were so interesting, the murder mystery was complex, and the ending just blew me away! I was extremely impressed that Ms. Christie wrote the entire novel in the voice of a young man, and I thought she did a remarkable job of capturing all of the aspects of his character.

I must say that Agatha Christie is a pure genius when it comes to writing mysteries -- as if you didn't already know that. She did a wonderful job of creating a worthy cast of potential murderers with ample opportunities as well as reasonable motives, and she definitely had this reader guessing (and second guessing) who did it and why. I especially appreciated how well she unraveled the mystery in the last few pages to gain the most shock value to her audience.

As I was doing a bit of research about ENDLESS NIGHT, I discovered that it was made into a movie in 1972 with Hayley Mills. I would love to watch this movie and see how they story was portrayed on the big screen. Supposedly, Ms. Christie wasn't very happy that they incorporated some sex scenes into the movie version; and I can't say that I would blame her. Has anyone seen the film version? And if so, what did you think?

This week's Cool Down with Agatha Christie readalong will take place at Devourer of Books. Make sure you stop by to see what everyone else is saying about ENDLESS NIGHT.

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

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" 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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: The Kitchen Daughter

Summary: After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna's soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning ("do no let her…") before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn't Ginny's only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka "Demanda") insists on selling their parents' house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents' belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn't sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn't know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father's photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there's only one way to get answers: cook from dead people's recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them. -- Gallery

I have read some fantastic reviews for THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER by Jael McHenry all over the blogosphere and even from a few of my good friends, but for some reason, I was a little late in picking this one up. And boy do I regret it. THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER was a marvelous book and I'm pretty certain that it will be one of my favorite novels of 2011. It was that good!

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER encompasses just about everything I love about today's women's fiction. It had well developed and complex characters, an intriguing storyline, gorgeous writing, and many thought-provoking themes. In addition, it had lots of recipes and a wonderful message about the power of food. Honestly, I don't think I can ask much more from a book.

In summary, THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER tells the story of Ginny, a woman in her mid-twenties who has unexpectedly lost both of her parents. To further complicate matters, Ginny has never lived on her own because she is awkward in social situations and most likely suffers from Asperger's. It's bad enough that Ginny is dealing with being alone without the support of her parents, but she is also battling her sister who wants to sell the house and have Ginny move in with her family. When Ginny begins discovering things about her parents' relationship, she ends up having even more questions about her past. It's through her love of cooking that she is finally able to get some answers.

I can't put my finger on the one thing that made this book so special to me -- it was the entire package. I just adored so many things about this novel. Ginny touched my heart like few characters do, and I absolutely fell in love with Ms. McHenry's writing. Her prose was just so special and I loved how she wove the theme of food throughout this story. The story is told from Ginny's point of view and there is no doubt that she captured this woman's voice perfectly. I especially appreciated how Ginny saw her world in terms of food. For example, she would describe paint colors, articles of clothing, etc. using different types of food as her reference point. And Ms. McHenry's actual descriptions of food were so vivid that I could almost smell and taste the recipes.

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER was a wonderful story about how a woman dealt with loss, and at the same time, learned about her family and herself. So much of this book was just beautiful and it definitely affected me a great deal. I admit that I was a bit surprised that I liked the parts of the story where the "ghosts" appeared. Normally, I don't appreciate novels that contain elements of magical realism; however, it was such a beautiful, and crucial, part of Ginny's story -- and it worked so very well.

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER would make the perfect book club book, and I'm guessing that it will be a favorite with book clubs for quite some time. There are so many themes that warrant further discussion including grief/loss, Asperger's syndrome/autism, family dynamics, parent/child relationships, sister relationships, self awareness, secrets, food, and forgiveness. In addition, there is the whole "spirit" element that might be fun to discuss. Check out this reading guide for even more ideas. Since the novel has numerous recipes at the beginning of many of the chapters, it might be fun to prepare a few of them and share with your friends. Some examples of recipes that I think would be perfect to serve at your book club meeting include Midnight Cry Brownies or The Georgia Peach, a delicious sounding cocktail. And Ms. McHenry even has book club menu ideas coming soon to her blog -- how great is that?

Every so often a book comes along that just makes me realize why I love reading so much. THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER is one of those books.

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

The Georgia Peach

2 ounces peach schnapps
2 ounces orange juice
1 ounce amaretto
Grenadine (splash)

Combine schnapps, juice, and amaretto. Pour over a single ice cube in a martini glass. Splash in grenadine. Serves one as written. You might want to multiply.
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 25, 2011

Kid Konnection: Forgotten & Giveaway

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 new Young Adult book with a very interesting premise...

Summary: Each night at precisely 4:33 am, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can "remember" are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated when a new boy at school enters the picture. Luke Henry is not someone you'd easily forget, yet try as she might, London can't find him in her memories of things to come.

When London starts experiencing disturbing flashbacks, or flash-
forwards, as the case may be, she realizes it's time to learn about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future. -- Little Brown

I'm usually more interested in reality-based books, but the idea behind the new Young Adult novel FORGOTTEN by Cat Patrick most definitely captured my attention. In fact, I thought the premise behind this book was amazing. London, a fairly typical high school student by all accounts, is leading a secret life. She wakes up each morning with no memory of her past -- kind of like an ongoing case of amnesia. That in itself is a pretty interesting concept, but what makes FORGOTTEN's premise even more incredible is that London can "remember" what's going to happen to her in the future! Crazy, right?

So.... London had to constantly keep a notebook of what occurred each day because she obviously wasn't able to remember what happened the day before. With the help of her notebook and her future memories, she almost lead a normal life -- well at least to outsiders. Only her mother and her best friend really knew what was going on. I can't imagine the pressure of trying to keep everything straight!

(As an aside: I admit that it took me a few chapters to truly understand how London's mind worked and I found myself re-reading a few parts just to keep things straight. It is a very unusual concept. I definitely don't think it as a fault of Ms. Patrick's though. I just had a hard time picturing how she managed her life.)

I enjoyed FORGOTTEN, but I'm not sure that I loved the entire book as much as I loved the concept of the story. What I did really like about FORGOTTEN, though, was the character of London and I thought the author did a wonderful job of developing her character. In fact, I think teen girls will find that she is a realistic character; and despite her "condition," they might even find themselves relating to her. She had many of the typical issues that young teens have today like problems with friends, school and guys. But then she had that whole memory loss/gain problem on top of that. As if being a teen isn't hard enough today?

FORGOTTEN was a very unusual (and even uncomfortable) read for me, although I mean that in a good way. I don't know if it's because I am a mom, but my heart just broke for London -- over and over again. She was in such an awful position, not only because she couldn't remember the past but also because she knew what was coming in the future. When London started receiving some weird and disconcerting "memories," she began discovering things about her past (and future) that were very unsettling. In addition, she wonders if she has the power to affect future events as well as the pressure that goes along with that.

FORGOTTEN would make a wonderful discussion book, especially for mother/daughter book clubs. The book is definitely a page turner and I do believe that tweens and teens will love it. In addition to having a great story and a great main character, there are some interesting themes to discuss -- namely what would it be like knowing your future (and not your past.) Some of the other topics that I'd like to further explore include mother/daughter relationships, family dynamics, honesty, memory, obligations, friendship, peer pressure, trust, and secrets.

FORGOTTEN has one of the most unique premises that I've encountered in my reading in recent memory. It's also a well written story with some wonderful characters. I recommend it to fans of Young Adult fiction including teens and their moms.

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of FORGOTTEN to share with two lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. Contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses. Good luck!

Thanks to Big Honcho media for providing a copy of this novel.

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 24, 2011

Review: Life's a Beach

Summary: The Law of Attraction and Karma hit the beach in Malena Lott's humorous first novella about two unlikely friends and their chance - or is it fated? - vacation in Mexico. Avery Stone, a shy, twenty-five year old receptionist believes her vision board is finally manifesting into the life of her dreams. Her handsome older boyfriend has taken her on a luxury beach vacation (pasted in the bottom right hand corner of her vision board) and she's hoping that huge diamond ring will come next. When an older woman, Georgia, returns the sunhat that blew off Avery's head at the airport, the women find they'll be at the same resort and share a cab and an adventure neither of them expected. Georgia, a forty-year old mother of three girls, is on her second honeymoon, trying to bring back the romance that fizzled out of her stale marriage. Georgia doesn't believe in the Law of Attraction, but she does believe in karma and that good things result from action. With her full Marital Bucket, a shared bucket list between a couple, she's determined to get her life on the right tracks again. The women's paths cross in madcap ways as they discover that what brought them together could change the course of their lives together.

From the author: I hope this literal beach read leaves you pondering your desires, how to turn your dreams into reality and that what we get may be even better than what we wished for. -- Buzz Books

If you are looking for a cute summer beach read, then look no further than the new chick-lit novella LIFE'S A BEACH by Malena Lott. LIFE'S A BEACH is a quick, fun read that you can read in one sitting; and since it takes place at a beach resort, it just screams "summer" reading. This story is pretty darn entertaining and even has a surprise ending that's guaranteed to catch more than a few readers off-guard.

Unfortunately, I didn't read LIFE'S A BEACH by the ocean (or even the pool for that matter), but I liked how much this story allowed me to escape from my everyday life. LIFE'S A BEACH tells the story of two women who meet by chance while they are away on vacation at a beautiful resort. Avery is a shy 25 year old woman who is hoping that this vacation with her boyfriend results in a marriage proposal, while Georgia is 40 year old mother of three who is hoping that this vacation will save her marriage. Both women are banking a lot on this vacation for their future, and they certainly can use a friend to help them sort out their feelings.

At it's heart, LIFE'S A BEACH is a story about love, friendship, and self-discovery. That's not to say that all things are feel-good and sweet in this novel because that's certainly not the case. However, this story is very funny and even a little sexy; and I do think fans of chick lit will enjoy the twist. I especially enjoyed the life affirming messages about the value of female relationships and the strength of women. In addition, the story did cause me to think about my hopes and dreams and even assess what's important in my life. And I don't think I can ask much more than that from a couple of hours of reading!

Contest Alert: Malena Lott is offering a fantastic giveaway -- June's Life's a Beach Getaway. If you purchase the $2.99 ebook on Amazon, you could be eligible to win this cute set worth $130:
  • insulated beach tote ($10 value)
  • Liz & Co sunglasses ($20 value)
  • striped beach towel ($7 value)
  • signed copy of Dating da Vinci by Malena Lott ($12.95)
  • Promises to Keep by Jane Green ($15 value)
  • My Fair Lazy a memoir by Jen Lancaster ($15)
  • The Storm Chasers by Jenna Blum ($15)
  • Pie Town by Lynn Hinton ($13.99)
  • Graveminder by Melissa Marr (ARC, no retail  value)
  • Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz (ARC, no retail value)
To be eligible to enter, just forward Malena your receipt of the purchase of Life’s a Beach on Amazon to:
malenalott (at) me (dot) com by June 30th. The winner will be selected randomly from all qualified entries. (Sorry, U.S. only.)

The winner will be announced via Malena's Twitter and Facebook accounts and by e-mail to the winner on June 30th.

Thanks to the author for providing me with an e-copy of her novella.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cool Down with AC - Three Act Tragedy Discussion

Summary: Sir Charles Cartwright should have known better than to allow thirteen guests to sit down for dinner. For at the end of the evening one of them is dead—choked by a cocktail that contained no trace of poison. 

Predictable, says Hercule Poirot, the great detective. But entirely unpredictable is that he can find absolutely no motive for murder... -- Harper

As part of the Cool Down with Agatha Christie that's taking place this summer, I am hosting a few readalongs of Hercule Poirot books. The first one is THREE ACT TRAGEDY by Agatha Christie. Before I jump in with the discussion, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about this novel.

THREE ACT TRAGEDY is the first Hercule Poirot book that I've read in many, many years -- probably 25 or so. I am almost positive that I didn't read this novel as a kid because I think I would have remembered the original way that Ms. Christie set up the novel. I loved how the beginning of the book looked just like a play program with the three acts and their separate scenes; and I thought the credits (i.e. Directed by Sir Charles Cartwright, Illumination by Hercule Poirot, etc.) were also a cute idea. In addition, I liked all of the references to the theater, both the authentic ones as well as the satiric ones!

As far as mysteries go, I loved THREE ACT TRAGEDY! There's definitely a reason that Agatha Christie is one of (if not the best) mystery writers to have ever lived. I loved all of the characters, especially the ones with the personality quirks, and I thought the mystery was complex and full of fantastic twists and turns. The suspects were a great cast of characters and I switched my idea of who was guilty at least four times. I also thought the motive was extremely interesting. I found that it showed some wise insight into human nature and the need for love and happiness. (But maybe I'm just reading too much into the story?)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I read about half of THREE ACT TRAGEDY before watching the PBS film version -- so I knew the outcome before I actually finished the book. This is going to sound very strange, because I can't say for sure, but I think the movie manipulated me into figuring things out more quickly than the book did. I wasn't entirely sure about the motive while watching the movie, but I definitely figured out the murderer. I'm disappointed that I didn't have time to finish the book prior to viewing the movie because I am almost positive that I wouldn't have figured out the who or why based on the book alone. Lesson learned -- always read the book first!

While I will almost always say that the book is better (and I do still stand behind this belief for THREE ACT TRAGEDY), I thought the movie did do some things a little better. One of the main characters in the book (Mr. Satterthwaite) didn't even appear in the movie. I actually was very surprised that Hercule Poirot played such a small part until the end of the novel, and I liked that he more prominent role in the movie because they merged some of Satterthwaite's scenes with Poirot's. It didn't hurt that I loved Suchet's Poirot! In addition, I loved being able to "see" so much of the beautiful scenery -- from the modern house, to the gorgeous sea, etc.

Now it's your turn:

1) I was rather surprised by the small role that Hercule Poirot played in the novel. What did you think about Poirot? Did you like that the "amateur" sleuths provided much of the investigating in the story? If you've read other Poirot novels, how does THREE ACT TRAGEDY COMPARE?

2) Did you figure out the murderer and/or the motive before Poirot revealed them to us at the end of the book? What do you think Agatha Christie was trying to say about love and happiness (if anything)?

3) What did you think about the humor and wit in this novel? Were you surprised by the amount of satire?

4) Agatha Christie was a big fan of theater -- she wrote 19 plays including The Mousetrap which has been running non-stop in London since 1952. Did you appreciate how she portrayed the theater and its fans in this novel? Did you like how the book was set up -- the three "acts", the program design in the beginning, etc? Did you notice any other interesting references to the theater in this novel?

5) Why do you think Agatha Christie books stand the test of time?

Note: There is also a fantastic discussion of the film version of THREE ACT TRAGEDY on Linus's Blanket this week. If you missed the original showing on Sunday night, you can watch the movie here. Stop by Linus's Blanket and comment for your chance to win a copy of the Hercule Poirot Series 6 set of DVDs, which will be released on July 12.

Five participants in today's discussion have the opportunity to win a "cool" Agatha Christie prize pack including a copy of my next readalong book MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and a surprise AC gift!

In addition, I will be giving away three additional copies of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS for those of you who are interesting in participating in the discussion on July 21st. Just fill out the form below before June 30th. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. You don't have to have a blog to participate in the readalong!

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Club Exchange: Karin Slaughter

I'd like to welcome author Karin Slaughter to Book Club Exchange, a feature on Booking Mama which highlights anything and everything book club-related! Yesterday, I featured the latest novel by Ms. Slaughter called FALLEN with a fantastic review from Booking Pap Pap.

Ms. Slaughter has written a very interesting guest post about her experiences with book clubs from the point of view as an author. In addition, she gives some great book recommendations... and you know how I love discovering what others are reading!

One of the weird parts about being an author is suddenly, when you talk about a book, people actually listen. I guess folks think being in the “business” of writing confers upon authors some sort of magical talent for separating the wheat from the chafe, but I have to admit I’m as clueless as the next reader. I’ve been burned by something I’ve plucked from the “top ten” shelves, and I’ve found gold buried in the bottom of a sale bin. Still, I have to be careful about what I say. Having had a few mean reviews myself, I’m reticent to say anything negative about someone else’s work. So, mostly, I keep my mouth shut or find positive things to say, like, “Well, no one else could’ve written that story!” or “My goodness. There were words on every page!”

All this being said, It’s always with great pleasure that I find a book I love—and love talking about. Fingersmith, Slammerkin, Case Histories, the Help…these were all books I trumpeted until my throat was sore. I bought copies to give to friends. I mentioned them in every interview I gave. I called friends up and told them to go out and get them NOW. There is nothing more exciting than finding a good book, which is why I have always loved book clubs.

There are lots of jokes about book clubs being an excuse for women to get together and drink (like we’ve ever needed an excuse for that!) but the ones I’ve spoken with have always felt like home to me. No one can convince me that it’s ever a bad idea to sit around talking about stories. Let’s face it, we don’t have to read in order to live, but I feel t reading makes our lives more livable. Sitting around with a group of friends and discussing your likes and dislikes about a certain story brings you closer to what being a human being is all about. I’ve always felt that readers approach a book with two questions in mind: How is this like my life? How is this not like my life? It’s through exploring those similarities and differences that we get a better understanding of ourselves.

So, let me pass on some good reads that I’ve found lately: The End of Wasp Season by Denise Mina was absolutely fabulous. Denise is a meaty writer, not afraid of taking on social issues and looking at crime from the criminal’s perspective. Another good book is Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder. I will freely admit to anyone who asks that I worship Mo Hayder. She is a writer’s writer, the sort of artist who’s not afraid to take risks. There are other authors whose books I am eagerly awaiting: Lee Child never disappoints. Lisa Gardner gets better and better with each book. Sandra Brown keeps delivering the sort of stories that make it impossible to stop turning the pages. With the economy in the toilet, buying a book represents more than a risk of wasting time. We want something that moves and engages us. We want to get to that last page and feel breathless. We want to know that we got our money’s worth. Take it from an insider: as far as these writers are concerned, we are living in prosperous times.

Karin Slaughter is the #1 internationally bestselling author of several novels, including the Grant County series. A long-time resident of Atlanta, she splits her time between the kitchen and the living room.

A huge thanks to Ms. Slaughter for writing this awesome guest post. I especially love her list of favorite authors!

Giveaway alert: I have one copy of FALLEN to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, July 5th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. Contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guest Review: Fallen

Summary: There’s no police training stronger than a cop’s instinct. Faith Mitchell’s mother isn’t answering her phone. Her front door is open. There’s a bloodstain above the knob. Her infant daughter is hidden in a shed behind the house. All that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations taught Faith Mitchell goes out the window when she charges into her mother’s house, gun drawn. She sees a man dead in the laundry room. She sees a hostage situation in the bedroom. What she doesn’t see is her mother. . . .
“You know what we’re here for. Hand it over, and we’ll let her go.”

When the hostage situation turns deadly, Faith is left with too many questions, not enough answers. To find her mother, she’ll need the help of her partner, Will Trent, and they’ll both need the help of trauma doctor Sara Linton. But Faith isn’t just a cop anymore—she’s a witness. She’s also a suspect.

The thin blue line hides police corruption, bribery, even murder. Faith will have to go up against the people she respects the most in order to find her mother and bring the truth to light—or bury it forever. 

Karin Slaughter’s most exhilarating novel yet is a thrilling journey through the heart and soul, where the personal and the criminal collide, and conflicted loyalties threaten to destroy reputations and ruin lives. It is the work of a master of the thriller at the top of her game, and a whirlwind of unrelenting suspense. -- Delacorte

I know I say this all of the time, but there really are too many books and too little time. And that's one of the reasons that I truly appreciate my dad. He's not only a great father and grandfather, but he's also a book lover. I handed over my copy of FALLEN by Karin Slaughter for him to read. As usual, he did a wonderful job with his review:

In FALLEN, author Karin Slaughter uses the interaction among her main characters to weave a good suspense thriller. Faith Mitchell is an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the daughter of retired Atlanta policewoman Evelyn Mitchell. Faith’s partner is Will Trent. Will previously investigated Evelyn Mitchell for police corruption and sent several members of her drug task force to jail. Amanda Wagner is Faith’s and Will’s supervisor. Amanda started in the Atlanta police force with Evelyn and is her best friend. Sarah Linton is a medical doctor who knows Amanda, Faith and Will from a prior case involving one of her patients.

Faith arrives at her mother’s house to pick up her baby daughter only to find a dead stranger in the laundry room, an Asian man holding a gun on a Mexican gang member in the bedroom, her baby locked in a shed and her mother missing. Minutes later police arrive to find both men killed by Faith.

The trail to solve the mystery takes the reader from Evelyn’s next door neighbor to death row in the Georgia penitentiary to a gang warehouse fronting as a cabinet factory to a hospital morgue. Sometimes the trail leads to a significant amount of violence. Questions arise as to whether this is a drug gang war or whether the gangs are working together. There is a concern that it goes back to Evelyn’s time as head of the Atlanta police drug task force.

Although the mystery itself is interesting, the strength of FALLEN is in the characters and their conflicted loyalties. The women are particularly strong characters. Amanda is very rough in her dealings with Will and seems to only tell him what he needs to know when he needs to know it. Rather than following a series of clues, most of the progress in the case is the result of bits of information provided by Amanda from her own private sources. Will is constantly kept in the dark. She seems to know more than she’s telling, always protecting her relationship with Evelyn. Faith, a single mother of two with severe diabetes has established a successful career. She secretly tackles this case independently of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Atlanta police knowing the danger it poses to her and her family. She feels that is the only way to find her mother alive. Sarah Linton, a widow of a police officer, becomes involved in the case when Will asks for medical help in dealing with Faith at the crime scene. She soon takes an aggressive role in supplying information in the case. Will’s relationship with Sarah provides an interesting story independent of the case.

Will initially comes across as a rather weak character. He is dominated by a tough female boss on the job and is dominated by an erratic wife at home. It is interesting to observe Will’s character development throughout the novel.

FALLEN is a good suspense novel with a very unpredictable conclusion. There’s a lot going on and sometimes the reader can get lost with the large number of characters introduced in the novel. Since FALLEN is the latest novel in a series by Karin Slaughter and because the author places such an important emphasis on the interaction of the characters, it might make some sense to read the prior novels first to become more familiar with them.

I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in a good, east-to-read suspense thriller.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review and thanks to AuthorsOnTheWeb for sending a review copy. Make sure you stop by tomorrow because I have a great guest post from Ms. Slaughter as well as a chance for you to win a book!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: A Parfait Murder

Summary: When Tally's cousin Bree spots her deadbeat ex-husband strolling the Lantana County Fair with a fat wallet and a vixen on his arm, she immediately files for back child support. But when his lawyer is found dead, things get a little sticky. Did Bree serve up a dish of cold, sweet revenge? Or is she another hapless victim of a parfait crime? -- Signet

I sure am having such a fun time reading all of these mysteries for Mystery Mondays. The latest book that I enjoyed is called A PARFAIT MURDER by Wendy Lyn Watson. A PARFAIT MURDER is a murder mystery set in a small town in Texas. Tally is a local ice cream shop owner who also moonlights as a crime buster. When Tally's best friend and cousin Bree is accused of murder, she steps in to find the real culprit, and in the process, learns a thing or two about the people who mean the most to her.

It might be shallow to judge a book by the cover, but isn't this cover positively adorable? And in the case of A PARFAIT MURDER, I think it's just perfect. This cozy has an interesting cast of characters, a twisted murder case, a good old fashioned love story, and even a few ice cream recipes. For fans of cozies, it doesn't get much better than that!

I read A PARFAIT MURDER in one sitting. It's a cute story and a very quick read, and it definitely entertained me for a few hours. I really liked Tally and her spunky cousin Bree who was good for quite a few chuckles. In addition, I really liked Tally's leading man Finn; and I found their romance to be kind of cute. And for the "bad guys"... there were pretty typical for these types of books but I enjoyed them too.

As far as the mystery goes, I thought it was a pretty good one. While I did have a feeling about the identity of the culprit, I had no idea about the motive. I appreciated that there were lots of twists and turns and there was even a little action and suspense thrown in. All in all, it was a cute and entertaining read.

A PARFAIT MURDER is part of the Mystery a la Mode series. In keeping with my new attitude that I'm allowing myself to read series books out of order, I started with this one, the third book in the series after I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM and SCOOP TO KILL. I probably would have picked up a few more details had I read the first two books, but I don't think it hurt me to start in the middle of this series. Ms. Watson does a good job of informing the reader about past events in Tally's life. And I've found that it's always the private lives of the characters that I miss out on the most by not starting a series at the beginning.

A PARFAIT MURDER is a cute book and perfect for the long, hot summer given all the references to fairs and ice cream. I think fans of cozies, and especially food cozies, will find A PARFAIT MURDER to be a sweet treat (I know... I couldn't resist!)

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

Mystery Mondays is a "somewhat" 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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: The Arrivals

Summary: It's early summer when Ginny and William's peaceful life in Vermont comes to an abrupt halt.

First, their daughter Lillian arrives, with her two children in tow, to escape her crumbling marriage. Next, their son Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane show up for a weekend visit, which extends indefinitely when Jane ends up on bed rest. When their youngest daughter Rachel appears, fleeing her difficult life in New York, Ginny and William find themselves consumed again by the chaos of parenthood - only this time around, their children are facing adult problems.

By summer's end, the family gains new ideas of loyalty and responsibility, exposing the challenges of surviving the modern family - and the old adage, once a parent, always a parent, has never rung so true. -- Reagan Arthur

I am a big fan of the Reagan Arthur imprint - -so big, in fact, that I am co-hosting the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge with Kathy/Bermudaonion. All of the books I've read so far have been in keeping with their focus: "great writing in the service of great stories"; and I've enjoyed all of them. But the latest one I read, THE ARRIVALS by Meg Mitchell Moore, is definitely up there as one of my favorites. I just adored this book!

Based on the book's description, I had a feeling that I was going to, at the very least, like THE ARRIVALS -- I am always up for a good story about families. However, I had no idea how much I was going to love this book! And if you ever have tried to write a review about a book that you loved, you know how what a daunting task that can be. I just don't know if I can put into words the many, many reasons I enjoyed this book so much. Honestly, I just want to say "READ THIS BOOK!"

But I feel as if I should at least try to highlight some of the very special things about THE ARRIVALS. First and foremost, I think Ms. Moore is a wonderful writer and I thought she did quite a few things very well in this novel. I loved the characters she created and I thought they were all truly authentic (I felt as if I knew these people.) I also thought their actions, while not always wise, were extremely realistic as was their dialogue. But the real beauty of Ms. Moore's writing was in how she told this story. The story was written told through the eyes of the different characters' and it just worked so well. The transitions were almost effortless and I thought she did a great job with the individual perspectives.

I also really appreciated the story itself. (I do love stories about family dynamics, but I have to question what that says about me?) I can only imagine the situation that this family faced... an empty nest couple suddenly finds their home inundated with all three of the children (and their families.) While it was exciting for a few days to have their entire family together, things do become a bit hectic and very crowded. As the parents realize that all three of their children are dealing with their own set of issues, they learn that they can never stop being parents.

While this family's situation was, at times, very funny -- dishes, clothes, and toys were everywhere, makeshift beds on the floor, and a broken washing machine, I was very much affected by what the individuals were going through. Lillian, their oldest daughter and mother of two young children, is escaping from her philandering husband and her life as a stay-at-home mom. Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane arrive for a weekend visit but are forced to stay when Jane is put on bedrest for the duration of her pregnancy. And finally, the baby of the family Rachel comes home after she realizes that her life and job in New York City aren't living up to her expectations. You know, I probably most related to Lillian because of the whole stay-at-home mom issues, but I also felt sorry for what the other siblings were coping with. However, my heart really went out to their parents. Their calm and orderly home was turned upside down... and their kids were all so unhappy.

I thought THE ARRIVALS did a remarkable job of looking at some very interesting family dynamics. I liked how each of the adult children became kids again the minute they walked into their parents' home. (I could relate to that!) And that the parents immediately assumed the role of... well, parents. However, I most loved how this book explored the theme of forgiveness -- it was very well done. There were many times that the characters were forced to examine their actions and forgive others as well as themselves, and I loved how Lillian's relationship with the priest further expanded on this theme. As I read this novel, I couldn't help but be touched by the characters' realizations about themselves and how the act of forgiveness brought happiness to their lives.

Please do consider THE ARRIVALS for you next book club meeting. This book is absolutely perfect for discussion with your friends. The characters and their problems are so real, and I definitely think readers will see these characters either in themselves or in their family and friends. Besides analyzing the characters and their actions, there are many other themes which I think warrant further discussion including family dynamics, career choices, marriage, parenting, motherhood, guilt, and (the big one) forgiveness. There is a reading guide available with some terrific questions that can help to facilitate your discussion.

If you are like me and love books about families, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of THE ARRIVALS. (And when you do, please make sure to join the Reagan Arthur Book Challenge

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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kid Konnection: Viola in the Spotlight

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 newly released picture books.

Summary: I am in the midst of a conundrum. 

Viola is finally where she belongs—back home in Brooklyn, where there are no khakis or sherbet-colored sweaters and people actually think her yellow flats are cool. With two whole months of nothing to do but hang with her two best friends, Andrew and Caitlin, this is going to be the best break ever! 

But her BFFAA, Andrew, has started acting weird around her, and a new boyfriend has her friend Caitlin ditching her every chance she gets. When Viola's roommates from Prefect Academy show up for a visit, she starts to wonder—is Brooklyn where she wants to stay? When a tragic event shakes everyone's world, Viola realizes it's not where she belongs that matters—it's who she's with that really counts. 

In this heartwarming follow-up to bestselling author Adriana Trigiani's teen debut, Viola in Reel Life, Viola just may be ready to get out from behind her trusty video camera and take the starring role in her own life. -- Harper Teen

If you have visited my blog much over the past three years, then you know that I am a huge fan of Adriana Trigiani's adult books. She's one of my all-time favorite authors -- I love her books and I just adore her as a person. So when I learned a few years that Adriana was starting a series of books for the young adult audience, I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn't help but love the idea that Booking Daughter would be able to experience Adriana's writing sooner rather than later.

So after I read the first book in the series VIOLA IN REEL LIFE (my review), it came as no surprise to me that I adored it. I fell in love with Viola and her friends; and truthfully, I was super-excited because this was exactly the type of book that want my daughter to read. Needless to say, I've been anxiously awaiting the second book in the series VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT for what seems like forever. (Of course, Adriana has been working on a few other projects in the meantime., but she just can't write fast enough for me!)

VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT picks up right where VIOLA IN REEL LIFE ends. Viola is returning home to Brooklyn right after finishing her first year at boarding school. She can't wait to see her parents as well as her her best friends Caitlyn and Andrew, and she's certain she's back where she belongs. However, Viola quickly realizes that things have changed with her "old" friends and that she desperately misses her "new" ones. After a life-changing event occurs, Viola is forced to re-examine her actions and ultimately decide what's best for her.

I truly love Viola, and as a result, I loved this novel. It had a great cast of characters along with an interesting storyline; and as a mother, I really appreciated so many of the messages in this novel. Viola grew up a lot in this book and I love how much wisdom she gained through her experiences. Viola has survived her first crush and truly has a pretty good handle on her relationships with boys. Her perspective that she doesn't need a guy to "complete" her is fantastic, and I only wish I had learned it at her age. In addition, Viola discovers some incredibly valuable life lessons. In this book alone, she learns about love, loss, honesty, and obligations.

One of my favorite storylines in VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT had to do with Viola's good friend Caitlyn. Caitlyn comes from a very strict family, and because of this, feels like she has to sneak around when she meet a boy she likes. Caitlyn is constantly asking Viola to cover for her and Viola is placed in awkward situation. She wants to help her friend, but she's also not comfortable with misleading Caitlyn's parents. I really think that some girls will relate to both Caitlyn's and Viola's positions in this story. Now this is probably me with my "mom hat" on, but I liked the various messages that came about as a result of this storyline.

And that brings me to my next point. I love how sweet VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT is. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either of the Viola books to my friends and their daughters because the stories are not only clean, but also include some wonderful messages. I am so grateful to Adriana for writing such great stories with so many valuable life lessons. It's apparent to me that she is a mother and writes these stories with her daughter in mind!

I highly recommend VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT (and VIOLA IN REEL LIFE) to moms and daughters alike. In fact, both books would make great mother/daughter discussion books.

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

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 17, 2011

Review: Sisters of the Sari

Summary: A debut novel about an American woman and an Indian woman who are about to dramatically change each other's lives-along with the lives of those around them.

While vacationing in India, Kiria Langdon, the opinionated and driven CEO of a major company, meets Santoshi, a former slave who now works as a cleaning lady and lives in a shelter for homeless women in Chennai. Appalled by the conditions in the shelter, Kiria becomes obsessed with the idea of building decent housing for poor working women in India. Santoshi reluctantly agrees to help, even though she thinks Kiria's ideas are too crazy to succeed.

Embarking on a rich journey of personal discovery, both women will learn invaluable lessons about themselves as they forge a powerful bond of sisterhood across the barriers of language and culture-a bond that makes anything possible. -- NAL

I don't want to sound shallow because I do enjoy books that take place in India, but I decided to read SISTERS OF THE SARI by Brenda L. Baker because of the gorgeous cover. The pink and gold bracelets along with the other bright colors just drew me right in. Plus I'm always a sucker for a book about the strength and beauty of female friendships.

Unfortunately, SISTERS OF THE SARI was just okay for me. I didn't dislike it or have any problems getting through it, but I didn't love it either. Maybe it's a case of wanting (or expecting) something different from the book, but I felt as if there were some other things that I just didn't "get." For example, there were quite a few different story lines with multiple characters, and I felt that the stories seemed somewhat disjointed -- almost choppy. And I thought that some of the stories weren't developed as much as I would have liked. In many ways, I think the author tried to accomplish too much with this book. It's possible that there were enough ideas for a couple of novels within the different stories in SISTERS OF THE SARI.

In addition, I was sometimes confused by how the author decided to tell Kiria's story. Some of the chapters about Kiria were in her first person voice and others were written in third person. I actually found the third person chapters to be almost unsettling, and I much preferred those chapters that were written in Kiria's own voice. In fact, I thought the author did a job good of creating Kiria's character and capturing an authentic voice, and I had to question why she chose to switch back and forth between the two narrative styles.

I don't want to make it sound like this book wasn't entertaining at all because that's definitely not the case. There were quite a few good things about SISTERS OF THE SARI that I did appreciate. First of all, the basic premise of the novel was very intriguing and I loved getting a Westerner's view of India. The author has actually spent some time in India and I think her insight is rather interesting. In addition, I thought the author did a good job of bringing to light the poverty and despair in India. I commend her for focusing on some of the serious problems affecting women in India today and sharing these issues with Western readers. So many of the women in this book faced such hardships and my heart just broke over and over for them.

SISTERS OF THE SARI would make a very interesting book club pick. I think readers will have very different opinions on the novel and some of the themes presented in it; and I always say that these differences make for the best discussions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include adoption, poverty, abuse, repression, guilt, charity, and female friendships.

While I did have a few issues with SISTERS OF THE SARI, I am definitely in the minority opinion. There are lots of very positive review out there, and it's entirely possible that I just was in a lousy mood when I read it. The novel does give an interesting view of India from a Westerner's point of view and it does highlight many of the problems facing India today. If you think you might be interested in these aspects of the novel, I definitely recommend picking it up and deciding for yourself.

If you have read SISTERS OF THE SARI, I'd love to know your opinion. After reading many of the reviews around the blogosphere, I definitely feel like I missed something.

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