Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giveaway: Jane Fonda

Summary: Bosworth goes behind the image of an American superwoman, revealing Fonda—more powerful and vulnerable than ever expected—whose struggles for high achievement, love, and successful motherhood mirror the conflicts of a generation of women. 

As actress, activist, businesswoman, wife, and mother, Jane Fonda has pushed herself to the limit, attempting to please all, excel in every arena, be everything. We’ve read her version of her controversial life, yet nothing can prepare us for this genuinely revelatory account of Jane’s engrossing, sometimes shocking journey. 

Supplemented by the psychiatric records of her suicidal, bipolar mother, Fonda’s FBI file, and interviews with her intimates, this perceptive portrait strips away hype and the subject’s own mythmaking. Patricia Bosworth shows us what a toll Jane’s quest to excel (and please her demanding father, Henry) exacted and sheds light on truths she’s glossed over: her rejection of her mother before her suicide; the death threats and self-doubts of her antiwar crusade; her second husband Tom Hayden’s habit of putting her down while spending her fortune; the emotional downfall that led her to stop acting and marry Ted Turner. 

Lee Strasberg once said that Jane had "panic in her eyes," and it is this wounded but so familiar woman—human yet still heroic, the embodiment of a generation’s conflicts and triumphs—whom Bosworth captures so utterly and definitively. - HMH

I just received a copy of JANE FONDA: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A PUBLIC WOMAN by Patricia Bosworth so I haven't had a chance to read and review it yet; however, I can't wait. This biography is generating a lot of buzz and has already received starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. And that's why I'm so excited to share this news with you!

Thanks to AuthorsOnTheWeb, I have a copy of JANE FONDA to giveaway to one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 13th 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: Domestic Violets

Summary: Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day. 

The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious archnemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety. 

Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way. -- Harper Perennial

I learned about so many great books at this year's BEA, but one that captured my interest was DOMESTIC VIOLETS by Matthew Norman. I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Norman a few times that week -- at Harper Collins' party and an autograph signing; and I was rather charmed by him. Needless to say, I was very excited to read his book. (Actually, anytime I actually meet an author, I always want to read their book!) Plus, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding the book and the book's description made it sound like one that I'd enjoy. Little did I know how much I would love this book!

And love it I did! I didn't just read this book, I devoured it. I honestly couldn't put it down, and I was resentful of any event that got in the way of my reading. It only took a few pages for me to be seriously hooked on DOMESTIC VIOLETS, but I have to admit that it caught my attention from the first few paragraphs:

"I splash cold water on my face.
This is what men in movies do when they're about to fly off the handle, when shit is getting out of control. I do this sometimes. I react to things based on what characters in movies would do. That's kind of ironic, considering I've always thought of myself as a book person."

I was immediately hooked with the tone and writing... and it only got better. (Not to mention the main character was a book person!) Mr. Norman managed to write a book that I found to be highly entertaining. It was absolutely one of the funniest books I've ever read -- the first few pages had me belly-laughing. Yet it also touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Believe me when I tell you that this book never let me down. I loved the characters, their actions, and the writing. And DOMESTIC VIOLETS is sure to be one of my favorite books of the year! I've been raving about it to anyone and everyone who will listen!

First and foremost, I absolutely loved Tom Violet. He's a middle-aged man (although I'd like to think he's a few years shy of middle-age considering he's younger than I am!) who is having a bit of a crisis. His life isn't what he expected and he's wondering what it all means. He has marriage and sexual issues, his career is far from fulfilling, he hasn't had his first novel published, and he's having to cope with his larger-than-life father's recent Pulitzer Prize. All in all, Tom's life is a mess. But he knows it... and isn't that a good beginning to fixing things?

Tom Violet is such a wonderful character because he is so incredibly honest. I can pretty much guarantee that he'll make you laugh with his self-deprecating humor, but I also think readers will be able to relate to him on so many levels. Maybe not in the specific details of his life, but what middle-aged person hasn't looked at where they are in their life and what they have accomplished and haven't had a few regrets? What I found so admirable about Tom is that he decided to make changes to his life... and by the end of the book, he does. I was rooting for Tom throughout the entire story, even when he was heading towards sure-fire disasters; and I was so satisfied with how much Tom evolved by the end of the novel. 

Another wonderful thing about this book was the writing. I just loved Mr. Norman's writing style and I think he did a marvelous job of capturing Tom's unique voice. I was also extremely impressed with just how funny this book was -- I'm talking hilarious. I could picture Tom and the other characters perfectly and I was so caught up in their stories. In fact, I could so see DOMESTIC VIOLETS as a movie! But I also enjoyed how much this novel touched my heart. There were so many scenes that caused me to think about my life, my relationships, and the keys to my happiness. And I truly appreciated that this book not only entertained me, but also made me think!

I could go on and on about so many more terrific things in this novel, but I encourage you to discover this book on your own. I don't think my review can do it justice! However, I do want to share how much I appreciated many of the messages in this story. While Tom was definitely trying to figure things out in his life, especially as they pertained to his marriage, career, and his father, he went through some difficult times. He didn't always make the "right" choices, but all of the decisions he made -- both good and bad -- made him into an honorable man. I loved that this book showed that we are in charge of our lives and our happiness, and that we have the power to make things right!

I'm sure you can tell by now that I think DOMESTIC VIOLETS is a perfect book club pick! I sure hope lots of clubs pick it in the upcoming months because I'd love to see the quality discussion that might come from reading it. There is a reading guide available with twelve terrific questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include marriage, commitment, adultery, family dynamics, secrets, forgiveness, parenting, father/son relationships, choices, dreams, and many more! I also think it would be interesting to discuss the ending of the novel -- whether it was satisfying or now. I admit that I saw what was coming (although I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it was predictable), and I still loved it!

I'm guess I'm done gushing, although I still feel as if I've only begun to touch upon the many wonderful things about DOMESTIC VIOLETS. I strongly encourage you to read this book and then talk about it with friends!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Where You Left Me

Summary: Lucky—that's how Jennifer would describe herself. She had a successful law career, met the love of her life in Doug, married him, had an apartment in New York City, a house in the Hamptons, two beautiful children, and was still madly in love after nearly seven years of marriage. Jennifer was living the kind of idyllic life that cliches are made of.

Until Doug was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, and she became a widow at age thirty-five—a "9/11 widow," no less, a member of a select group bound by sorrow, of which she wanted no part. Though completely devastated, Jennifer still considered herself blessed. Doug had loved her enough to last her a lifetime, and after his sudden death, she was done with the idea of romantic love—fully resigned to being a widowed single mother . . . until a chance encounter with a gregarious stranger changed everything. Without a clue how to handle this unexpected turn of events, Jennifer faced the question asked by anyone who has ever lost a loved one: Is it really possible to feel joy again, let alone love?

With unvarnished emotion and clear-eyed sardonic humor, Jennifer tells an ordinary woman's extraordinary tale of unimaginable loss, resilience, friendship, love, and healing—which is also New York City's narrative in the wake of September 11.
Where You Left Me is an unlikely love story, a quintessentially New York story—at once Jennifer's tribute to the city that gave her everything and proof that second chances are possible. -- Gallery

September 11, 2001.... It's a day that no American will ever forget. And it's one of the events that everyone immediately remembers where they were when they first learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center. My husband, two-year old daughter and I had just moved from Washington D.C. to Central Pennsylvania a few days earlier, and I was glued to the television along with the rest of the world. I almost took our relocation and my decision to be a stay-at-home mom as a positive sign that day since I worked only a few miles from the Pentagon. Needless to say, I still get chills when I think about how devastating this terrorist attack was on so many families.

As the tenth anniversary approaches (I can hardly believe it's been 10 years!), I've found that the families who lost their loved ones have been in my mind a great deal. And that's probably one of the reasons that I was drawn to the memoir WHERE YOU LEFT ME by Jennifer Gardner Trulson. WHERE YOU LEFT ME tells the story of Jennifer Gardner Trulson, a woman who seemingly "had it all" -- a beautiful apartment, a house in the Hamptons, loads of friends, a wonderful husband, and two gorgeous young children. And just like that... her life was turned upside-down when her husband was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.

It probably goes without saying that WHERE YOU LEFT ME wasn't always an easy book for me to read. I can't even begin to imagine losing my husband and being left a widow with two young children, and I find any book about 9/11 to be disturbing. However, I do feel it's important for me to read books like this one -- namely because these stories make sure that I will never forget what happened to our country that day. But reading books like this one also serve as a valuable reminder about how very fortunate I am. I have the most amazing husband and children and I also have a wonderful support system with my family and friends; and for some reason, I need to read books like this one to act as a wake-up call because I tend to take so much for granted.

While there is no way for this book not to touch your heart, especially when you read about Ms. Garder Trulson's loss, I have to say that my overall reaction to this memoir was very positive.WHERE YOU LEFT ME was actually a heartwarming story about love, resilience, and second chances. This book not only shows readers how very special Ms. Gardner Trulson's relationship was with her husband - it really is a beautiful tribute to their love affair, but it also shows how she was able to find love and happiness again in light of such a devastating tragedy.

And there is no doubt that WHERE YOU LEFT ME is Ms. Gardner Trulson's story; however, this book represents so much more than that too. It demonstrates how so many family members had to cope with loss, change, and new beginnings. In addition, this book shows how the city of New York was left reeling from this tragedy and how its citizens were able to come together and support each other. And finally, I think WHERE YOU LEFT ME shows readers that no matter what horrific tragedy might happen in their lives, there is always room for hope and second chances.

WHERE YOU LEFT ME definitely touched my heart and I think many other women will have the same reaction. Because books like this one tend to really make me think about my life, I am recommending it as a book club read. There is a reading guide available which has quite a few topics for discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, loss, parenting, friendships, new beginnings, memories, and happiness.

I was deeply affected by WHERE YOU LEFT ME and I highly recommend it as a way to remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country. It is a beautiful story filled with love and hope and it's guaranteed to make you grateful for your life!

If you want to learn a little more about this story then check out this video:

Thanks to Engelman & Co. for sending me a review copy of this book.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta

Summary: Temple Barr is an ace P.R. wizard when it comes to promoting Las Vegas’ hottest clients.  She’s also an amateur sleuth who has caught her share of bad guys.

B-movie actress Savannah Ashleigh begs Temple to investigate the suspicious death of her rich aunt’s handyman. Temple happily takes the case, if for no other reason than to take her mind off her chaotic private life. Her ex-fiancé, the Mystifying Max, is back–minus his memory.  And current fiancé Matt Devine has shown up from a stint in Chicago with the promise of a surprising future.   Which may or may not include Temple.

As Temple digs into the man’s untimely demise she finds plenty of suspect and greedy humans swarming around the ailing Aunt Violet, who means to leave her estate to her resident cats.  Temple thinks she’s close to solving the case, but it becomes clear to Midnight Louie, Temple’s roommate and ace feline detective, that there are more deaths both human and feline coming. Add in the return of a mysterious stalker from the past, and it's murder and mayhem on all fronts for Temple, Louie, and the ones they love in the newest story in the Midnight Louie mystery series. -- Forge

As part of Mystery Mondays, I have been trying to read a wide variety of mystery books -- even if that means starting a series in the middle or reading one out-of-order. The latest book that I picked up is the twenty-third book in the Midnight Louie Mystery Series by Carole Nelson Douglas called CAT IN A VEGAS GOLD VENDETTA. Needless to say, with 23 books already released in this series, I'm pretty sure that there are a ton of loyal fans who have come to know and love these characters. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to connect with them as much as I had hoped.

I think my biggest problem with this book is actually my own fault. I didn't read the other 22 books first. I won't go so far as to say that the author didn't do a good job of catching me up on some of the events that occurred in prior books. However, I will say that I sometimes felt left out. There were many references to past events, and I know I would have appreciated them more if I had been familiar with these characters and their crimes. Maybe it was just me, but I found myself not really being able to follow some of the side stories.

Putting aside my issues with starting this series entirely too late, I will say that I see why this series has had so much success. The basic premise behind these books is very cute and the book is pretty darn funny. Midnight Louie is a feline private investigator. He's very smart and insightful and he uses his feline instincts to help Temple Barr, a Vegas PR person and amateur sleuth, solve crimes. While most of the book is written in third person, there are quite a few chapters thrown in which are written in Midnight Louie's voice. Midnight Louie is just a great character and his voice is very entertaining.

In addition to Midnight Louie, I also really liked his owner Temple and her "associates." There were characters from Temple's past that suddenly reappeared. And there were other ones who were thought to be dead that most definitely weren't. All of the characters in this story were all extremely complex (as were their background stories), and I can see lots of opportunities for future mysteries given how "interesting" they were. There was even a little bit of romantic conflict/sexual tension thrown in for good measure.

As far as mysteries go, I enjoyed the mystery that is described in the book summary above -- the one about the suspicious death of a rich woman's handyman. I thought the mystery was fairly well developed and I appreciated the twists and turns. I was also equally impressed with how that mystery was resolved. (And no -- I didn't have a clue!) My only beef about the mystery aspects of the novel was that I felt as if some of the the side stories were too tied up in past books.

I do think CAT IN A VEGAS GOLD VENDETTA is a probably a great addition to this already critically acclaimed series. I just wish I had been more familiar with the characters and their pasts so I could truly appreciate this novel.

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

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: If You Were Here

Summary: Told in the uproariously entertaining voice readers have come to expect from Jen Lancaster, If You Were Here follows Amish-zombie-teen- romance author Mia and her husband Mac (and their pets) through the alternately frustrating, exciting, terrifying-but always funny-process of buying and renovating their first home in the Chicago suburbs that John hughes's movies made famous. Along their harrowing renovation journey, Mia and Mac get caught up in various wars with the homeowners' association, meet some less-than-friendly neighbors, and are joined by a hilarious cast of supporting characters, including a celebutard ex- landlady. As they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings- with Mac taking on the renovations himself- Mia and Mac will discover if their marriage is strong enough to survive months of DIY renovations. -- New American Library

Don't ask me why, but prior to now, I've never read a book by Jen Lancaster. And do I start with one of her critically acclaimed collection of hilarious essays like SUCH A PRETTY FAT or BITTER IS THE NEW BLACK? Nope! My first experience with Ms. Lancaster was IF YOU WERE HERE, her debut novel. IF YOU WERE HERE tells the story of Mia, a best-selling YA author, and her husband's attempts to buy (and then renovate) their dream home. It's witty and funny and I have a feeling that this book demonstrates many of the reasons why Ms. Lancaster's books (and blog) are so successful.

I really wanted to love this book, and while I definitely enjoyed parts of it, I'm not sure I'd say that I loved it. The story was cute and there were quite a few funny parts but it's just going to be one of those books that entertained me for a few hours. In fact, it very much read like a movie to me. And that's okay, not every book has to be serious and make me think. I found IF YOU WERE HERE to be just a fun summer escape read.

IF YOU WERE HERE is written in the voice of Mia and I suspect that Mia sounds a lot like Ms. Lancaster! Mia is extremely smart and witty and I loved her sense of humor -- both her humor at others' expense as well as the self-deprecating kind. And I could totally relate to Mia because she is a product of the 1980s (or at least the '80s fads.) Mia was obsessed with anything and everything related to John Hughes, and there are loads of references to his classic films. In fact, when Mia has the opportunity to buy Jake Ryan's house (remember him from the movie Sixteen Candles?), she jumps at the chance -- even though the house is considered a fixer upper.

IF YOU WERE HERE has a great cast of characters and it is an entertaining story about a couple's first attempt at home ownership. Anyone who has ever attempted repairing something (or even contracted to repair something) will find themselves laughing at this couple's experiences. I continually shook my head at their constant mishaps and overall nightmarish situation, and this novel reiterated why my husband and I buy new homes and don't do work ourselves. I definitely don't have the patience or endurance that Mia had. Of course, she did get to live in Jake Ryan's home....

While I'd certainly say that the vast majority of this book was humorous, there were a few more serious fallouts from the home purchase. Mia and her husband had to try to adapt to their new neighborhood and neighbors (which if you've ever moved, you know isn't always easy.) In addition, their relationship was affected by the stresses of home ownership and home repair. I aks, how could it not be?

IF YOU WERE HERE might make a fun book club pick -- especially if you pair it with a John Hughes' flick. There is a reading guide available with nine questions, and it does touch upon some of the more serious issues in the book. For example, you might want to discuss marriage, friendship, change, relationships, coping, and acceptance. Or you could just talk about Ms. Lancaster, Mr. Hughes, and his film's characters. Either way, I think it would be a lively meeting!

I enjoyed IF YOU WERE HERE, but it probably won't go down as one of my favorites of the year. However, what I did discover is that I liked Ms. Lancaster's writing so much that I now want to read more of her books! Any suggestions?

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Kid Konnection: Dork Diaries 3

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 my thoughts about the third installment of the Dork Diaries series.

Summary: Nikki Maxwell has been doing everything she can to keep everyone at school from learning the truth--that she's there on scholarship in exchange for her Dad working as the school's exterminator. The last thing Nikki needs is having her friends and--worst case scenario--her crush, Brandon, associating her with the humongous roach on top of her Dad's van! Now it looks like her secret could be about to come out, and Nikki's willing to go to any zany and wacky length to prevent that from happening. The timing seems perfect when a major talent competition is announced with a school scholarship offered as the top prize. Nikki loves to sing and dance and now she gets to have tons of fun with her friends while competing for a chance to free her Dad from his obligation! (And free herself from all that potential damage to her reputation . . .) Once again, hijinks and misunderstandings aplenty ensue, as well as more hilarious and heartwarming moments with Nikki and her friends. -- Aladdin

When Booking Daughter received some book store gift cards for her twelfth birthday, it didn't take her long to spend them. (Big surprise there. She is my daughter after all.) One of the books that she first selected was
DORK DIARIES 3: TALES FROM A NOT-SO-TALENTED POP STAR by Rachel Renee Russell. She has been a big fan of this graphic novel series for a few years now and was very excited to learn that there was a new book. I have to say that I kind of agree with her. I, too, was anxious to see what Nikki would encounter in this latest book.

DORK DIARIES 3 is very similar to the other two books in the series, and I think fans of the series will be pleased with this latest installment. DORK DIARIES 3 has the same adorable artwork along with the humor and life lessons that I've come to expect from these books. In DORK DIARIES 3, Nikki is still living her "secret life" as a scholarship student at an expensive private school. When her parents receive a bill for her tuition, she enters the school talent show in hopes of winning the grand prize of a scholarship. Along the way, she encounters "mean girl" trouble with her arch-enemy MacKenzie as well as plenty of embarrassing moments at home and school!

For those of you not familiar with the Dork Diaries series, the book is kind of a DIARY OF A WIMPY KID for middle-grade girls. The book is written in the format of Nikki's journal -- it even looks like a lined notebook with her handwriting. And it also includes loads of precious illustrations. Because there is a good mix of text and graphics, even reluctant readers will be able to fly through this book!

Booking Daughter read this book just moments after it arrived on the doorstep, and I wasn't too far behind. We both agreed that the book was very fun and entertaining; however, I have to wonder if my daughter isn't starting to outgrow these books. The book is geared for girls in grades 4 through 8; and while she's only entering 7th grade, I do think she appreciated these books more a few years ago. Either that, or the premise of the books isn't as original as it used to be.

I admit that I was pretty entertained by DORK DIARIES 3. It was a quick, cute read that made me laugh on quite a few occasions. I'm not sure that I loved it as much as the first book in the series, but I still wouldn't hesitate to read everything this author writes! As a mother, I appreciated some of the messages in this book about family, friends, and crushes; and I do like how Nikki seems to be a realistic tween. I am pretty sure that young girls will relate to Nikki's feelings of insecurity especially when it comes to her embarrassing family and the "queen bee" at school.

Both Booking Daughter and I are big fans of DORK DIARIES and we will continue to look forward to future books in this series. If you have a tween girl in your life, she's probably already familiar with these books. But just in case she's not, I highly recommend them!

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, August 26, 2011

Guest Review: The Devil Colony

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author James Rollins comes a novel of boundless imagination and meticulous research, a book that dares to answer a frightening question at the heart of America: Could the founding of the United States be based on a fundamental lie? The shocking truth lies hidden within the ruins of an impossibility, a lost colony of the Americas vanished in time and cursed into oblivion. A place known only as The Devil Colony.
Deep in the Rocky Mountains, a gruesome discovery—hundreds of mummified bodies—stirs international attention and fervent controversy. Despite doubts about the bodies' origins, the local Native American Heritage Commission lays claim to the prehistoric remains, along with the strange artifacts found in the same cavern: gold plates inscribed with an unfathomable script. 

During a riot at the dig site, an anthropologist dies horribly, burned to ashes in a fiery explosion in plain view of television cameras. All evidence points to a radical group of Native Americans, including one agitator, a teenage firebrand who escapes with a vital clue to the murder and calls on the one person who might help—her uncle, Painter Crowe, Director of Sigma Force. 

To protect his niece and uncover the truth, Painter will ignite a war among the nation's most powerful intelligence agencies. Yet an even greater threat looms as events in the Rocky Mountains have set in motion a frightening chain reaction, a geological meltdown that threatens the entire western half of the U.S. 

From the volcanic peaks of Iceland to the blistering deserts of the American Southwest, from the gold vaults of Fort Knox to the bubbling geysers of Yellowstone, Painter Crowe joins forces with Commander Gray Pierce to penetrate the shadowy heart of a dark cabal, one that has been manipulating American history since the founding of the thirteen colonies. 

But can Painter discover the truth—one that could topple governments—before it destroys all he holds dear? -- William Morrow

While I'm pretty sure that I would enjoy THE DEVIL COLONY by James Rollins, I knew someone who would probably appreciate it even more -- my dad, Booking Pap Pap. He reads almost as much as I do and I thought he could use a break from all that heavy non-fiction! After reading this review, I might end up regretting that decision. This book looks terrific! Here are his thoughts:

In THE DEVIL COLONY, author James Rollins manages to take some seemingly unrelated subjects and blends them into a fantastic action thriller. The story takes the reader through a suspense filled journey that ties together Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the painting of the Declaration of Independence by John Turnbull with the lost tribes of Israel, extinct Indian tribes, the Mormon religion and nanotechnology

The novel opens in an Indian reservation where two young men, long time friends, are spending time together searching for Indian artifacts before life takes them in separate directions. They manage to accidentally set off a series of events that may lead to the physical destruction of the planet. When a radical Indian rights group is blamed for the initial explosions, one of their young female members calls her uncle, the Director of Sigma Force, for help. Enter the Sigma Force to save the day. The Sigma Force not only has a race against time to prevent further destruction but must also battle a mysterious demonic enemy organization that has crossed their paths on other occasions. The Sigma Force attacks the problem from multiple angles. One group scientifically analyzes the nanotechnology that seems to be causing the devastation. Another section investigates the tie with the history of the founding of the United States and other groups are in the field fighting the enemy force and physically investigating the findings of the other two groups. The story requires a large cast of characters as the action moves from Washington D.C. to Iceland to Fort Knox to the Rock Mountains.

The Sigma Force characters appear in a series of James Rollins novels but I found the character development such that I didn’t feel it necessary to read the prior books before this one to really appreciate the characters. Rollins not only manages to make the story work with a very large cast of characters, but portrays the Sigma Force team as real people with real issues outside of their jobs

In THE DEVIL COLONY, Rollins combines violence, suspense, superstition, history, and science in a very good action thriller. This is a large 474 page novel that moves quickly with plenty of shooting, explosions and volcanic action. Interestingly, the author includes a section of notes to the reader to separate truth from fiction. I’m not typically into novels that include ultra-sophisticated ancient civilizations and far-fetched conspiracies that would alter our nation’s history but this one held my attention. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good suspense thriller.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel and to Booking Pap Pap for another awesome review.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: The Language of Flowers

Summary: A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. -- Ballantine

After attending the Random House Tea at BEA 2011, I knew that many people were very excited about the release of THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Many of the publicists had already read the book and they even had an in-house book club discussion. Believe me when I say that everyone was talking about this novel. And after finishing this novel, I have to agree with them -- this book is worthy of a great deal of discussion. THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS was an outstanding book; and as far as I'm concerned, it just might be the must-read novel of the fall season!

THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is the story of Victoria, a complex young woman who grew up in various foster homes and orphanages. The story begins on her 18th birthday when Victoria is emancipated from the foster care system. For the first time in her life, she is totally on her own with nowhere to go and no one to tell her what to do. It was obvious to me that Victoria had a troubled past, yet I only saw glimpses of the pain she incurred. She was angry and alone, and she wasn't even able to effectively communicate with others... except through the use of flowers. (Hence the title of the novel!)

As Victoria learned to navigate the world, she faced many exciting changes including meeting a mysterious flower seller who seemed to understand her "language of flowers." When she discovered that she was having feelings for this man -- feelings that she didn't think she was capable of, she began to question her own life and she wondered whether she would be able to even find happiness. As part of her self-awareness, she was also forced to explore her troubled past and perhaps even begin to forgive herself.

Where do I even begin talking about THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS? I absolutely, positively adored this book, and I know I'm only going to be able to touch upon a few reasons why. First and foremost, I loved the characters. Victoria is unlike any character I've encountered in my recent reading (any maybe ever.) She is incredibly damaged from her childhood and feels as if she's not worthy of happiness. Over and over again, my heart just broke for her because of the constant turmoil she exhibited. And while Victoria was most certainly a fascinating character and one that will stay in my thoughts for a long time, I also loved her foster mother Elizabeth, her friend Renata, and her love interest Grant. The interactions and relationships between these characters was wonderful and so incredibly complex.

Another thing that made THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS so great was the writing. Ms. Diffenbaugh is an amazing writer and I was blown away by so much her prose. Not only did she create some fantastic character, but it was evident to me that Ms. Diffenbaugh truly understood them and their experiences. (Note: Ms. Diffenbaugh and her husband are foster parents and she is the founder of the Camellia Network whose mission is to create a nationwide movement to support youth transitioning from foster care.) I also loved the author decided to tell Victoria's story -- by alternating between her present day experiences and her past. While I knew from the start that Victoria was still dealing with some events from her childhood, it wasn't until the book neared its end that I discovered the truth. I just loved how Victoria's story slowly unfolded because
I finally was able to truly understand the pain she was experiencing.

And lastly, I was so impressed with the symbolism and themes that were woven into the story. I loved the idea behind the story -- that a woman could only effectively communicate through flowers; and I found it fascinating to learn what the various flowers represented. (You can check out a flower dictionary here.) But there were also so many deeper literary symbols that existed in this novel. For example, I appreciated how the themes of food, fire, and even moss took on meaningful roles in Victoria's life.

THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS is an absolutely perfect book for book clubs. In fact, I would love to discuss Victoria with a few of my closest friends. I am pretty confident in saying that most female readers will appreciate this story, and I have no doubt that there is a great deal to talk about. There is a reading guide available which really touches upon so many of the themes from this story. Some of the topics you might want to explore include the language of flowers, the foster care system, the theme of food/nourishment, mother/daughter relationships, family, love, communication, trust, forgiveness, second chances, and redemption. I especially loved thinking about the definition of moss and how it related to Victoria's life.

I'm certain that my review did not do justice to this novel, but I hope that I at least sparked a desire in some of you to pick up THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. I thought it was an excellent novel and one that will touch your heart with the beauty of the characters, the relevant themes, and the gorgeous prose.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher at the 2011 BEA.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: How to Be an American Housewife & Giveaway

Summary: A mother-daughter story about the strong pull of tradition, and the lure and cost of breaking free of it.

When Shoko decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan, she had her parents' blessing, her brother's scorn, and a gift from her husband-a book on how to be a proper American housewife.

As she crossed the ocean to America, Shoko also brought with her a secret she would need to keep her entire life...

Half a century later, Shoko's plans to finally return to Japan and reconcile with her brother are derailed by illness. In her place, she sends her grown American daughter, Sue, a divorced single mother whose own life isn't what she hoped for. As Sue takes in Japan, with all its beauty and contradictions, she discovers another side to her mother and returns to America unexpectedly changed and irrevocably touched. -- Berkley

I love books about other cultures and that's one of the reasons that I was do drawn to HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Margaret Dilloway. However, I was also attracted to this book because I had read so many wonderful reviews about it. In fact, I almost feel as if I'm the last female blogger to read this book.

Naturally, I was interested in learning more about the Japanese culture, but I was also pretty sure that I was going to like HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE because it deals with a mother/daughter relationship. And I did enjoy HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE a great deal. I found this story (which is actually based on the author's grandmother and mother) to be very interesting. But I also found that this novel touched upon so many important issues in a woman's life like marriage, motherhood, relationships, and change.

One of my favorite things about HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was how the author presented the story. The book had two narrators -- Shoko and her daughter Sue -- and they were very different women. I loved how the book went back and forth between their stories, and I appreciated how I could see the differences in the challenges they faced. It was interesting to see Shoko's life in Japan and then her life in the States, and I believe I was better able to understand her thoughts and actions because so much of the story was told in her voice. On the other hand, I liked hearing Sue's side of the story too. She was very different from her mother, and I found it fascinating to see how much her life changed after she learned about her heritage.

Another part of this novel that I also really enjoyed was the clippings from the book "How to Be an American Housewife" that occurred throughout the novel. Basically, these were little pieces of advice taken from a book that Shoko received from her husband to help her acclimate to the United States that tied into the following chapter. While these snippets were made up by the author, I have no doubt that they could have been real. I appreciated how the author tied these "words of wisdom" to Shoko's story, and at the same time, she provided a bit of comic relief for me -- I don't know if I would have made it as a housewife in the 1950s!

Finally, I enjoyed how HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE looked at the relationship between Shoko and Sue. Many mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and Shoko and Sue's was no different. Besides being very different in their approaches to marriage, motherhood, caretaking and communication, they also had cultural differences which made their relationship even more complex. I enjoyed seeing how both characters (and their relationship) evolved throughout the novel. It ended up being a story that touched my heart!

As far as book clubs are concerned, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE would make a fantastic pick. There is a reading guide included in the back of the paperback edition with ten thought-provoking questions. I am confident in saying that this novel would be a hit with my book club, and I'm sure we could discuss the characters and their actions for hours. Some of the themes that you might want to delve into include mother/daughter relationships, adapting to new environments, differences in cultures, love, marriage, communication, and prejudices and stereotypes.

I highly recommend HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE to fans of women's fiction. It's an entertaining and interesting story but also one that makes you think. And isn't that what makes a novel special?

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE to share with one very lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, September 6th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: Close Your Eyes

Summary: In Close Your Eyes, the author of the bestselling How to Be Lost spins another mesmerizing tale of buried family secrets.

For most of her life, Lauren Mahdian has been certain of two things: that her mother is dead, and that her father is a murderer.

Before the horrific tragedy, Lauren led a sheltered life in a wealthy corner of America, in a town outside Manhattan on the banks of Long Island Sound, a haven of luxurious homes, manicured lawns, and seemingly perfect families. Here Lauren and her older brother, Alex, thought they were safe.

But one morning, six-year-old Lauren and eight-year-old Alex awoke after a night spent in their tree house to discover their mother’s body and their beloved father arrested for the murder.

Years later, Lauren is surrounded by uncertainty. Her one constant is Alex, always her protector, still trying to understand the unraveling of his idyllic childhood. But Lauren feels even more alone when Alex reveals that he’s been in contact over the years with their imprisoned father—and that he believes he and his sister have yet to learn the full story of their mother’s death.

Then Alex disappears.

As Lauren is forced to peek under the floorboards of her carefully constructed memories, she comes to question the version of her history that she has clung to so fiercely. Lauren’s search for the truth about what happened on that fateful night so many years ago is a riveting tale that will keep readers feverishly turning pages. -- Random House

When I heard that Amanda Eyre Ward had a new novel out, I was extremely excited. I've been a fan of hers since my book club read one of her books many years ago, and I quickly devoured all of her other books soon after. I liked her work so much, I was even willing to give her short story collection LOVE STORIES IN THIS TOWN a try. (Guess what? I liked it too -- here's my review.) So when I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in Random House's Secret Reads (#secretread on twitter), I couldn't have been happier especially since the book was Amanda Eyre Ward's CLOSE YOUR EYES.

I thought CLOSE YOUR EYES was an outstanding novel. And if I'm being honest, it's exactly what I've come to expect from Ms. Ward. She's an amazing writer and she has a unique ability to write about complex family dynamics. In CLOSE YOUR EYES, Ms. Ward takes on an extremely unusual situation -- two adults whose lives were torn apart by the murder of their mother. To make things even more complicated, their father was the one who was arrested for her murder.

At its heart, CLOSE YOUR EYES tells the story of Lauren, a conflicted and troubled woman who was only eight years old when her life drastically changed. While she did have some fond memories of her childhood, she chose to have nothing to do with her father after her mother's death. However, her brother (and probably the person to whom Lauren feels the closest), has been keeping in touch with him and believes that he is innocent of the crime. When Lauren's brother goes missing, Lauren is forced to face her past as well as her relationship with her father.

CLOSE YOUR EYES was definitely a page turner for me namely because I was so interested in the character of Lauren. I thought Ms. Ward did an excellent job in showing how Lauren was constantly dealing with events from her childhood and the effects they had on her current relationships. However, in many ways, this book was also a great example of a literary mystery. Despite all of the evidence which made it appear that Lauren's father was guilty of murdering her mother, there were too many loose ends that didn't quite come together for me. I appreciated how the truth behind the crime was gradually revealed to the reader, and I admit that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough as the book neared the end.

One thing that I found interesting about this novel was how the author told the story. I felt as if the book was primarily Lauren's story (maybe because I enjoyed her character so much), but that was really only part of the book. The novel is divided into five distinct "books," and the books actually alternate between Lauren and Sylvia, a 41 year old woman who is pregnant and running from her boyfriend. At first I was a bit confused as to how Sylvia fit into Lauren's story, but I sat back and just trusted Ms. Ward. Of course, she delivered with her beautiful prose and I was blown away by how these two women's lives came together.

CLOSE YOUR EYES would make a fantastic book club selection because there are so many things to discuss. I found so many of the characters (even the secondary ones) to be fascinating and I think the relationships in this novel are worth assessing too. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide on-line; however, I seriously doubt you'd have a problem finding things to talk about. Some of the themes which you might want to explore include family dynamics, love, loss, grief, faith, forgiveness, and redemption.

I enjoyed CLOSE YOUR EYES so very much. I loved Ms. Ward's writing as well as her storytelling abilities and I highly recommend the book to fans of literary mysteries.

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Murder by Mocha

Summary: The national bestselling author of Roast Mortem serves readers a fresh Coffeehouse mystery.

Clare's Village Blend coffee beans are being used to create a new java love potion: a "Mocha Magic Coffee," billed as an aphrodisiac. The product, expected to rake in millions, will be sold exclusively on Aphrodite's Village, one of the most popular online communities for women.

But at its launch, one of the website's editors is murdered. Clare is convinced a bitter killer wants the secret formula. Can she catch who's gone loco for mocha? -- Berkley Prime Crime

MURDER BY MOCHA by Cleo Coyle is the tenth book in the Coffeehouse Mystery series, and I can't believe that it's taken me this long to discover these books. It's one of those cozy series that I've always wanted to read because it love the concept behind the novels, but it wasn't until a few days ago that I finally picked up one. And I have to say that I'm really glad I did because it was a very fun book! That is... if a book about gruesome murders can be called fun.

First of all, the idea behind the Coffeehouse Mysteries is adorable, and I think MURDER BY MOCHA is especially cute. The amateur sleuth is Clare Cosi, the head barista of the Village Blend coffee shop in Greenwich Village; and I really liked her character. So right off the bat, I'm hooked -- a great character, a great setting, and lots of talk about coffee drinks. Can it get much better than that? Well, the answer is yes. The mystery in MURDER BY MOCHA also involves a new coffee and chocolate flavored love potion called "Mocha Magic Coffee" so there's lots of chocolate confections included too!

And that leads me to another great thing about this book (and actually the entire series.) MURDER BY MOCHA not only include references to coffee and chocolate, but the book includes loads of amazing recipes in the back. If a food or beverage was mentioned in the course of the novel, Ms. Coyle included a recipe along with tips. For example, there are recipes for Aphrodisiac Brownies, Frozen Mesixan Choco-Latte, Clare Cosi's Fettucine with "Italian Mole," Clare Cosi's Moist Mocha Cake with Shiny Chocolate Guinness Glaze, and many more! You can even visit the virtual Village Blend where you will find even more recipes.

I thought MURDER BY MYSTERY had a great ensemble of characters, and I liked so many of them. From the baristas in the Village Blend, to Clare's family, to Clare's love interest, to the NYPD detectives, I enjoyed all of them and I especially appreciated their interactions with each other. Clare was romantically involved with Mike, an NYPD detective, and he was also a very likable (and hot!) character. And if you like a little sexual chemistry in your cozies, then this series might be the one for you. Of course, a huge part of this book surrounded a love potion and aphrodisiacs...

While MURDER BY MYSTERY can definitely be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, I admit that I did find myself wishing that I had read some earlier books in the series. The author did an excellent job of sharing enough past information about the characters so that I didn't feel lost; however, I think I would have felt even more involved in the characters' lives had I actually read the other books. So it probably doesn't come as a surprise that I really want to go back and read the other books... and recipes.

So you're probably wondering by now, since it is a cozy, how did the mystery rate? I would have to say that I was very impressed with Ms. Coyle's writing as well as how the  mystery unfolded. I was most definitely kept guessing (although I admit that in books like this, I don't really try all that hard to figure things out.) There were most definitely some surprises along the way, and the action at the end was pretty fast-paced. Overall, I'd say that MURDER BY MOCHA is definitely at the high-end of cozy mystery books.

If you are like me and enjoy cozies (and especially ones that deal with food!), then I highly recommend giving MURDER BY MOCHA a shot! (Get it...a shot?)

Thanks to the publisher for providing 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, August 21, 2011

Review: An Accidental Mother

Summary: After her divorce, Kate Kindred decided that she would live her life without children. But then she fell in love with Jim, a handsome, caring man who had custody of his two-year-old son, Michael. And she fell in love with the boy, too. During the six years they all lived together, Kate learned the deep joys of motherhood—that was the gift that Michael gave her. But when her relationship with Jim ended, he denied her any contact with Michael. 

And her heart was broken.

An Accidental Mother beautifully describes the joys of mothering a young boy through complicated times. With sweet simple anecdotes and complex emotions, Kate Kindred marks every page with tears, including those that the most loving laughter can bring to any parent. -- Unbridled Books

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a book from Unbridled, and that's very unfortunate because I always know I'm in for a treat when I sit down with one of their books. Seriously, check out their upcoming releases and tell me that there's not a few you want to read! So I figured it was about time to read one and I chose AN ACCIDENTAL MOTHER by Katherine Anne Kindred.

AN ACCIDENTAL MOTHER tells the real-life story of Kate, a divorced (and childless) woman who falls in love with Jim. Jim is a father of two young children and he has custody of his son Michael. So when Kate decides to move in with Jim, she is suddenly thrown into full-fledged motherhood. She immediately falls in love with Michael (and his sister) and discovers that she's pretty happy in the role of mother. Kate takes on all things which define motherhood -- both the good and the bad. In no time at all, she bonds with Michael in a very special way, and it's apparent that they are both extremely attached to each other. (If you have any doubts, just check out his artwork which appears throughout the book.)

And that's pretty much how it was for Kate and Michael for six years -- almost Michael's entire life. Kate was truly the only "mother" he every knew. (His own mother abandoned him when he was young.) However, when Kate and Jim's relationship ends, Kate discovers that she not only loses Jim, but she also loses Michael. Since Kate was never allowed to formally adopt Michael, she has no legal rights to see him. Needless to say, Kate is devastated.

AN ACCIDENTAL MOTHER is a beautiful story about a woman's love for a child, and it most definitely touched my heart. Since I am a mother to a young boy, I could relate to (and even laugh at) Kate's stories about Michael, and I am pretty sure that many mothers will feel the exact same way. So much of this book was just about the simple, everyday events that occur between a mother and child, and I think the author captured these feelings perfectly. In so many ways, I think this book was a beautiful tribute to the relationship between a mother and child.

However, Kate's story doesn't have a happy ending and that absolutely broke my heart. In fact, I found parts of this book to be very difficult to read. I can't imagine being a child's mother for six years and then watching him walk out of my life. And while I could relate to Kate's loss, my heart also broke for Michael -- he's only a little boy. First, he was neglected by his birth mom and then he lost Kate too. How much should a young child have to go through? None of this was his fault, yet he suffered so much. He was just an innocent victim of two adult's relationship woes.....

I don't think you have to be a mother to appreciate this book, but it might affect you a bit more if you are one. THE ACCIDENTAL MOTHER is a heartfelt book about love and loss, and it's guaranteed to touch you and make you think about what constitutes "parental rights."

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kid Konnection: Variety of Picture Books

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 new-to-us picture books.

Summary: The creators of the award-winning An Egg Is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy have teamed up again to create this gorgeous and informative introduction to the world of butterflies. From iridescent blue swallowtails and brilliant orange monarchs to the worlds tiniest butterfly (Western Pygmy Blue) and the largest (Queen Alexandra's Birdwing), an incredible variety of butterflies are celebrated here in all of their beauty and wonder. Perfect for a child's bedroom bookshelf or for a classroom reading circle!
-- Chronicle
A BUTTERFLY IS PATIENT by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long is a breath-taking picture book and an all-around great introduction to butterflies. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of beauty and butterfly facts, and I think children can't help but have a fun time learning about this amazing creature.

The thing that really jumped out to me about A BUTTERFLY IS PATIENT is how beautiful the entire book is. Not only is each page just filled with gorgeous images of butterflies, but there are also some pages with small pictures of the various varieties. Even the inside covers are beautiful close-ups of a butterfly's wing. Truly, the illustrations are spectacular and so colorful. I realize that butterflies are a pretty wonderful subject to draw, but there is a reason that Ms. Long is an award-winning illustrator of children's books. This book could (and should) be looked at over and over again.

Once I was able to stop gawking at all of the butterflies, I began to realize that this book is chockful of important facts about butterflies. In fact, I thought I was somewhat familiar with them; however, I quickly discovered a ton of new facts. There are pages about butterflies' eating and drinking habits, their ability to help pollinate, their navigation patterns, and of course, how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. I had no idea that some varieties eat poisonous plants so that they eventually become poisonous to predators.

If your child is interested in science or the beauty of butterflies, then I highly recommend this gorgeous picture book. It would also make a wonderful addition to early education classrooms.

Summary: Renowned author Daniel Pinkwater and best-selling poet and artist Calef Brown team up to champion the ridiculous! These endlessly fascinating and imaginative poems are as fresh and delightful today as they were when Edward Lear wrote them more than a hundred years ago—from "The Owl and the Pussycat" to "The Pobble Who Has No Toes." This charming book proves that, sometimes, there's nothing children need more than a healthy dose of nonsense! -- Chronicle Books

HIS SHOES WERE FAR TOO TIGHT by Edward Lear, masterminded by Daniel Pinkwater and illustrated by Calef Brown is probably the book that Booking Son (and his dad) enjoyed the most. This adorable picture book is a little different from most kids' books that we read because it contains lots of silly poems. I thought the book was cute, but Booking Son and his dad kept repeating the poems and giggling long after they finished reading it.

The poetry in HIS SHOES WERE FAR TOO TIGHT were originally written by Edward Lear over 100 years ago. They are nonsensical and terribly silly, but they obviously still stand the test of time. Just to give you an idea of the uniqueness of the poems, check out these titles: The Jumblies, Mrs. Blue Dickey Bird, and The Quangle Wangle's Hat. My favorite one in the book was probably the last one -- Nonsense Alphabet. I just found it fun to read.

One thing I can definitely say about this book is that it it is highly entertaining. Naturally, there will be a lot of laughs at the silliness, but I also have a feeling that these poems will help stretch kids' imaginations. The poems themselves use lots of silly made-up words, but the illustrations and presentation of the poems also contribute to this overall creative feel of the book.

HIS SHOES WERE FAR TOO TIGHT is a guaranteed winner for fans of children's poetry!

Summary: Since ancient times, one question has endured in the hearts and minds of children: Why do I have to make my bed if it's just going to get messed up again? Now, Wade Bradford takes readers on a trip through time for a humorous look at how bed-making has evolved throughout history.  Using examples of household tasks that might have been performed in colonial America, in ancient Egypt, by Vikings, and so on, this clever examination of chore lore eventually reveals the answer to this age-old question. (Hint: Mothers throughout history have always had a ready response.) This book makes history so much fun, kids won't even realize they're learning. -- Tricycle Press

I absolutely adored WHY DO I HAVE TO MAKE MY BED? OR A HISTORY OF MESSY ROOMS by Wade Bradford and illustrations by Johanna van der Sterre. I think many moms will relate to the young boy in the story who feels as if he has already done his fair share of chores and wonders why he has to make his bed. What mom hasn't heard the following:

"So why do I have to make my bed? It's just going to get mess up again?"

In WHY DO I HAVE TO MAKE MY BED?, the mom tells her son that his question reminds her of her mother (his grandmother) who wondered why she had to make her bed. She had already finished her other chores such as "dusted my rock 'n' roll records, picked up my slinky, my Hula-hoops," etc.She teaches her son about the chores of early Americans, the ancient Egyptians and Romans, the Vikings, etc. all the way back to the cavemen! In the process, she gives the boy an answer that every mom will recognize, "Because I said so!"

This book was too fun! Not only did it teach a lesson about obeying parents and contributing to the responsibilities of the household, but it also teaches kids about chores throughout history. Kids will love seeing the variety of duties that their ancestors had to do while at the same time realizing that they aren't alone. Hopefully, WHY DO I HAVE TO MAKE MY BED? will make kids less reluctant to help around the house! And if you're lucky, they just might see how much easier their lives are now when compared to children of the past.

I was excited to find a teacher's guide for WHY DO I HAVE TO MAKE MY BED? There are some pre-reading activities along with some discussion questions. There are also some activities to do after reading the book including creating a "how-to" book about making a bed, vocabulary skits, and a chores throughout the ages presentation. I would be thrilled if the teachers in my son's classroom did a brief unit on this book!

Thanks to the publishers for sending 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, August 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: Susan Gregg Gilmore & Giveaway

I am so excited about today's post because it's an essay from one of my favorite writers -- Susan Gregg Gilmore. Plus, I have a fantastic giveaway! What could be better for one of the last Fridays of the summer?

Susan is the author of two fantastic novels LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN and THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE, and I loved both of them. You can read my reviews here and here. Not only do I absolutely adore Susan's writing and her extremely memorable characters, but she is also a great friend. Susan is one of those special people that you meet and immediately fall in love with.

I think you'll enjoy her guest post because it gives you a sense of Susan's personality and writing style. You'll also get some insight into her novels. Trust me -- read them. You won't regret it! So without further ado, here's Susan.......

It’s been three-plus years since the Booking Mama and I met in Lititz, PA, at Aaron’s Bookstore.  I was celebrating the hardcover release of Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, and she was there to cheer me on along with her precious mama and sweet, sweet sister. 

Our paths have crossed hundreds of times since, on twitter much more often than in person, but we’ve still managed to keep in touch.

When The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove came out in hardcover a year ago, Julie was there in Lititz to celebrate with me, again.  This time she brought poundcake!  Bezellia’s in paper now with a great new cover, and Julie is here, this time hosting a giveaway to help me spread the word.

Thanks to Dairy Queen, I met Julie and so many other readers that I now call my friends.  It also gave me the opportunity to eat a boatload of Dilly Bars with just about every book club I visited with from Arkansas to New Jersey.  Of course, as a writer, it allowed me to explore my heritage, my culture, my family’s roots in the rich Tennessee soil.  That was rich fodder for a storyteller. 

But Bezellia did so much more for me.  This book really gave me the opportunity to come to terms with the racial inequities that I witnessed as a child growing up in the South.  This is not my personal story but is rooted in my memories, my perceptions, of the place I knew.  And it was only when I came home to Nashville, thirty years after I left, that I found the girl who could lead me down on this journey.

Set in those final dark hours before the Civil Rights Movement really took hold, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is the tale of one young woman who had to make tough choices in a world where society was neatly ordered by class, status, and skin color.  I’m really proud of this book and pleased that Target has chosen it as part of their Emerging Author Program.  And I hope you, the reader, enjoy spending some time in my hometown with Bezellia Grove.

Susan Gregg Gilmore was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1961. She began her writing career at the University of Virginia as a reporter for the school’s award-winning newspaper, The Cavalier Daily.
After graduating in 1983, she assumed a secretarial position with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

A year later, she entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, earning a Master of Arts in American Studies. She remembers asking a favorite professor about pursuing a writing career, and he told her she needed to live life first.

So she did.  She married in 1985 and with her husband, Dan, has now raised three daughters.

She has made hundreds of cupcakes for bake sales, chaired school book fairs, volunteered in inner-city schools and taught Vacation Bible School all the while writing for papers including the Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor and the Chattanooga News-Free Press.

While on staff at the Free Press, Gilmore wrote a weekly column about parenting in the South.
Her first novel, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, is rooted in summer vacations spent with her paternal grandmother and grandfather, a revival-bred preacher, who after church on Sundays, always took his granddaughters to the Dairy Queen.

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen (Shaye Areheart Books/Crown/2008) was called a “stand-out coming of age novel” by NPR’s Alan Cheuse and was a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) 2009 Book Award Nominee.

Her second novel, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove (Shaye Areheart Books/Crown/2010), was recently named a 2010 SIBA Summer OKRA Pick.

Gilmore currently lives in Chattanooga with her family.

Susan has an amazing giveaway going on right now for bookclubs called the "31 Days of Book Clubs and Bezellia Grove!" Here's the scoop straight from Susan's website:

All Book Clubs who choose THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE as one of their reads during the month of October will receive the following:

Free Skype, i-Chat or Phone Call with me
Maizelle’s Pound Cake Recipe
Personalized Book Plates
Your Club Featured on My Blog and Author Facebook Page

Now for the GRAND PRIZE. Drum roll here . . .
The Book Club that meets during the month of October and hosts the MOST AUTHENTIC Southern Luncheon or Dinner with a 1950s or 1960s theme will receive the following:
Maizelle’s Pound Cake made by the author for the club’s November or December meeting

- A Name of the group’s choosing (approved by the author) included in my third novel
- A Skype, i-Chat, or Phone Call with Random House Sales Rep and Books on the Nightstand co-host Ann Kingman
- The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove necklaces that feature the new paperback cover (limit 12)
- Advanced Reader Copies (limit 12) of my next book. Be the first to talk about it!

You can read more about it here.

Giveaway alert: Thanks the the fine folks at Random House, I have three copies of THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE to share! To enter, just fill out the form below before September 1st at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cool Down with AC - The A.B.C. Murders Discussion

Summary: There’s a serial killer on the loose, working his way through the alphabet and the whole country is in a state of panic.

A is for Mrs. Ascher in Andover, B is for Betty Barnard in Bexhill, C is for Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston. With each murder, the killer is getting more confident—but leaving a trail of deliberate clues to taunt the proud Hercule Poirot might just prove to be the first, and fatal, mistake. -- Harper

It's time again for another Cool Down with Agatha Christie readalong! This week, I am hosting a discussion of THE A.B.C. MURDERS by Agatha Christie. THE A.B.C. MURDERS was a new-to-me read, and I have to say that I was quite impressed with all of the twists and turns. I'm not entirely sure it's going to go down as one of my favorite AC books, but I was still blown away by Ms. Christie's ability to weave a good mystery!

For those of you not familiar with this book, THE A.B.C. MURDERS tells the story of a very unique serial killer on the loose in England. The murderer is targeting his (or her) victims and locations based on the alphabet, hence the title. For example, the first murder is Mrs. Ascherin in Andover, the second in Betty Bernard in Bexhill, etc. The murderer is sending Hercule Poirot taunting letters which give warnings as to the dates of the murders, but it appears that he is one step ahead of the famous detective. Can Hercule Poirot figure out the murderer and the motive behind the madness?

I actually loved how different THE A.B.C. MURDERS was that some other Agatha Christie books that I've read. It was more about the psychology surrounding a serial murderer instead of a traditional whodunit, and I loved how it taxed Poirot's brain. The "murderer" is presented to the reader early on in the novel and the real question for Poirot was the "why." He admitted that the murderer was a madman but he also knew that there was a great deal of planning involved in carrying out these murders. He couldn't put his finger on the motive behind the murders, and it wasn't until his friend Hastings mentioned something in passing that everything started to come together for him.

While I was highly entertained by this novel, I also found my reactions to this story to be interesting. Even though the murderer was "outed" at the beginning of the novel, I had a sneaky suspicion that he wasn't the murderer. I just couldn't believe that Ms. Christie wouldn't have something up her sleeve. However, because I kept doubting who the murderer was, I became frustrated that I couldn't figure out anything -- not the murderer, the motive, etc. I guess my feelings were pretty similar to Poirot's! As the story began unraveling at the end, I wasn't necessarily surprised by the culprit, but I was shocked by how twisted and complex the resolution was. There is absolutely no way I saw any of it coming. And that's one of the reasons that I adore Agatha Christie -- she always manages to surprise me!

As part of my preparation for this discussion, I discovered some interesting things about THE A.B.C. MURDERS. First of all, the book was originally published in 1936 and sold in the U.S. for $2. I know I should be surprised that this book is 75 years old, but I am just amazed by how "current" this book seems. There were definitely references to that time period, but I swear the book could have been written today. So much of what occurred in this novel is still relevant, and I guess that's why she's "The Queen of Mystery."

In addition, Ms. Christie has some special references to her other books in THE A.B.C. MURDERS. In Chapter 1, she refers to a situation in THREE ACT TRAGEDY as well as one in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. In Chapter 3, she mentions Poirot's idea of a perfect crime which later appears in FOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE. And in Chapter 19, she references the book THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES. I was only able to catch the first reference, but I love how smart she was!

And finally, THE A.B.C. MURDERS has been adapted into a few other works. There was a 1965 movie adaptation which was called The Alphabet Murders with Tony Randall starring as Poirot. And a second movie was made in 1992 for the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet playing the role of Hercule Poirot. This adaptation had a few character and plot changes including what happened to the murderer at the end. (I won't give that away here!) There has also been a video game and a four-part anime based on the novel.

Now it's your turn. You can answer as many or as few of these questions as you like. Or, you can bring up some ideas of your own!

1) I'm almost always amazed by the many twists and turns in Agatha Christie's novels. Were you surprised with the conclusion of THE A.B.C. MURDERS? Did you have any suspicions about the murderer?

2) How did THE A.B.C. MURDERS compare to other Agatha Christie books that you've read? Would you say it was one of your favorites?

3) I have to admit that I really thought the murderer was toying with Poirot with his letters -- that the motive behind the murders might be personal and, therefore, somehow linked to Poirot. I was absolutely shocked with the resolution of the case -- not so much because of who the murderer was, but rather because I kept looking for the link to Poirot. Was it just me? Or did you have a similar reaction to the letters and the motive?

4) I found Poirot and Hastings' relationship to be quite entertaining; however, I was a little bit surprised by how Poirot treated him. (I found it to be a little degrading, but maybe he was just teasing?) Did you find it ironic that Hastings was actually the one whose practicality helped Poirot to solve the crime?

5) Ms. Christie's writing style is a little different in THE A.B.C. MURDERS -- she combined first and third-person narrative. To make things even more unusual, the third-person narrative is reconstructed by Hastings, the first-person narrator. Did you appreciate the two "different" narrators? Did this presentation style work for you? What were the benefits (if any)?

Two participants in today's discussion have the opportunity to win a "cool" Agatha Christie prize pack including a surprise AC gift! So remember, when you leave your comment, please leave an email address!

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