Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Fifteen Digits


Is it really insider trading if you've been an outsider your entire life?

Five men. Five walks of life. Every day they come together at the white shoe law firm Olmstead & Taft. But they're not lawyers. They're "Printers": blue-collar guys consigned to the dark basement of the firm charged with copying, collating and delivering the mountains of paperwork that document millions of dollars of sensitive legal secrets.

Until the five are approached by an ambitious young attorney who teaches them what they have: insider information. Together they make a plan: take the classified documents that pass through their hands every day and use them to get rich. They create a joint account to deposit the spoils. An account with a safeguard-each one only knows one section of the access code.

Which means that for all five conspirators, there's no way out. But as too much money piles up to go unnoticed, the Printers will discover there's one thing even worse than being an outsider: being in too deep. -- Mulholland

I know it sounds like I'm patting myself on the back, but I am so glad that I started doing Mystery Mondays. For whatever reason, I noticed that I wasn't reading many mystery or suspense novels once I started blogging; and I realized that I missed those genres. I think my timing was pretty good because it wasn't too long after I started this feature that Mulholland Books was born. I have to say that I've grown to love this imprint, and I can always count on a quality read for Mystery Mondays.

The latest novel that captured my interest was FIFTEEN DIGITS by Nick Santora. For those of you not familiar with this author (or think the name looks familiar but can't figure out why), Mr. Santora has written for some pretty fantastic television shows including The Sopranos (one of my all-time faves), Law & Order, and Prison Break. He has also written the bestseller SLIP & FALL which I hope to read in the near future -- you'll see why after you read the rest of this review.

After completing FIFTEEN DIGITS, I know one thing for sure. Mr. Santora has a knack for creating some interesting characters, some intense scenes, and some great dialogue. I was highly entertained by FIFTEEN DIGITS, and I was reminded of how much I missed reading these types of novels. This novel was fast-paced and filled with a lot of action; however, it also had some characters that I grew to really like (even though they were the "bad guys.") I'm sure it's no accident, but FIFTEEN DIGITS read like a movie to me; and I could easily see this one on the big screen. In fact, I tried to cast (or at least picture) the characters as I read the story.

FIFTEEN DIGITS tells the story of five young men who work for an upscale New York law firm. Four of the men work in the basement as "printers" while one works as a lawyer upstairs. When the lawyer comes up with a way for all five of them to get rich quickly using the "insider" knowledge they see every day as part of their printing duties, the men are all initially reluctant to participate. However, each young man realizes that to live their simple dreams, they need more money than they will ever make working in the printing department.

At first, everything is just too easy for these guys and they begin making money... lots of money. But when they decide they've made enough and want to get out, they quickly learn that they are in much deeper than they ever imagined.

FIFTEEN DIGITS is an intense thriller that deals with white-collar crime but also has just the right amount of humor and character development to bring it to the next level. I thought it was very well written and the pacing was excellent. I loved getting caught up in the action and I was even startled by the ending. However, what I wasn't expecting was that I would feel an emotional attachment to the characters... especially since they were breaking the law.

Mr. Santora did a lot of good things in this novel, but what just might have impressed me the most was how well he made me sympathize with the printers. All of the guys were basically good people who just made a bad decision. The author provided enough background information on each of the characters for the reader to not only like them, but understand why they chose to go down this road. I actually found myself rooting for the criminals and wanting them to get away with the crimes and be able to lead "normal" lives. FIFTEEN DIGITS definitely makes you look at the motivations behind crimes a little differently and realize that things aren't always black and white.

I thought FIFTEEN DIGITS was a very enjoyable book and one that kept me on the edge-of-my-seat while also making me sympathize with the characters. Highly recommended for fans of thrillers.

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

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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I've Joined the Meg Cabot Read-Along!

New photoMA17907-Cabot_150_2I am probably crazy to even sign up for Book Club Girl's Meg Cabot Read-Along because of my schedule, but I couldn't resist. Meg Cabot is one of Booking Daughter's favorite authors; and while I have read a few of her middle grade books, I haven't read any of her adult books. I figure this read-along is just what I needed to get me reading at least a few of her books!

There is loads of information on Book Club Girl's website about all of the amazing characters that Ms. Cabot has created through the years along with descriptions of the books. Make sure you go here for the details.

Here's the schedule of when Book Club Girl will post questions about each book for us to discuss:

May 22th—Boy Next Door discussion on Book Club Girl
June 12th – Queen of Babble discussion on Book Club Girl
July 3rd - Size 12 is Not Fat discussion on Book Club Girl
July 10th -Size 12 and Ready to Rock goes on sale
July 31st -Size 12 and Ready to Rock discussion on Book Club Girl on Air, post questions for Meg’s Book Club Girl On Air interview at 7PM

It's not to late to sign up! I'm sure this read-along will be a ton of fun especially when Ms. Cabot joins us at the end for an on air interview!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kid Konnection: Perfect

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 feature a very powerful book that was written in prose.

Summary: Everyone has something, someone, somewhere else that they’d rather be. For four high-school seniors, their goals of perfection are just as different as the paths they take to get there.

Cara’s parents’ unrealistic expectations have already sent her twin brother Conner spiraling toward suicide. For her,
perfect means rejecting their ideals to take a chance on a new kind of love. Kendra covets the perfect face and body—no matter what surgeries and drugs she needs to get there. To score his perfect home run—on the field and off—Sean will sacrifice more than he can ever win back. And Andre realizes that to follow his heart and achieve his perfect performance, he’ll be living a life his ancestors would never have understood.

Everyone wants to be perfect, but when perfection loses its meaning, how far will you go? What would
you give up to be perfect?

A riveting and startling companion to the bestselling
Impulse, Ellen Hopkins's Perfect exposes the harsh truths about what it takes to grow up and grow into our own skins, our own selves. - McElderry Books

Ever since I met author Ellen Hopkins at last year's BEA, I have wanted to read one of her books. I decided to begin with her young adult PERFECT mainly because I've heard so many wonderful things about it. Kathy (aka BermudaOnion) just raved about this book, so on one hand, I was very excited to read it; however, on the other hand, I was just a little bit worried that she built it up too much in my mind. I had extremely high expectations...

I am so very happy to say that I loved PERFECT -- just as much as Kathy. In fact, I sat down one afternoon and got so caught up in these characters' lives that I read it in one sitting, and that's not an easy feat when a book is over 600 pages. I rarely have the time (or attention span) to do that with a book, but I just couldn't put down this novel. I was riveted to the drama of these kids' lives as well as Ms. Hopkins' truly amazing writing style, and I immediately began wondering if I shouldn't read everything she's ever written. I was that impressed!

PERFECT is such a unique book and one that deeply affected me. It deals with the lives of four high school seniors who are all aiming for perfection in some way. Whether it's aiming for the perfect appearance, living up to their parents' expectations, discovering their sexuality, or getting into the right college, these children (yes high school seniors are definitely still kids!) were trying to deal with all of the pressure in their lives. Honestly, those issues that I mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. This book delved into so many other relevant topics that affects teens' lives, and I was extremely impressed with just how much Ms. Hopkins addressed in this book.

What made this book even more special is how Ms. Hopkins chose to tell these kids' stories. She wrote this entire book (remember it's over 600 pages) in free verse... and it was incredibly powerful. The sections alternated between the various characters' voices, and I appreciated how some of the "poems" also had messages when you read the first letters vertically. Truly, the presentation was so creative! There were so many parts that I stopped and re-read because they were so beautiful, and I honestly do not have the words to express how much I enjoyed reading this novel. I loved how the author managed to capture the essence of each character in their own voice, but she also managed to convey the emotions, and especially the pain, that they were experiencing.

As a mother, PERFECT kind of scared the heck out of me. I hope that my children never experience half of what the characters in this book did, but I do know that many of the issues in PERFECT will be present in our lives -- whether it's our own family or some people we know. I do not consider my overly naive, but these four kids were trying to handle so many pressures of the outside world, and I just want to protect my own children from the pain. I think that reading PERFECT might have helped me to be a better mother because it made me conscious of the extra-pressure that I put on my children. While I might not be able to control my children's own tendencies to perfection, I can hopefully control some of the stresses that I might add. And if I'm being truly reflective, I probably shouldn't set my standards quite as high for myself either. There is little doubt that I am a perfectionist and I could benefit from a lot of the messages in this book.

PERFECT is definitely geared towards an older YA audience. This book not only deals with some very serious issues, but there is also lots of content that's more suitable for mature readers (i.e. sex, drugs, language, etc.) Needless to say, I won't be passing this one on to Booking Daughter for a few more years. Having said that, I do want to read and discuss PERFECT with her one day. This book is wonderful for discussion because it brings to light so many of those problems that aren't always easy to just bring up in casual conversation.

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed PERFECT. It's one of those books that is just so powerful and has the ability to make you see the world around you a little differently. Highly recommended!

By the way, I was so excited to learn that PERFECT is a companion novel to IMPULSE. Guess what I need to read soon!

I received a copy of this novel from a very good friend.

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, April 27, 2012

Review: Escape from Camp 14

Summary: A New York Times bestseller, the shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived. 

North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Donghyuk did. 

In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin's life unlocks the secrets of the world's most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden's harrowing narrative of Shin's life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world's darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival. -- Viking

It might come as a shock to some of you that I am reviewing a non-fiction title rather than my father; however, I occasionally do read them... especially when the story is as amazing as ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14: ONE MAN'S REMARKABLE ODYSSEY FROM NORTH KOREA TO FREEDOM IN THE WEST by Blaine Harden. This book is about Shin Dong-hyuk, one of the only people born in a North Korean prison camp to have escaped and survived; and it is fascinating -- I couldn't put down this book.

While ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 was utterly gripping, it was also a darkly depressing book. I don't know if I can go so far as to say that I enjoyed this one, but I did appreciate it; and furthermore, I liked that I learned so much from reading it. I am the first to tell you that I'm not that savvy on a lot of current events (and I don't know a heck of a lot about North Korea), and maybe I'm naive, but I was blown away by what's going on in this country. I knew the political regime was oppressive, but I honestly had no idea that political prisons like Camp 14 even existed.

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 covers a lot of ground for a relatively short book. It looks at Shin's years at the prison camp, what happened to him after his escape and how he acclimated to America; but it also provides some background and history of North Korea. Basically, I found just about everything in this book to be pretty incredible and interesting, and I'm hard pressed to come up with a favorite part.

I found the sections about Shin's years at the camp to be horrific and they reminded me of some of the Holocaust books that I've read in the past. Many of his stories were larger-then-life and quite difficult for me to grasp from my cozy couch in Central PA. What I can say for sure is that Shin's life experiences reminded me of just how fortunate I am to be born in America. I think I all too often take things for granted.

The parts about Shin's escape were also intriguing especially as they pertained to Shin's ability (or inability) to fit into society. I thought it was interesting just how much luck played a factor in his escape and I was amazed by Shin's courage and resourcefulness. I probably shouldn't have been, but I was surprised by how hard the transition to "normal" society was for Shin. He had only ever lived in a prison camp and been treated horribly by almost everyone including his family. He didn't understand kindness and had a difficult time trusting individuals nevertheless making friends. While there are organizations in place to help him, I think Shin is still trying to cope with all of the changes that came with his freedom.

Finally, I appreciated that Mr. Harden did provide some background about North Korea's political system. I knew the basics, but it was nice to learn some of the history behind the country. I finished this book in awe that a country with such brutal leaders exists in our world. It truly scares the heck out of me!

I have to give a lot of credit to the author for tackling this story. I'm sure it wasn't always easy to research and write, but I think he did an excellent job of showing the many sides to this story. Shin wasn't always the most reliable of storytellers. I am not saying this in a critical way at all because I have no idea how Shin is even able to speak about the atrocities he experienced, but his story has changed a few times along the way. Mr. Harden no way shied from showing the positive and negative aspects of Shin's character, and I actually am more willing to accept this book as truth because of that.

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 is a very special book about an unbelievable man's story, and I think all Americans could benefit from reading it. Highly recommended.

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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: The Book of Madness and Cures

Summary: Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in 16th century Venice: a woman who practices medicine. Her father, a renowned physician, has provided her entrée to this all-male profession, and inspired in her a shared mission to understand the secrets of the human body.

Then her father disappears and Gabriella faces a crisis: she is no longer permitted to treat her patients, women who need her desperately, without her father's patronage. She sets out across Europe to find where-and why-he has gone. Following clues from his occasional enigmatic letters, Gabriella crosses Switzerland, Germany and France, entering strange and forbidding cities. She travels to Scotland, the Netherlands, and finally to Morocco. In each new land she probes the mystery of her father's flight, and open new mysteries of her own. Not just mysteries of ailments and treatments, but ultimate mysteries of mortality, love, and the timeless human spirit.

Filled with medical lore and sensuous, vivid details of Renaissance life, The Book of Madness and Cures is an intoxicating and unforgettable debut. -- Little Brown

When I read the description of THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES by Regina O'Melveny, I thought it sounded like a book that would be right up my alley. I enjoy the occasional historical fiction book, and I love the book's setting -- Venice in the 16th century. Plus, the main character is a female doctor who travels all over the Europe in search of her father so I figured the descriptions of the locations had the potential to be interesting; and it didn't hurt that the author is a critically acclaimed poet. I figured THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES would be a winner!

I really tried to appreciate this book, but I couldn't. Overall, it just wasn't a story that resonated with me. Was it because my expectations were too high? Maybe, but I honestly don't think so. THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES was one of those books that I had a hard time picking up after setting down -- there was nothing calling me back to the story. But it was also more than that. I just didn't think the plot was as tight as it could have been and the story didn't really flow for me.

I've dreaded writing this review because I always try to focus on what I did enjoy about a book. In the case of THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES, I'd have to say that it was the basic storyline and some of the prose. This novel truly had so much potential! Having a 16th century female doctor who travels across Europe, many times disguised as a man, could have been exciting and suspenseful; and at times, this story was. I was definitely intrigued by Gabriella's travels and the locales she visited, and I did appreciate some of the descriptions. There is no doubt that Ms. O'Melveny has a way with words, and I was quite impressed with much of her writing.

The real issue to me was that THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES was all over the place. I think the author must have had this spectacular idea for a novel, and she tried to incorporate all of her ideas into this one story. I could be totally off-base here, but I think she almost tried to do too much with this novel. I don't want to give too much away, but there are a few parts of this novel (and one in particular) that seemed to be going somewhere... and then they would just be dropped with absolutely no mention again. It was odd to me, but even worse, it was frustrating because I actually thought these parts had some potential to be very exciting.

In addition, the main character was working on a medical book with descriptions of ailments and possible cures. These brief essays were woven into the story, and I didn't really understand their placement. Maybe it was me, but it seemed kind of random. I guess I was looking for connections to the story, but I wasn't able to really find them.

And finally, I just didn't feel an affinity towards Gabriella and her quest at all. Gabriella was difficult for me to like, and I didn't really get a true understanding of her character and her actions. At times she showed great courage; and then there were other times when her behavior wasn't quite as consistent (i.e. the ending of the novel.) In summary, I think I just had a big issue understanding her overall motivations. Her desire and journey to find her father just seemed to be a little far-fetched. Perhaps, more character development at the beginning of the novel would have helped me to "buy" her intense desires.

It it with reluctance that I suggest THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES to a book club. There is a reading guide available with nine questions, but I have a feeling that my group would spend most of the evening dissecting the plot rather than discussing major themes. Some of the topics you might want to explore include father/daughter relationships, the role of women in the 16th century, travel, goals, and passion.

I don't want to sound cruel because I'm sure THE BOOK OF MADNESS AND CURES will appeal to many readers. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of them.

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

Summary: A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town 

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well. 

Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel. -- William Morrow

Ever since Kathy (aka BermudaOnion) met author Wiley Cash at last year's SIBA, she has been telling me what a great guy he is. She also mentioned that his debut  novel A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME sounded like a good one. I am a HUGE fan of Southern fiction -- maybe it's because I grew up in the South; and I am always on the search for quality books that also capture the essence of the South. Let me just tell you that A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME is most definitely a winner on both fronts. I just loved this novel and it exceeded all of my expectations!

It's a little difficult for me to capture everything that occurs in A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME in just a few sentences. At its simplest, this novel tells the story of a tragedy that occurs in a small western North Carolina town. It explores the universal conflict of good versus evil, and it is extremely well written. Enough said? I picked up this novel not knowing much of anything about it (I'm not even sure I read the back cover), and I just allowed myself to get caught up in the story. It worked for me, and I think this approach just might be the best way to appreciate this story.

Having said that, I do want to share some of the wonderful things that struck me about A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME... without giving too much away. The story is told by three very different narrators --  Jess, a young boy who is forced to grow up way too fast after he sees a few incidents that weren't meant for his eyes; Adelaide, the town midwife who did her best to protect the town's children; and Clem, the town's sheriff. Usually when I read a book that alternates between different character's voices, I find that one of them resonates with me more (or is frankly just more believable) than the others; however, in the case of A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, that wasn't the case. Each character was extremely well developed, and their voices were so authentic. I think that's a huge credit to the author's writing skills.

And that brings me to my next point. Mr. Cash is a seriously talented writer. Not only did he create some amazing characters in the narrators (and capture their voices effectively), but he also made the secondary characters in the story to be very complex and believable as well. Jess's parents were extremely interesting and so well developed, and don't even get me started on how real (and scary) the pastor character was. Looking back at this novel, I can honestly say that every character (even the minor ones) provided something of value to the story.

In addition, I loved how Mr. Cash brought the small mountain town setting to life. Mr. Cash wrote about what he was familiar with and it was evident to me as a reader. His descriptions of the town and its inhabitants rang with authenticity. I thought he did an amazing job of capturing not only the look and feel of this town, but also the way of life of the people. And by that, I mean their culture and especially their religious beliefs. I admit that I was fascinated by some of the practices and beliefs of the church's congregation, and I loved how this book explored faith and salvation.

There were just so many things about A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME that made me think and feel, and I truly believe that's what makes a book so special -- when it can affect me like this novel did. So many of the themes that were explored in the pages of this book are ones that resonate with me like faith, family, love, forgiveness, and redemption; however, it also does a wonderful job of bringing to light the constant battle between good and evil in our world. I finished this book days ago and I'm still thinking about it!

As a result, I am suggesting that you consider A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME for your next book club meeting. Trust me on this -- it's perfect for all types of book groups because there are so many universal themes. There is a reading guide available, but I'm not sure you'll need it. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include faith/religion, revenge, love, secrets, courage, good vs. evil, guilt, salvation, forgiveness, and redemption. There are also many other things to explore including symbolism, character development, the title, and the use of setting.

On one hand, I feel like I've gushed about this book for quite a few paragraphs; but on the other hand, I think I've only touched the tip of the iceberg with just how well done this story was. I sincerely hope I was able to express how much I adored A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. It is a beautifully written story with some memorable characters, and I am recommending it to everyone (and I mean everyone!) I know.

Thanks to the publisher (and author) for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Giveaway: Luanne Rice Books

LITTLE NIGHT, the 30th novel from bestselling author Luanne Rice will be going on-sale on June 5th. This novel deals with themes of domestic violence and how it affects the entire family; and has already received fantastic pre-pub buzz including a starred Publishers Weekly review and a starred Library Journal review.

I am definitely intrigued by LITTLE NIGHT; and it appears that this subject matter is very close to Ms. Rice's heart. In the winter of 2012, Ms. Rice interviewed women whose lives have been touched by abuse. Three women told their stories on camera, including Ms. Rice, who was in an abusive marriage herself. Between now and June 5th, when LITTLE NIGHT is published, Luanne will be posting the videos to her website, starting with Tamara Edwards’ story.

Here's the first video:

Thanks to Penguin, I have copies of the brand-new release LITTLE NIGHT and THE SILVER BOAT (which will be available in paperback the end of May) to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 14th 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!

Guest Review: Enterprise

Summary: Pearl Harbor . . . Midway . . . Guadalcanal . . . The Marianas . . . Leyte Gulf . . . Iwo Jima . . . Okinawa. These are just seven of the twenty battles that the USS Enterprise took part in during World War II. No other American ship came close to matching her record. Enterprise is the epic, heroic story of this legendary aircraft carrier—nicknamed “the fightingest ship” in the U.S. Navy—and of the men who fought and died on her. 

America’s most decorated warship, Enterprise was constantly engaged against the Japanese Empire from December 1941 until May 1945. Her career was eventful, vital, and short. She was commissioned in 1938, and her bombers sank a submarine just three days after the Pearl Harbor attack, claiming the first seagoing Japanese vessel lost in the war. It was the auspicious beginning of an odyssey that Tillman captures brilliantly, from escorting sister carrier Hornet as it launched the Doolittle Raiders against Tokyo in 1942, to playing leading roles in the pivotal battles of Midway and Guadalcanal, to undergoing the shattering nightmare of kamikaze strikes just three months before the end of the war. 

Barrett Tillman has been called “the man who owns naval aviation history.” He’s mined official records and oral histories as well as his own interviews with the last surviving veterans who served on Enterprise to give us not only a stunning portrait of the ship’s unique contribution to winning the Pacific war, but also unforgettable portraits of the men who flew from her deck and worked behind the scenes to make success possible. Enterprise is credited with sinking or wrecking 71 Japanese ships and destroying 911 enemy aircraft. She sank two of the four Japanese carriers lost at Midway and contributed to sinking the third. Additionally, 41 men who served in Enterprise had ships named after them. 

As with Whirlwind, Tillman’s book on the air war against Japan, Enterprise focuses on the lower ranks—the men who did the actual fighting. He puts us in the shoes of the teenage sailors and their captains and executive officers who ran the ship day-to-day. He puts us in the cockpits of dive bombers and other planes as they careen off Enterprise’s flight deck to attack enemy ships and defend her against Japanese attackers. We witness their numerous triumphs and many tragedies along the way. However, Tillman does not neglect the top brass—he takes us into the ward rooms and headquarters where larger-than-life flag officers such as Chester Nimitz and William Halsey set the broad strategy for each campaign. 

But the main character in the book is the ship itself. “The Big E" was at once a warship and a human institution, vitally unique to her time and place. In this last-minute grab at a quickly fading history, Barrett Tillman preserves the Enterprise story even as her fliers and sailors are departing the scene. -- Simon & Schuster

I'd very excited to welcome back my dad, Booking Pap Pap, as a guest reviewer. Today, he is reviewing ENTERPRISE: AMERICA'S FIGHTINGEST SHIP AND THE MEN WHO HELPED WIN WORLD WAR II by Barrett Tillman. Since this is technically a nonfiction book (about history nonetheless), it isn't really my thing; however, I think you'll find that Booking Pap Pap thinks this book will appeal to a broader audience than just history geeks. Here are his thoughts:

ENTERPRISE: AMERICA’S FIGHTINGEST SHIP AND THE MEN WHO HELPED WIN WORLD WAR II is a detailed account of the contribution of the U.S. aircraft carrier Enterprise and her crews in the Pacific war of World War II.  Author Barrett Tillman introduces Enterprise at her launching by the U.S. Navy on October 3, 1936, takes us through her final battle on May 14, 1945 and by the end of the book shares the story of her mothballing and eventual scrapping in 1958.  

Enterprise was part of the Pacific Fleet ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt to relocate from California to Hawaii.  Fortunately for the United States, Enterprise was not at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, due to a delay in returning from an assignment because of inclement weather.  Three days later, Enterprise, the sole remaining U.S. defender in the Pacific, extracted the first revenge against Japan by sinking a submarine off Oahu.  From then until 1945, Enterprise was involved in more naval engagements in the Pacific war than any other American ship. Enterprise participated in twenty Pacific battles including Midway, Guadalcanal, Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Tokyo and was given credit for downing nearly 1000 enemy aircraft and sinking 71 Japanese naval vessels.  She is the most decorated Navy vessel in our nation’s history.   

Enterprise also introduced two new technologies to the war.  She was the first ship to use night flight invasion missions and the first to adapt radar technology to flying airplanes.

After being forced from combat three times, only to be rebuilt and retrofitted for return to the war, Enterprise was finally put out of action by a Japanese kamikaze strike three months before Japan’s surrender.

However, this book is about much more than a description of an aircraft carrier.  Tillman brings the book to life with great details about the commanders, sailors, airplanes, pilots, battles and even the enemy.  Through interviews of veterans of the Enterprise, meticulous research and vivid descriptions of battles, the author was able to capture the spirit of the crew and pilots.  Tillman delivers to the reader real life stories of heroism that surpasses anything that could be written in a fiction novel.  He puts the reader in the middle of the action on the deck of the carrier and in the cockpits of the airplanes.  The fourteen pages of photographs add a realistic element to the many combat stories and personnel profiles the author shares with the reader.

ENTERPRISE is an excellent factual book that is not written as a history book but as a readable novel.  It is a must read for anyone who has interest in World War II or is just interested in reading a novel about true American heroism.

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: The Inquisitor

Summary: A spectacularly original thriller about a professional torturer who has a strict code, a mysterious past, and a dangerous conviction that he can save the life of an innocent child

Geiger has a gift: he knows a lie the instant he hears it. And in his business—called "information retrieval" by its practitioners—that gift is invaluable, because truth is the hottest thing on the market.  

Geiger's clients count on him to extract the truth from even the most reluctant subjects. Unlike most of his competitors, Geiger rarely sheds blood, but he does use a variety of techniques—some physical, many psychological—to push his subjects to a point where pain takes a backseat to fear. Because only then will they finally stop lying.  

One of Geiger's rules is that he never works with children. So when his partner, former journalist Harry Boddicker, unwittingly brings in a client who demands that Geiger interrogate a twelve-year-old boy, Geiger responds instinctively. He rescues the boy from his captor, removes him to the safety of his New York City loft, and promises to protect him from further harm. But if Geiger and Harry cannot quickly discover why the client is so desperate to learn the boy's secret, they themselves will become the victims of an utterly ruthless adversary.   

Mesmerizing and heart-in-your-throat compelling, The Inquisitor is a completely unique thriller that introduces both an unforgettable protagonist and a major new talent in Mark Allen Smith. -- Henry Holt

THE INQUISITOR by Mark Allen Smith is getting great press. It already has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal; and Nelson DeMille says, "This is one of the best and most engrossing debut novels I've read in years, and also one of the most original." Needless to say, I was extremely excited to read this novel.

And I do have to say that THE INQUISITOR is a very special thriller. I enjoyed it a great deal or maybe I should say I "appreciated it" since this book contains some pretty gruesome scenes. THE INQUISITOR tells the story of Geiger, a man who has a gift for getting to the truth of the matter or as he calls it "information retrieval." He uses a variety of physical and psychological methods to uncover secrets; however, he has a rule that he won't work with children. When his partner finds a client who wants a twelve-year-old boy interrogated, Geiger soon discovers that there is more to his client than meets the eye. He ends up rescuing the boy and then going to extreme measures to protect him. In the meantime, Geiger must uncover why the client is so keen on gathering information from the boy, and Geiger and his partner find that themselves involved with some pretty serious bad guys.

While I did find many parts of this book to be very good, I don't know if my feelings are quite as strong as many of the reviews out there. Don't get me wrong. I really liked this book, but I don't think it will go down as one of my favorites of the year. I can't put my finger on why I felt this way, but I suspect that my expectations might have been set too high by all of the other reviews I've read. I have a feeling if I had just picked up this book and read it, I would be telling you that this is an excellent novel.

So, I'd like to share with you some of the fantastic things about THE INQUISITOR that did manage to impress me. First of all, I thought the premise of the story was extremely original. A story with a protagonist who was an "information retrieval" expert isn't something you find every day. Add to that, Geiger wasn't exactly what you'd call a traditional hero -- he used some pretty gruesome means to extract information. As  result, I give some kudos to Mr. Smith for creating a unique story with unique characters in a genre where things can get kind of stale.

Another really good thing about this book is how suspenseful it was. Despite having some pretty high expectations, I was surprised by just how well-done it was. The story was engaging and the plot twists were very sophisticated. I was caught off guard more than once, and I thought the pacing of the novel was excellent. I have a feeling that most fans of this genre will be impressed.

However, it was the character development that really made me appreciate THE INQUISITOR. All of the characters in this story were complex (and by that I could also say troubled); and none more than Geiger himself. Truly, Geiger is one of the most memorable protagonists that I've encountered in recent memory. I liked Geiger, I really did, despite his choice of professions; and I loved how he blurred the lines of good and bad. Geiger is just fascinating because he is so darn messed up. He has virtually no memory of his life before he woke up on a bus when he was around twenty years old; and he suffers from debilitating migraines when he begins to remember his childhood. He has only business contacts and no real friends, but for some reason, I liked him. Maybe it was that he had an emotional attachment to the boy and wanted to protect him from harm.

The book ended with a few surprises and I guess you'd call it a cliffhanger of sorts. I'm sincerely hope that Mr. Smith will continue to write additional books about Geiger because I am dying to know more about him -- both his future and his past. THE INQUISITOR is highly recommended to fans of literary suspense novels.

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

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: Julia's Child

Summary: A delectable comedy for every woman who's ever wondered if buying that six-dollar box of organic crackers makes her a hero or a sucker. 

Julia Bailey is a mompreneur with too many principles and too little time. Her fledgling company, Julia's Child, makes organic toddler meals like Gentle Lentil and Give Peas a Chance. But turning a profit while saving the world proves tricky as Julia must face a ninety-two-pound TV diva, an ill-timed protest rally, and a room full of one hundred lactating breasts. Will she get her big break before her family reaches the breaking point? In the end, it is a story about motherhood's choices: organic versus local, paper versus plastic, staying at home versus risking it all. 

A cookbook author's hilarious fiction debut, Julia's Child will have foodies and all-natural mamas alike laughing, cheering, and asking for more. -- Plume

JULIA'S CHILD by Sarah Pinneo is chick lit for the modern mom set -- is that mom lit? It's a cute novel written by a former cookbook author that tells the story of Julia, a progressive mother of two who starts a business making organic meals for picky toddlers. Julia is able to balance her career and motherhood thanks to a nanny and an innovative business partner; however, when her products gets featured on a morning television show, the demand for them goes through the roof. Julia can barely keep up and is at wits end trying to "do it all." So when an offer comes from a major food conglomerate to buy her company, Julia has to do some serious soul-searching about her personal and professional life.

I thought JULIA'S CHILD was a fun read and was definitely worth a few hours of entertainment. I got quite a few laughs at the expense of young moms and their desire to protect their kids from... well everything. I appreciated that the story was humorous (and some of it was even tongue-in-cheek), but I also liked that there were some more serious issues addressed in the story too. Julia, as a mompreneur, faced many of the same issues that working moms everywhere have to deal with on a daily basis. She had to find time for her business, time for her kids, and even time for her husband. She also had to assess her life and make some decisions about her priorities. I have a feeling that the working moms reading this right now are totally nodding!

Besides dealing with so many of the working mom dilemmas, JULIA'S CHILD also discusses some other timely (or should I say trendy?) topics. There are discussions and side stories about the benefits of organic food and farming, paper vs. plastic, recycling, support for local stores, television time for kids, and a few more. Like many of you, I know many of my friends and I are concerned with these issues; and I even learned a few things while reading this book.

Another thing I enjoyed about JULIA'S CHILD were all of the food references. You could definitely tell that the author is someone who is very familiar with food and cooking. There were also a few of Julia's recipes included throughout the story which pleased me since there were so many descriptions of the tasty toddler tidbits. My kids are well past the ages to eat these types of food (and poor Booking Son wouldn't be able to find anything that he isn't allergic to), but I still enjoyed seeing the creativity involved in making these healthy items. In fact, I think many young moms would benefit from buying this novel for the recipes alone.

JULIA'S CHILD would make a fun book club pick -- especially if your group is made up of moms with young children. This novel would have been perfect about 10 years ago when my group first started and we all had babies and preschool age children. There are so many interesting things to discuss and this reading guide will help get your discussion started. Some of the topics you might want to explore include motherhood, career choices, sacrifice, parenting styles, big business, and staying true to one's self. It also might be cute to make some of the recipes in the book to bring to the meeting.

I thought JULIA'S CHILD was a cute book and I think most moms will agree.

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

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, April 21, 2012

Kid Konnection: National Poetry Month

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 feature two poetry books that we've been reading this month.

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 an extremely fun book of poems. Booking Son and his father were reading this book before bedtime one night and I heard quite a bit of laughter. I was surprised that a book of poems was the reason for the giggles, but when I took a closer look, it became apparent why. HIS SHOES WERE FAR TOO TIGHT is just plain silly!

I think HIS SHOES WERE FAR TOO TIGHT is an excellent way to introduce poetry to young children. This book is chock full of poems that are guaranteed to stretch your child's imagination and make them smile. I wasn't familiar with most of these poems, but I have a feeling I might be alone. Edward Lear wrote his nonsense poems over 150 years ago, they are still relevant today. I appreciated that the author included a brief (and very silly) bio of Mr. Lear at the beginning of the book to give some background into his life.

In addition to the poems, the colorful illustrations are quite a bit of fun. This book is full of detailed, yet whimsical, pictures of the characters in the poems. They are extremely interesting to look at and are the perfect complement to the poetry.

This book is a winner and sure to be a hit with little ones (and parents too!)

Summary: In this new anthology, Children's Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman shares a brand-new collection of poems especially suitable for learning by heart and saying aloud. As Mary Ann says: "When you learn a poem by heart, it becomes a part of you. You know it in your mind, in your mouth, in your ears, in your whole body. And best of all, you know it forever."

In addition to beloved poems by Mary Ann herself, this collection also features poems by such notable poets as Carl Sandburg, Karla Kuskin, Jack Prelutsky, Alice Schertle, and William Carlos Williams, as well as helpful tools that children, parents, and teachers can use for memorization and recitation.

The poems are coupled with Michael Emberley's humorous and lively art, offering a unique, approachable, and child-friendly collection. The wide variety of poems, from short to long and from silly to solemn, are sure to please every reader and inspire children of all ages to celebrate the joy of learning poetry by heart. -- Little, Brown

FORGET-ME-NOTS: POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Michael Emberley is a wonderful book of poems. While I definitely don't consider myself a fan of poetry (although I am finding that I enjoy books written in verse if that counts for anything), I absolutely loved this book. Part of the reason why is that it reminded me of my childhood. I appreciated rediscovering many of the poems that I remember hearing as a child.

The premise alone of FORGET-ME-NOTS also makes it extremely special. The idea behind this collection is that these poems are perfect for learning by heart and saying aloud. (Do any of you remember having to memorize poems and then reciting them to your class?) The book is pretty extensive and includes over 125 poems of varying lengths. In addition, the book is divided into some pretty neat chapters headings. There are sections titled, "The Short of It," "One and All," "Beautiful Beasts," "Delicious Dishes," "It's About Time," "Happiness Is," "Weather and Seasons," "Sad and Sorrowful," " Strange and Mysterious," "Poems from Storybooks," and "The Long of It." I think there's a little something for everyone, and there is such a wide variety of poems that it's guaranteed to entertain kids of all ages. Another nice feature of FORGET-ME-NOTS is that there are some suggestions at the end of the book for learning poetry by heart.

And finally, I enjoyed this book so much is that it just has some great poems by some great poets. There are some classic poems and also many more that were new-to-me. No matter how you slice it, FORGET-ME-NOTS is a great assortment of poetry. Many of you will recognize the poets whose works appear in this book including Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandberg, Edward Lear (see above review!), Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Shel Silverstein.

Ms. Hoberman is a former Children's Poet Laureate and a winner of the National Book Award. It is apparent that she has a passion for sharing her love of poetry with children, and I think she has accomplished that once again with FORGET-ME-NOTS. This collection of poetry would make a fantastic gift for children of all ages, and it's one that I can see being handed down through the generations. In my opinion, FORGET-ME-NOTS is that special!

I adored FORGET-ME-NOTS and I think it's a must-have book for every child's library! Highly recommended!

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

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

Friday, April 20, 2012

Giveaway: A Prayer for Owen Meany

Summary: I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. 

In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary. -- William Morrow

 Harper Collins just repackaged one of his classics, A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving (originally published by HarperCollins in 1989) and has released it just a couple weeks ago to coincide with World Book Night on Monday, April 23. The book was John Irving’s seventh novel and went on to become a #1 bestseller with over a million copies sold, proving to be a modern American classic. William Morrow recently made the classic available for the first time in an e-book edition as well.

Thanks to the fine folks at Harper Collins, I have a copy of A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY available for one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before April 26th. 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: Flatscreen

Summary: Flatscreen tells the story of Eli Schwartz as he endures the loss of his home, the indifference of his parents, the success of his older brother, and the cruel and frequent dismissal of the opposite sex. He is a loser par excellence—pasty, soft, and high—who struggles to become a new person in a world where nothing is new. 

Into this scene of apathy rolls Seymour J. Kahn. Former star of the small screen and current paraplegic sex addict, Kahn has purchased Eli’s old family home. The two begin a dangerous friendship, one that distracts from their circumstances but speeds their descent into utter debasement and, inevitably, YouTube stardom. 

By story’s end, through unlikely acts of courage and kindness, roles will be reversed, reputations resurrected, and charges (hopefully) dropped. Adam Wilson writes mischief that moves the heart, and Flatscreen marks the wondrous debut of a truth-telling comic voice. -- Harper Perennial

I hardly know where to start with my review of the new novel FLATSCREEN by Adam Wilson . Actually, I read the novel over a month ago so it's not as new as it was when I first read it. For some strange reason, I've procrastinated writing this review. It's not because I didn't enjoy the book because I eventually found it pretty entertaining (but more on that later.) I think it's just one of those books that I have a hard time getting my head around.

FLATSCREEN is about Eli Schwartz, and in many ways it's his coming-of-age story. Eli is a young man who is basically a loser. He is overweight and unemployed and he spends more time and effort on finding drugs than finding a job. When Eli meets Seymour, a former television/movie star who is now a paraplegic sex addict (that's the book description's term, not mine!), his life becomes even messier. Seymour is an enabler for all things wrong with Eli, and it's up to Eli to figure out who he really wants to be through the confusion of his life.

I am going to preface this review by stating that I'm pretty sure that I'm not the target audience for FLATSCREEN. It's not the summary of the book that gave me my first clue. Rather, it was how totally uncool I felt reading this book. Not that I ever was a cool person, but I honestly didn't get a lot of this book. (I can't believe I'm admitting just how much of a loser I am!) I knew I was missing out on lots of pop culture references, but now that I'm middle-aged, I figure that kind of goes with the territory. What was a little surprising for me, though, was the humor in this novel. I knew that what I was reading was supposed to be funny (in a very dark way), but it took me a few chapters to actually get used to it and relax enough to smile. This book was outrageous, irreverent, and even raunchy; however, once I accepted Eli's character, I found myself laughing out loud at his insights and actions.

However, it wasn't just the humor that made this book special. Since FLATSCREEN is sort of a coming-of-age tale (albeit not like any coming-of-age story that I've ever read), there were touching moments as well. Given that Eli was by all accounts a loser, my heart did go out to him at times. While it was kind of hard for me to relate to certain aspects of his character -- i.e. he was a druggie, fantasized about Latina women, and compared many aspects of his life to movies and television shows, he was also a 20 year old kid who never got over his parents divorce. Eli was basically a good guy that was just on the wrong track, and I so wanted him to grow up and accept himself.

This book has received a lot of very positive reviews from some much cooler people than I. I don't know that it's for everyone, but I do think there's an audience out there that will find this book to be extremely entertaining.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Giveaway: The Language of Flowers

Summary: 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 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 with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger 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 Books

Late last summer, I reviewed an amazing book called THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This novel was creating quite the buzz at last year's BEA, and I can totally see why. It's fantastic and perfect for book clubs!

Just last week, THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS was released in paperback (and I think I like the cover even more than the original one!) Random House is extremely excited about this novel (as they should be!) and they've created some exciting supplemental material. In addition to the reader's guide, they have also published an interesting interview with Ms. Diffenbaugh as well as created some gorgeous flower-themed e-cards and a Pinterest page.

Thanks to the fine folks at Random House, I have two copies of THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS to share with two lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 2nd 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. addresses only. Good luck!

Review: How to Eat a Cupcake

Summary: Free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clairs' housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia's San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls oblivious to class differences could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother's death, and a painful secret jeopardizes Julia's engagement to the man she loves. A chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, but when a mysterious saboteur opens up old wounds, they must finally face the truth about their past or risk losing everything. -- William Morrow

This is going to sound terribly shallow, but I picked up HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE by Meg Donohue solely based on its cover. Isn't it adorable with all those gorgeous cupcakes on the front of the book? Once I read the back cover, though, I thought it actually sounded like a cute story. Every once in awhile I enjoy a sweet story about friendship; and with cupcakes involved, I figured how could I go wrong?

HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE tells the story of Annie and Julia, two women who were once the best of childhood friends. Annie and Julia grew up in the same house; however, they most definitely weren't on even playing field. Annie's mother was hired help to Julia's wealthy family, yet, with the help of Annie's mom, the girls still managed to from a strong friendship. However, a  major event (or two) occurred during their high school years, and their friendship ended on a very bitter note.

The novel picks up ten years later, when the girls are in their late 20s. Annie is a baker who dreams about owning her own bakery while still struggling to come to terms with her mother's death; and Julia is outwardly successful in both her career and her personal life -- she's even engaged to an ideal man. (Do I need to tell you that both women are dealing with some major baggage?) When Annie and Julia meet up again, they decide to open a trendy new cupcake shop and put their personal differences aside; however, their hurt feelings about the past (and the present) make that extremely difficult.

HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE was a sweet read and I did enjoy it. I'm not sure I'd say it was an outstanding literary novel, but honestly, I wasn't expecting that. For the most part, it was just a fun escape read and it didn't disappoint. I liked some elements of both Annie and Julia's characters, and I appreciated how much they evolved throughout the story. I also liked how the novel ended, and although it was wrapped up pretty neatly, that's exactly what I want from a book like this. Overall, it was a feel good read.

Having said that, there were a few things that pleasantly surprised me about this novel and actually made it a little bit "smarter" than the average chick lit story. (Don't let the cover fool you!) There were some aspects to each character's life that were pretty heavy. I can't go into too many details or I'll spoil some of the book's surprises, but suffice it to say, that Annie and Julia are complex characters that are working through some major life issues. Their old wounds about their childhood friendship are just the tip of the iceberg.

I also really enjoyed how this book delved into friendships and even other relationships for that matter. HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE explored so many relationships from parent/child, to husband/wife, to fiance/fiancee, to employer/employee, to friendships, and even business partners. Of course, I was a sucker for the storyline about Annie and Julia trying to come to terms with their past mistakes concerning their friendship, but I thought the author did a good job with all of the relationships angles in the story.

I almost considered using HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE as part of Mystery Mondays because there were actually a few mystery elements to the story. I had absolutely no idea that this book was a whodunnit, but I kind of liked that surprise. I'm not sure the mystery parts of the novel were my favorite parts of the story, but it did an another unique element to this book.

HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE would make a fun pick for female book clubs. There is a reading guide available with ten interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendships, secrets, lies, self-acceptance, mother/daughter relationships, forgiveness and redemption. You can also discuss how (or if) food can serve to heal people. And finally, just think of how much fun a cupcake-themed meeting would be.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: More Like Her

Summary: What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences? 

In Frances’s mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection. Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa’s too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill’s recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage. 

Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems—like Emma’s enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie. -- William Morrow

Don't let the cover fool you! If you're anything like me and see shoes and legs on the cover of a novel, you immediately consider the book "chick lit" (not that there's anything wrong with that!) For whatever reason, I didn't read the description on the back of MORE LIKE HER by Liza Palmer which would have given me some pretty strong clues that this book wasn't a light and fluffy read. However, when I opened up this book and read the prologue which describes a 911 call about a school shooting, I knew for sure that this book was going to deal with some very serious issues.

And I shouldn't have been surprised because I've read a few of Ms. Palmer's novels and they are always a wonderful mix of humor and pain. MORE LIKE HER is a powerful story about three best friends who work together at a school. Each woman is facing her own set of issues, yet when they encounter the brutal murder of a woman who seemed to "have it all," they suddenly gain some valuable insight into their own lives and how they perceive others.

The narrator of the story is Frannie and I found her to be a complex character, yet overall very likable. When the novel begins, she is still reeling from a break-up of her two year boyfriend (who also works at the same school); and she does have some major baggage when it comes to relationships. At times, I found her to kind of annoying, but she was so real. (In fact, I had a friend who was so much like Frannie that I could barely believe it.) I loved rooting for Frannie to find a good guy, and I enjoyed seeing her eventually accept and even appreciate herself. By the end of the book, I felt that Frannie grew so much as a woman and a friend; and I found her story to be heartwarming.

What I found interesting about MORE LIKE HER is that after I read the very intense prologue, I kind of forgot about it. (Keep in mind that I still hadn't read the back of the book!) The book seemed like smart chick lit and I found myself getting caught up in these women's lives. I loved how the novel portrayed their friendship as well as their love affairs; and I appreciated the familiarity and banter between them. In fact, the dialogue between the characters was so well written and everything just clicked. It was an extremely entertaining read...

And then the floor fell out from under me. I was quickly reminded of the serious nature of the prologue and suddenly the entire story took on a much darker tone. Prior to this incident, the book was almost light and definitely funny; and while it did deal with some small issues that each of these women had, their problems seemed relatively normal. However, after the shooting, I felt as if the book took on a much deeper meaning. Yes, we all have problems and they might seem to be huge to us, but we need to keep a better perspective on things. In addition, this book served as a reminder that even those of us who seem to have the perfect life have problems... and sometimes they are extremely serious.

One thing I can say for sure about Liza Palmer's books is that they are very real to me. The women in this story were smart and attractive and still felt insecure about certain aspects of their lives. Despite being quite a bit older than them, they seemed very real to me and I could relate to them. Her novel are both funny and sad -- just like real life; and they cause me to think about my own situation. I think that says a lot about her skills as a writer.

MORE LIKE HER would make an interesting discussion for female book clubs. I wasn't able to find a reading guide at this time, but I'm pretty sure that there will be on available in the very near future. Don't let the lack of questions deter you from choosing this novel though. There are so many issues to discuss including love, relationships, friendships, breakups, career choices, self acceptance, first impressions, secrets, and many more. I am pretty sure that women of all ages will be able to relate to this story and find many things to talk about.

I thought MORE LIKE HER was an excellent story and it certainly made me rethink my life and caused me to have a better perspective on things. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: The Lifeboat

Summary: Grace Winter, 22, is both a newlywed and a widow. She is also on trial for her life.

In the summer of 1914, the elegant ocean liner carrying her and her husband Henry across the Atlantic suffers a mysterious explosion. Setting aside his own safety, Henry secures Grace a place in a lifeboat, which the survivors quickly realize is over capacity. For any to live, some must die.

As the castaways battle the elements, and each other, Grace recollects the unorthodox way she and Henry met, and the new life of privilege she thought she'd found. Will she pay any price to keep it?

The Lifeboat is a page-turning novel of hard choices and survival, narrated by a woman as unforgettable and complex as the events she describes. -- Reagan Arthur

Unfortunately, it's been awhile since I've picked up a Reagan Arthur imprint book; and that's especially embarrassing since I am a co-host of The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge. However, there was something about THE LIFEBOAT by Charlotte Rogan that appealed to me. Maybe it was the timing since I read it right around the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and THE LIFEBOAT takes place not too long after that major event. Or maybe, I was just in the mood for a suspenseful novel. Whatever the case, I enjoyed THE LIFEBOAT a great deal and was pleasantly surprised by this very unusual book.

When I read THE LIFEBOAT's description, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from this novel. I figured there would be some courtroom drama and most likely some flashbacks to the castaways and their attempts to survive aboard a lifeboat. And that pretty much does sum up the story in a nutshell. What I wasn't expecting was just how disconcerting this book was to read.

I mean that in the very best way, though. THE LIFEBOAT actually creeped me out... big time. There were so many things about this story that disturbed me from the explosion of the ship (there have been a few cruise ship mishaps lately that made the story hit a little to close to home), to the behavior of the castaways, to the personality of the narrator Grace. And I think because this story was so well written that it really made me question not only man's instinct to survive but what I'd do in a similar situation.

THE LIFEBOAT is a suspenseful story about surviving against the odds, but it's definitely not a feel good book. This novel examines just how ruthless individuals can be when faced with a life or death situation. Some of the behavior on the lifeboat was despicable, and yet, it probably reflects how people would actually be when there are too little resources. I thought the group dynamics were fascinating and it was extremely interesting to see who would emerge in a leadership role (and by leadership, I don't necessarily mean in a good way!)

However, what truly made this book special was the character of Grace. The story is told through Grace's eyes and she is nothing if not an interesting narrator. If I'm being entirely honest, I didn't like her at all -- but there were many characters that I didn't love in this story. What made her so intriguing is that I found her to be one of the most unreliable narrators of any story I've ever read. At first I wondered if she were just young and traumatized by the event, but the more I read about her, the more shocked I was. I'm not sure if I'm alone with these ideas, but I thought she was selfish, manipulative, and overall just plain awful; and I began to question the veracity of her story. It was such a great "ride" to hear her tell about the events on the lifeboat!

It's been a few days since I've finished THE LIFEBOAT and I have to say that I'm still thinking about this story. For that reason alone, I think this novel would make a wonderful book club pick. I promise you that there are so many things to discuss especially the narrator Grace and her quirks (I daresay that's probably too kind of a word.) There is a reading guide available which delves into many of the same issues I thought of while reading this book. Some of the topics you might want to explore include survival instincts, ethics, morals, honesty, sacrifice, power, violence, murder, and guilt.

THE LIFEBOAT certainly packed a powerful punch and gave me much to think about. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: I Hunt Killers

Summary: What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could--from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret--could he be more like his father than anyone knows? -- Little Brown

When I was initially pitched the new Young Adult novel I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, the publicist said, "Fans of Dexter, CSI, and Criminal Minds will devour this book." Do I even have to say more?  I am a HUGE fan of Dexter (both the books and the television show) and the premise behind I HUNT KILLERS sounded fantastic! A teen boy who just happens to be the son of an infamous serial killer decides to help clear his name in some local murder cases. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

A few days later, a package arrived for me. See below:

I HUNT KILLERS came in an evidence bag! Do I even need to tell you how this delivery made my day? I thought it was too fun and I admit that I began to judge this book by its cover (or in this case, the packaging!) I was dying to read it and could barely wait to finish the book I was reading at the time.

Needless to say, I had some high expectations for this novel. And guess what? I think I can pretty much say that I HUNT KILLERS lived up to all of them. I honestly couldn't put this book down and read it in just two sittings. So much about it was so good; and I love that it works for both teens and adults. The story was intriguing (to say the least) and kept me on the edge of my seat; however, I think the best thing about I HUNT KILLERS was the main character -- Jazz.

I absolutely adored Jazz from the get-go... or should I say, almost the get-go? When I HUNT KILLERS begins, Jazz is checking out a gruesome murder scene with his binoculars so he can remain hidden from the authorities. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him  -- whether he was a citizen trying to help or a really creepy teen who was obsessed with murder scenes. And after a few chapters, I'm not entirely sure that I knew how to take him. What I can say is that I liked Jazz a lot and wanted to believe that he was using his knowledge of murders and murderers for the greater good, but in the back of my mind, I kept wondering if he could be a "good" guy given his background and relationship with his father.

I didn't feel too guilty wondering about Jazz's intentions because Jazz had similar feelings about himself. I think that's actually one of the things I most enjoyed about this novel -- Jazz's inner turmoil about who he really was. Jazz was an extremely damaged guy and he almost couldn't believe that he wouldn't turn into his father. While he tried to live a somewhat normal life (he did have a best friend and a girl friend), he also carried some major baggage like tending for his ailing grandmother, missing his mother, and living down his father's reputation. To overcompensate for his father, he decided to help the chief of police solve the town's murders (because he does happen to think like a serial killer); however, when the crimes look a lot like his father's work, he finds himself a suspect. 

I could write forever about Jazz and his inner demons because I found him fascinating, but I also thought the secondary characters in this story added to its charm. I guess you could say that they were all a bit quirky, but they did provide some humor to an otherwise serious storyline. Jazz's best (and only) friend was a hemophiliac and loyal to a fault, while Jazz's girlfriend was a pretty cool kid who wasn't afraid to set things straight for Jazz. In addition, I thought the police chief was a great character, and I loved his mentor-like relationship with Jazz. However, it was Jazz's father, the killer of more than 100 people, that I found incredibly interesting... and very scary. I'm not sure that I got a good idea of what motivated him, but I did find his interactions with Jazz to be extremely complex.

I thought Mr. Lyga did an amazing job of not only creating Jazz but making this larger-than-life character believable... and likable... and almost normal. At times, he seemed like a pretty typical (albeit very smart and charming) teen. And while I adored the character development, Mr.  Lyga also knows how to write a seriously creepy murder mystery. I HUNT THE KILLERS isn't for the faint of heart -- the murder scenes are pretty disgusting; and the criminals are the stuff of nightmares. I was so caught up in this small town's murders and I couldn't read fast enough to discover just who was behind this grisly crimes. Of course, there are lots of twists and turns and I was shocked by the final outcome.

I understand that I HUNT THE KILLERS is the first in a series of books, and all I can say is "YAY

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

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