Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: I Couldn't Love You More

Summary: Which child would you save? A decision no parent can even fathom.

Eliot Gordon would do anything for her family. A 38-year-old working mother, she lives an ordinary but fulfilling life in suburban Atlanta with her partner, Grant Delaney, and their three daughters. The two older girls are actually Eliot's stepdaughters, a distinction she is reluctant to make as she valiantly attempts to maintain a safe, happy household . . .

Then Finn Montgomery, Eliot's long-lost first love, appears, triggering a shocking chain of events that culminates in a split-second decision that will haunt her beloved family forever. How Eliot survives-and what she loses in the process-is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever loved a child. With hilarious honesty, wrenching depth, and a knockout twist, I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE illuminates the unbreakable bonds of family and reveals the lengths we'll go to save each other, even as we can't save ourselves. -- Five Spot

Do you ever just look at a book and know that you have to read it? Well, that was certainly the case with I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE by Jillian Medoff. While I admit that the cover initially drew me in, it was the summary on the back that really sealed the deal. I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE sounded like a book with wonderful characters and an emotional story, and I was sincerely hoping that it would tug on my heartstrings. After reading the book in less than a day, I can tell you that's exactly what my reaction was to this novel.

I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE tells the story of Eliot, a mother to three girls -- two stepdaughters and one of her own. Eliot seemingly has it all, a good job, a wonderful partner, three gorgeous girls, and a strong relationship with her sisters and mom; however, when she runs into her ex-boyfriend Finn -- her first love and the man she thought was her soul-mate, she suddenly begins to question her happiness and her priorities begin to change. Eliot begins putting the secret time she spends with Finn ahead of everything; and one day, an incredibly unfortunate accident occurs while Eliot isn't paying attention. Not only does this accident have horrendous repercussions for Eliot's stepdaughter, but it also threatens to break apart everything that Eliot values in her life.

I thought I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE was an excellent example of everything I've come to know and love about women's fiction. I appreciated all of the characters (notice I didn't use the word loved) and I thought they were very realistic -- flaws and all. In addition, I was hooked to the story and desperate to see how things eventually worked out for both the children and the adults in the novel. And finally, I was touched by this story and loved how it made me reflect on my own life.

While I'm tempted just to tell you that the characters and story were very good and just jump right into my thoughts and emotions about the story, I don't think that would do justice to the book. So I will begin by telling you that the character development was very well done. I thought almost all of the characters in the story were interesting, and I especially appreciated the dynamics between Eliot and her sisters and her mother; however, it was Eliot's character that gave me the most food-for-thought.

I will be the first to admit that Eliot infuriated me and I thought she was extremely immature in her reaction to re-discovering her ex-boyfriend. That's not to say that I didn't like her at times because I did. I'm just saying that she was extremely flawed and I found myself being very judgmental about her actions. In many ways, I respected Eliot for how well she did as her role as a stepmother because I know I wouldn't be as capable; and who can blame her for sometimes putting her own child ahead of her stepchildren -- isn't that just basic human nature? Despite being furious with Eliot for a good portion of the novel, I do appreciate how Eliot resolved her issues, especially her guilt; and I think she matured a great deal by the end of the story.

Another great thing about I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE was the story itself. I was drawn into Eliot's minor obsession with her ex-boyfriend and I did find it interesting how she reacted to him and her partner. I appreciated how the pace of the story picked up as Eliot became more and more caught up with Finn, and I definitely liked the direction the story went after the accident. There wasn't a dull moment for me in this story, and I found that the author did a wonderful job of balancing humor in the story with the tragedy.

However, what I enjoyed most about I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE was how this book made me feel. I can't imagine the guilt that Eliot must have felt when the accident happened on her watch, and I was physically sick for her. And quite honestly, while I wouldn't be on the phone with an ex-boyfriend, I could totally imagine an accident happening while I was on the phone with someone or distracted for a minute or two. I think all moms will relate to just how quickly your life can turn upside-down when disaster strikes and feel some sort of affinity with Eliot.

Because I was so affected by what happened to Eliot, I began really thinking (and questioning) some of my mothering skills (or lack thereof.) There is a lesson in the story that accidents do happen and we must learn to forgive ourselves; however, I can't even begin to imagine how difficult that would be. I also appreciated that the book demonstrated that there are consequences to our actions, sometimes painful ones; and it was almost heartwarming to see how the characters in this story handled some of their hardships. I truly can't stop thinking about this novel and that's surely a sign of a powerful book.

There is no doubt that I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE would make a wonderful book club pick, especially for a group of moms. There is a reading guide available with twelve excellent questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include sisterly relationships, mother/daughter relationships, parent/child relationships, guilt, forgiveness, grief, choices, consequences, personal privacy, blended families, and redemption.

I adored I COULDN'T LOVE YOU MORE and I highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction.

Thanks to KMSPR for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Arranged

Summary: Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, close friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share her life with, however, she just can't seem to get it right. When her latest relationship implodes, and her best friend announces she's engaged, Anne impulsively calls what she thinks is a dating service—only to discover that it's actually an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. Anne initially rejects the idea, but the more she learns about the service, the more she thinks: Why not? After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world; maybe it could work for her.

A few months later, Anne is traveling to a Mexican resort, where, over the course of a weekend, she meets and then marries Jack. And initially, everything seems to be working out. . . . -- William Morrow

When the weather starts getting warmer, I find that I turn to some lighter reads -- some mom lit or chick lit, if you will. Since I had heard some good things about Catherine McKenzie's novels, I decided to try her latest ARRANGED.

ARRANGED tells the story of Anne a woman who seemingly has it all... except for the perfect guy. When Anne's latest relationship ends, Anne just happens to stumble upon a business card advertising what sounds like a dating service. She decides to call and discovers that it's not just any old dating service. Rather, it's a company that claims to successfully arrange marriages. Anne decides to give it a try since she's not having much luck on her own. When she finally meets her potential spouse Jack at a Mexican resort and marries him just a day later, she believes her life is complete; however, she quickly learns that things (and by that, I mean Jack) might not be what they initially seem.

I have seem some mixed reviews for ARRANGED around the blogosphere, but I have to say that I enjoyed this book. I probably wouldn't go so far as to say that I loved it, but I did think it was entertaining and a fun way to spend a few hours. I have to admit that I was initially drawn to the premise of this novel. For whatever reason, I've always been intrigued by the concept of arranged marriages; and I did think it was interesting how the book explored this topic. The book offered a unique look at the concepts of dating and marriage, and for that, I really appreciated how it approached these traditional relationships. It also gave me a thing or two to think about as far as how arranged marriages work in other cultures.

However, I will say that I did find the book (and especially the ending) to be kind of predictable despite the few twists. Having said that, I knew up front that this book was on the lighter side, so I wasn't disappointed when some of my ideas about the characters ended up coming to fruition. When I read fun stories about love and relationships, I guess I'm just a sucker for happy endings. Without giving too much away, let's just say I was okay with how things worked out for Anne.

Anne was a very sweet character and I do think she's one of the main reasons I enjoyed this novel as much as I did. Despite being successful in her friendships and her career, she still was kind of a mess as far as boyfriends go. I liked how the author contrasted the strengths and weaknesses of her character, and I especially appreciated how she was able to laugh at herself. I think many women will be able to relate to Anne -- either personally or because she will remind them of someone they know.

If I'm being entirely honest, I thought ARRANGED read like a movie. I don't mean that in a negative way at all. In fact, I often times like that in a story. I do think Ms. McKenzie did a great job of bringing the settings and the characters to life; and as a result, I could vividly "see" almost every scene in the novel. The characters, namely Anne and Jack, were especially alive in my mind; and I did think the author did a very good job creating the chemistry between them.

ARRANGED was a cute read and should appeal to fans of chick lit. I recommend it as a great addition to your beach or pool bag!

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: So Far Away

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Natalie Gallagher is trying to escape: from her parents' ugly divorce, and from the vicious cyber-bullying of her former best friend. She discovers a dusty old diary in her family's basement and is inspired to unlock its secrets.

Kathleen Lynch, an archivist at the Massachusetts State Archives, has her own painful secrets: she's a widow estranged from her only daughter. Natalie's research brings her to Kathleen, who in Natalie sees traces of the daughter she has lost.

What could the life of an Irish immigrant domestic servant from the 1920s teach them both? In the pages of the diary, they will learn that their fears and frustrations are timeless.
So Far Away is an affecting story of mothers and daughters and how solace can be found in the most unlikely places. -- Reagan Arthur

Last year around this time, I reviewed THE ARRIVALS by Meg Mitchell Moore. I loved this book and especially Ms. Moore's writing style; and I thought she did a wonderful job of creating authentic characters and capturing the essence of family dynamics. So it should come as no surprise that I've been anxiously awaiting her new novel SO FAR AWAY. I definitely enjoyed this novel too, and it reminded me why I think Ms. Moore is such a terrific writer.

SO FAR AWAY tells the stories of Natalie, a teen who is trying to handle her parents' divorce, her mom's depression and some major cyber-bullying from some girls at school; and Kathleen, an archivist who is also trying to escape from a painful past -- one where her teenage daughter just up and left with no word. Natalie and Kathleen's lives collide when Natalie enters the Massachusetts State Archives one day to conduct research on her ancestors for a school project. Both Natalie and Kathleen fill a much-needed void in each other's lives, and they soon become close. When Natalie discovers a diary from an Irish servant girl in the 1920s, Kathleen and she both realize that the aren't alone with their feelings and insecurities; and not only do they take comfort in this girl's words, but they also find strength in each other.

I really, really enjoyed SO FAR AWAY, and it is one of those books that managed to touch my heart and make me think. I will admit that I thought the book got off to a slow start, but that might have been the mood I was in when I first picked up the book because shortly thereafter, I was hooked and desperate to discover more about Kathleen and Natalie's lives.

As was the case when I read THE ARRIVALS, there were quite a few positive things that stood out to me in SO FAR AWAY. First and foremost were the characters of Natalie and Kathleen. I adored both of them and thought they were so real and honest. Once again, that's a testament to how well Ms. Moore can create characters that resonate with readers. Maybe it's because I'm a mother to a girl who is close in age to Natalie, but my heart really went out to her. She was in so much pain because of her parents, the loss of her best friend, and the bullying; and it just made me sick to see how unfair her life was. On the other hand, my heart broke for Kathleen too. As a mom, I can't imagine losing my daughter the way she did, and to never know what happened to her is just gut-wrenching. It was because of this pain that these characters were able to connect -- they each "saved" the other, but it was also because this pain that I became so interested in their stories.

While Natalie and Kathleen really did make this book special, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another secondary character that I liked. Kathleen's co-worker Neil was terrific, and he actually added a lot to this story. He did provide some lighter scenes in the book, but I think it was his interactions with Kathleen that made her a more authentic character to me. Their relationship demonstrated the importance of friendships in our lives, and the way they unconditional loved and supported each other was so heart-war,ming.

Another wonderful thing about SO FAR AWAY was how Ms. Moore presented these stories. For the most part, the book was written in third person alternating between Natalie and Kathleen's lives. However, I also really liked the diary entries of the 1920s Irish servant girl. I am the first to admit that I don't always like when journal entries are inserted in a story like this, but I think it was particularly effective in SO FAR AWAY. Not only did I find her story to be interesting, but I loved how the other characters were able to learn from it and gain strength from her actions.

Naturally, SO FAR AWAY lends itself to book club discussions. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a link to discussion questions, but I am sure they will be available in the near future. All of the characters and their actions are very interesting, but there are also some recurring themes that are worthy of some discussion. Some of the topics you might want to talk about include mother/daughter relationships, loss, depressions, grief, bullying, friendships, love, hope, and strength.

I so enjoyed SO FAR AWAY and I highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction. It is a beautiful story about love and friendship, and it's guaranteed to touch your heart.

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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: The 500

Summary: A gripping thriller debut, set deep in the heart of the world's most powerful political arena

A year ago, fresh out of Harvard Law School, Mike Ford landed his dream job at the Davies Group, Washington's most powerful consulting firm. Now, he's staring down the barrel of a gun, pursued by two of the world's most dangerous men. To get out, he'll have to do all the things he thought he'd never do again: lie, cheat, steal-and this time, maybe even kill.

Mike grew up in a world of small-stakes con men, learning lessons at his father's knee. His hard-won success in college and law school was his ticket out. As the Davies Group's rising star, he rubs shoulders with "The 500," the elite men and women who really run Washington -- and the world. But peddling influence, he soon learns, is familiar work: even with a pedigree, a con is still a con.

Combining the best elements of political intrigue and heart-stopping action, THE 500 is an explosive debut, one that calls to mind classic thrillers like
The Firm and Presumed Innocent. In Mike Ford, readers will discover a new hero who learns that the higher the climb, the harder -- and deadlier -- the fall. -- Reagan Arthur

It's no surprise to many of you that I'm a big fan of the Reagan Arthur imprint. So much so, that I co-host the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge with Bermudaonion. I love the uniqueness and diversity of the Reagan Arthur books, and they definitely have accomplished their goal --  "to give readers what they want most: the unique and lasting pleasure of sitting alone with a good book, being moved and entertained and even changed forever" -- in my mind. The latest Reagan Arthur book that I read and LOVED was THE 500 by Matthew Quirk.

THE 500 is an incredible thriller set in the political environment of our nation's capitol -- Washington D.C. Mike Ford is fresh out of Harvard and accepts a job at the Davies Group, Washington's most prestigious (and powerful) "consulting" firm. (Notice the quotation marks around the term consulting...) For the first time in his life, Mike seems to have it all -- a great job, financial security, and even the perfect girl. However, when he becomes involved with a project that is much more "complex" than he first thought, he finds himself scrambling for his life and using all of the "survival" skills he learned growing up.

I thought THE 500 was an outstanding example of everything a thriller should be, and I pretty much read this book straight through without setting it down. I'm warning you now, this book is addictive so you better have a few hours to just read it! I hesitate to say this because I don't like to make comparisons, but elements of this story reminded me of Grisham's THE FIRM... only I thought THE 500 was even better. I loved the writing, the storyline, the setting, and the suspense; and it's probably going to be one of my favorite thrillers of the year.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was the character of Mike. The story is told in his voice and I thought he was an excellent narrator. Not only did I genuinely like him as a person and admire him for turning his life around, but I loved his sense of humor, especially when it was at his expense. While the book was definitely filled with lots of high pressure scenes, I thought the author used the element of humor effectively to deflect the tension. In fact, there were times that I actually laughed out loud at Mike and some of his predicaments.

As far as suspense goes, THE 500 had a lot of it and it was very well done. I loved the intrigue as well as the action-packed scenes and I thought the pace of the novel was excellent. (That's probably why I couldn't put it down!) It became pretty obvious early on who the real "bad" guys were, but there was enough question about some of the other characters that I was kept guessing. In addition, Mike found himself in such a precarious situation that I couldn't possible figure out how he was going to get out of it. I don't want to give to much away but it's a good thing he was brought up by a con-man and extremely intelligent because the final outcomes were very creative... and very risky!

The entire time I was reading this book, I kept telling myself that this book would make a fantastic movie. So it shouldn't have come as any surprise to me that THE 500 is in development for a major motion picture by Twentieth Century Fox. The characters, especially Mike, are so interesting; and there is so much action and suspense that I have no doubt that this novel is perfect for the big screen. I keep trying to figure out who should star in it, though, and I'm just not sure. For those of you who have read this novel, do you have any ideas?

I thought THE 500 was an excellent suspense book and I highly recommend it to fans of this genre. I can pretty much guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

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, May 27, 2012

Review: I Love Corn

Summary: I Love Corn gathers 50 of the best corn recipes from around the world, including soups, appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Some of the dishes you'll find are JalapeƱo Corn Muffins; Sweet Corn Fritters; Fresh Corn Gazpacho; Grilled New Zealand Venison with Corn, Cocoa and Chipotle Relish; Polenta Stew; Corn Pudding with Bacon and Leeks; Yankee Corn Bread; Popcorn Pudding with Salted Caramel Corn and Butterscotch Sauce; and Fresh Corn Ice Cream. Also inside this colorful, gift-worthy package you'll find tips for buying, storing, cooking, and grilling fresh corn, along with instructions for easily cutting kernels off the cob.

With recipes that have been painstakingly crafted by creative, award-winning chefs from around the country, such as Dan Barber, Michelle Bernstein, and Hugh Acheson, I Love Corn makes corn the irresistible ingredient of choice for all of your favorite dishes. -- Andrews McMeel

I love getting books -- who doesn't? But when I opened up a package and saw the new cookbook titled I LOVE CORN by Lisa Skye, I wasn't exactly jumping up and down. What can I say? I am not a huge fan of corn, much to my kids' dismay. I enjoy the occasional corn-on-the-cob or piece of corn bread, but I definitely don't go out of my way to eat corn. I almost cast this cookbook aside because I figured that there wouldn't be any recipes that interested me.

However, I am a huge fan of cookbooks and I couldn't resist taking just one quick peek. And much to my surprise, there were quite a few recipes that I wanted to try. I LOVE CORN is a collection of fifty of the world's best corn recipes -- and some of them are pretty darn unique. The recipes were gathered from famous chefs and are served in well known restaurants around the world, and they range from simple to complex.

The cookbook begins with a Forward and an Introduction, but it was the following section called "Everything Corn" that I found especially interesting. These few pages teach you lots about corn from how to buy it and store it, to all of the different ways you can prepare it. In addition, there are instructions for how to serve it and how to freeze it. The book is then divided into the following chapters: Breakfast, Soups, Starters, Mains, Sides, and Sweets. Of course, I went straight to the corn desserts because I was extremely curious.

I knew immediately which recipe I wanted to try -- the Cornmeal Cake with Honey and Bananas by Eve Nasetti. It is a very simple recipe and it has ingredients that I usually have on hand -- corn meal, egg whites, sugar, honey, unsalted butter, baking powder, salt and bananas. I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for quick and easy recipes that I can make without having to head to the grocery store. The recipe only took me a few minutes to prepare and I admit that I wasn't too sure it was going to turn out. The whole fluffy egg white portion added to the corn meal and butter portion just looked a little slimy to me. However, the cake did turn out and it was delicious. The chef recommends serving it at room temperature with some whipped cream and strawberries; and I'm sure it would be terrific that way. But I tested it while it was still slightly warm and I can't imagine it could get much better.

In addition to the Cornmeal Cake with Honey and Bananas, there were some other recipes that definitely piqued my interest including the Lobster and Corn Bruschetta; the Sliced Sirloin with Spicy Corn, Shiitake, and Bacon Salsa; the Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad; the Spicy Stir-Fried Corn and Broccoli; the Jalapeno Corn Muffins; and the Blueberry Financier with Corn Bread Streusel. For those of you with more adventurous tastes, there are recipes for Popcorn Pudding with Salted Caramel Corn and Butterscotch Sauce, Chilled Corn Soup with Nutmeg, and Grilled New Zealand Venison with Corn, Cocoa, and Chipotle Relish.

And there's one more nice little tidbit about I LOVE CORN that I wanted to share with you. A large portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to The Dougy Center, the national center for grieving children and families.

If you are a fan of corn or just curious about an entire cookbook with corn recipes, then I suggest giving I LOVE CORN a chance!

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

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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Kid Konnection: Gilt

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 review a new historical fiction young adult book which also happens to be part of the Class of 2K12.

Summary: When Kitty Tylney's best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII's heart and brings Kitty to court, she's thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat's shadow, Kitty's now caught between two men--the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat's meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head. -- Viking

Just when I thought I was a little bit tired of historical fiction -- or at least the king and queen variety, I heard about the new young adult novel GILT by Katherine Longshore. I admit that my interest was definitely piqued because GILT sounded like an original approach to a famous story.

GILT tells the story of Kitty Tylney who is best friends with Catherine Howard, one of the women who ends up marrying King Henry VIII. The story follows Kitty and Catherine's friendship as they move from their childhood home to King Henry VIII's court. It's filled with glamor, romance, scandal, and intrigue; and I think it will not only appeal to teen girls, but adult women as well.

Overall, I enjoyed GILT a great deal. I realize I'm not the target audience, but I liked that the book focused on the friendship between Kitty and Catherine rather than the relationship between Catherine and the king. I thought this angle was refreshing and brought some special insight into the character of Catherine. Of course, I also appreciated how the author chose to portray Kitty's character and I thought she was a fabulous narrator.

Needless to say, it's hard not to fall in love with Kitty. She is such a sweet girl and loyal friend, and I thought she was an wonderfully complex character. It's hard enough to be a teen and navigate the world, but for Kitty, it was especially difficult. She was torn with how Catherine treated her, yet she was also loyal to a fault. In addition, she began discovering the opposite sex despite living in Catherine's shadow; and she found herself caught between her true love and a man who seemed to desire her. I thought Ms. Longshore did a great job in bringing Kitty to live and making her a realistic and sympathetic character.

I also enjoyed how the relationship between Kitty and Catherine was portrayed. While I immediately felt an affinity with Kitty, that certainly wasn't the case with Catherine. I had a hard time accepting her "attitude" and how she treated Kitty (as well as her other so-called friends.) What I thought was so special about their relationship, though, is how relevant it still is today. I believe that many teen girls who read this story will relate to Kitty and how she was mistreated by Catherine. In all honestly, I hear similar stories from Booking Daughter almost daily about the "queen bee" behavior at her school.

Another part of GILT that I enjoyed was how the author brought this time period to life. I think one of the reasons that so many women enjoy historical fiction is because of how glamorous that time period seemed. Ms. Longshore definitely described the dresses, the jewels and the opulence beautifully, but she also managed to convey all the cut-throat behavior that was going on in the background. In many ways, GILT read like a true drama. It was filled with lies, betrayals, and adultery; and it was juicy... in a good way.

I think teen girls who tend to appreciate historical fiction will love GILT. It's a nice change from all of the dystopia out there, and it also offers some characters that will resonate with the readers.

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

A few months ago, I introduced this new feature on Kid Konnection. For those of you who missed it, here's the scoop:

Throughout 2012, I will be featuring many of the authors from the Class of 2K12. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Class of 2K12, it's a group of middle grade and young adult authors who have books being released some time during 2012. You can learn more about the authors and their books here. (And while you are visiting the blog, make sure you sign up for their mailing list. You are going to want to stay informed because there will be many opportunities to win some fantastic prize packs!)

You might notice that I used the word interview in the previous sentence, and that's because I didn't really interview the authors. Rather, I asked each author to do one simple thing:

Describe your book in 200 characters or less. 

I asked Katherine Longshore author of GILT to describe her book in just a few words; and here's what she had to say:  

When her best friend marries Henry VIII, a previously disregarded maid-in-waiting must learn to walk the fine line between secrets and treason, knowing her life and the Queen's could be threatened by any wrong word spoken (and those left unsaid).

Katherine Longshore grew up on the northern California coast. At university, she created her own major in Cross-Cultural Studies and Communications, planning to travel and write. Forever. Four years, six continents, and countless pairs of shoes later, she went to England for two weeks, stayed five years, and discovered history. She now lives in California with her husband, two children, and a sun-worshipping dog.

You can find Ms. Longshore on her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

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, May 25, 2012

Guest Review: Capitol Murder

Summary: Private investigator Dana Cutler and attorney Brad Miller have overcome more than a few daunting challenges and powerful enemies to see justice done. Against tremendous odds, they successfully unmasked an American president's involvement in a chain of murders. They also saved the life of a Supreme Court justice while foiling a conspiracy by rogue members of the CIA to fix a case headed for the court.

Now wicked threats old and new are about to bring them together once again. Convicted serial killer Clarence Little has escaped from death row in Oregon, and Brad receives threatening messages in D.C., where he is working for Senator Jack Carson, a high-ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. A dead body, murdered according to Little's M.O., is found in the senator's Georgetown home, and Carson has disappeared. While Dana is in Oregon digging into Carson's shady background, a terrorist cell is poised to destroy a packed professional football stadium in one of the biggest attacks on American soil. As the senator's personal life begins to dovetail with the cell's evil plan, Brad and Dana will risk it all again to uncover the truth and save their country.

Phillip Margolin proves once more that he is a true master of suspense, delivering another high-octane thriller set in Washington's legendary corridors of power. Capitol Murder's breathtaking pace and electrifying twists will have old fans and newcomers racing to the final, stunning page. -- Harper

In my pre-blogging days, I used to be a big fan of Phillip Margolin and his suspense novels. It's been awhile since I've read one (probably more than five years), but when I received a copy of CAPITOL MURDER, I remembered why these books appeal to me so much. Unfortunately, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get around to reading this book in a timely manner, so I passed it along to someone I know who could read and review it quickly -- my dad. Here are his thoughts:

CAPITOL MURDER is Phillip Margolin’s latest suspense novel. Private investigator Dana Cutler and attorney Brad Miller, characters from past Margolin novels, are brought together again. In CAPITOL MURDER Dana is hired as an investigator for a famous defense attorney while Brad takes a position on the staff of U.S. Senator Jack Carson. It doesn’t take long for their paths to cross and become involved in a national security threat.

Margolin takes the reader on three different plot lines. The first story involves serial killer Clarence Little, another character from a past novel, who escapes from prison and poses a threat to Brad. The second storyline involves Senator Carson, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, whose appetite for women has put him in a very compromising position regarding national security. The third plot involves Pakistani terrorists who plan to blow up a football stadium full of enthusiastic fans.

Margolin brings the three storylines together transitioning smoothly from one to another throughout the novel. The characters are very believable even if there is some confusion due to the large number of them. Since the book draws from two past Margolin novels it probably would benefit the reader to read those books first. However, the book does stand nicely on its own.

CAPITOL MURDER is an entertaining page turner that includes plenty of suspense and action with a surprise ending. This novel is an easy read that should appeal to anyone who likes suspense thrillers.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

Summary: This shocking expose goes behind the headlines to uncover the true story of Clark Rockefeller, wealthy scion of a great American family, who kidnapped his own daughter and vanished. The police and FBI were baffled. Tips poured in, but every lead was a dead end … because “Clark Rockefeller” did not exist. In a gripping work of investigative journalism, Mark Seal reveals how German native Christian Gerhartsreiter came to the United States, where he stepped in and out of identities for decades, eventually posing as a Rockefeller for twelve years, married to a wealthy woman who had no idea who he really was. Fast-paced, hypnotic, and now updated with more stunning details, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit chillingly reveals the audacity and cunning of a shape-shifting con man. -- Plume

When I was pitched THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT: THE ASTONISHING RISE AND SPECTACULAR FALL OF A SERIAL IMPOSTER by Mark Seal, I was surprised that I hadn't heard about this unbelievable story. I asked my husband if he was familiar with the story; and of course, he was. He had seen features on various new shows, so I figured it was time for me to become educated about the man who called himself "Clark Rockefeller."

German born Christian Gerhartsreiter had been living in the United States for decades posing as different people... including Clark Rockefeller a member of the prestigious Rockefeller family. While some people found him to be a bit strange, Gerhartsreiter basically pulled off impersonating a distant Rockefeller cousin for almost twelve years. It wasn't until he kidnapped his daughter and then mysteriously disappeared that the police and FBI began investigating this very strange story.

THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT was an amazing book -- it was even an Edgar Award Finalist and People Magazine gave it four stars. I can honestly say that his story proves the saying that "truth is stranger than fiction." I admit that my initial reaction to the story was incredulity. I had a very hard time believing that one man could re-create himself so many times and fool so many people. I figured he was preying on the innocent and maybe not the sharpest tools in the shed, but in actuality, he conned so many professional and successful people (including his wife.) But you have to understand. This guy was good... really good. In fact, it makes me wonder how successful he could have been at something legitimate if he had used his intelligence and charm in a positive way.

There is no doubt that Gerhartsreiter's story is amazing in any way, shape or form; however, I do think THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT was very well written. I appreciated the way the author presented the story, and I liked his writing style. It was apparent that the book was thoroughly researched (the author even traveled to Gerhartreiter's hometown) and  he also managed to interview many of the individuals who had met Gerhartsreiter and were conned by him. By reading their words about Gerhartsreiter's actions and their feelings about his duplicity, I got a better idea about how he operated. Furthermore, I thought this book demonstrated how people are willing to see and believe what they want to see and believe. There is little doubt that this man was extremely intelligent and was able to read people very effectively, but THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT also pointed out some interesting things about basic human nature.

I'm not sure that I initially considered THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT as a book club selection, but I did find that there is a reading guide available; and that made me rethink things. After realizing that this book did have some intelligent insights into human behavior, I can see how people would want to discuss this story. Some of the topics you might want to explore -- besides what makes Gerhartsreiter tick--  include duplicity, dishonesty, gullibility, pressure, the American Dream, and trust.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT and I definitely recommend it to fans of true crime stories.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Geraldine Brooks Luncheon & Giveaway

Geraldine Brooks at Friends Author Luncheon
I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about this event! A few days ago (actually almost two weeks now!), I had the opportunity to attend the Council of Friends of Lancaster Country Author Library Luncheon featuring Geraldine Brooks. She won the Pulitzer Prize for goodness sakes!!! And I got to meet her!!!!

I arrived early at the luncheon to help my favorite bookstore Aaron's Books. They helped sponsor the event and they were also selling Ms. Brook's non-fiction and fiction books. Of course, I considered it a very lucky day for a number of reasons, but one of the highlights was that I got to live out a dream of mine... to be a bookstore employee. Because my friend Sam was under-the-weather, I got to actually help Aaron's sell books! I had a blast and, not to pat myself on the back or anything, my favorite Brooks' novel sold out! Just saying...

Grammy and I taking a break from selling books.

My friends at Aaron's didn't work me too hard, though; and I was fortunate enough to have a very nice lunch with my sister too. I also was able to sit in the auditorium for Ms. Brooks presentation. Her topic was "Caleb's Crossing and The Writing of Historical Fiction" and it was incredible. She was a very dynamic speaker and she also had a dry sense of humor. I swear she had about 400 people in the palm of her hand while she spoke about her career as a journalist and  novelist. I was amazed by how she comes up with the ideas for her novels, and I loved learning that the characters "speak" to her. (She must be a great listener!)

One of the most fascinating aspects of her talk was when she discussed how she researches her books. There is no doubt that her past as a journalist has helped her with her fact-finding methods. She does all of the research herself and she is extremely thorough. She gave specific examples of the types of research she did for CALEB'S CROSSING and PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, and I was truly blown away! Ms. Brooks has to be one of the most intelligent individuals that I've ever encountered.

This luncheon was a wonderful experience for me, and one that I will always treasure. If you are more interested in reading about the event, you can check out this.

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of Ms. Brooks' latest novel CALEB'S CROSSING to share with two lucky readers. The first paperback copy is one that I received for attending the luncheon. It is signed, but I want to let you know that it's a signed bookplate-- not an actual signed book. The second paperback copy will be provided by the fine folks at Penguin. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 7th 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!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: The Boy Next Door

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When Book Club Girl started the Meg Cabot Read-Along, I knew I wanted to participate! Booking Daughter has been a long-time fan of Meg Cabot's -- you might remember my dilemma at BEA a few years back when I couldn't get an ARC of her latest middle grade book; and I absolutely loved Ms. Cabot's energy and humor when I heard her speak. Booking Daughter read all of the Allie Finkle books when she was younger, and now she's determined to read every single one of her Princess Diary books. I figured that while Booking Daughter is working her way through the Princess Diary series, I could participate in the read-along, and we'd just have a big Meg Cabot love fest in our house this summer.

When I sat down to read the first read-along book THE BOY NEXT DOOR, it dawned on me that I've only read Meg Cabot's books for kids. I really can't remember ever reading one of her adult books, and that's really surprising to me because I used to read a lot of chick lit. Needless to say, I was excited and I had a feeling that I was in for a treat.

And THE BOY NEXT DOOR was a treat. It was highly entertaining and a great way to escape from life's little problems for a few hours. I was a bit surprised when I opened the book to see that the entire novel was written in the form of emails. In the past few years, I have read a few books that used this technique (i.e. HOLLY'S INBOX), and I find that I enjoy the quick pace of the story. (For some reason, reading emails comes very easily to me -- could it be that I read a lot of emails every day?) I love the way the characters interact in the email messages and I found it ironic that many of their exchanges took place during work hours on work computers -- much like real life!

THE BOY NEXT DOOR tells the story of Mel, a single woman who writes as a gossip columnist for a New York City newspaper. She aspires to write "real" stories as well as meet to meet Mr. Right, but she seems to be in a bit of rut.. until the elderly woman who lives next door is almost murdered. The woman's "nephew" moves in to help take care of the pets, and Mel finds herself very attracted to him. When Mel discovers that neither the crime nor the nephew are what they first appear, she realizes that she has to uncover the truth and get to the bottom of both stories.

One thing that really stood out to me about THE BOY NEXT DOOR was just how funny it was. I'm talking laugh out loud funny in certain places. Of course that shouldn't come as a surprise to me since Meg Cabot is a hoot, but I think she's especially effective at incorporating humor into her books. There were a few scenes that were hilarious, but I also appreciated the more subtle humor that took place in the characters' day-to-day lives. For example, I thought come of the characters' insecurities were very funny because they were so real; and the insanity of the office politics was spot on!

Another wonderful thing about THE BOY NEXT DOOR were the characters; and by that I mean almost all of them -- even the ones who weren't exactly likable. Naturally, I adored Mel and wanted to her find some happiness in both the professional and (more importantly) personal aspects of her life. However, I also found myself really enjoying the scenes (emails?) with Mel's friends, especially Nadine. Nadine was getting married and had a constant battle with her weight; and I think many women will be able to relate to some of her statements. Furthermore, I liked Mel's love interest and I appreciated that the book included email exchanges between him and his family.

In addition to all of the romance and confusing plot twists, there was an "almost murder" mystery in the story. It wasn't a major part of the story but it was definitely an important plot point because it set all of the events into motion. I won't say that the reveal of the culprit came as a surprise to me because it was fairly obvious to the reader that the initial suspect wasn't guilty of the crime, but I did enjoy how the "criminal" was eventually caught.

Overall, THE BOY NEXT DOOR was a very funny read and a great summer escape book. Recommended for fans of chick lit!

I read this book as part of Book Club Girl's Meg Cabot Read-Along!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: The Diva Digs Up the Dirt

Summary: Trouble in spades… Determined not to be a garden-variety diva, Sophie Winston’s neighbor, Natasha, cultivates a plan to shine on television—using Sophie’s backyard. As the cast and crew of the makeover show Tear It Up With Troy bulldoze through her backyard—and vacation—Sophie retreats to her perennial boyfriend Wolf’s to replace a dead rose bush. But her tender deed goes awry when she digs up a purse belonging to Wolf’s missing wife. As speculations sprout, Wolf bolts, and then a body crops up in a garden.  Is Wolf’s thorny past raising a dead head? This is one case the domestic diva can’t let wither on the vine…  -- Berkley Prime Crime

My personal life has been absolutely crazy the past few days, and I've had a hard time finding a few minutes here and there to read. When I do sit down to read, I either can't concentrate on the story or I fall asleep. So I decided that it might be the perfect time to pick up a cozy, and I grabbed THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT by Krista Davis. I had reviewed THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE a few months ago and thought it was very cute, and I was curious to see what was in store for Sophie and her friends.

I think THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT definitely hit the spot as far as my reading slump goes. While I can normally read a book like this in one sitting, it did take me a few days; however, it was a fun story that was a very easy read. I enjoyed THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT, but I don't know if I liked it quite as much as THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE. Of course, I thought the entire Halloween theme of the prior novel was especially fun so it might not be fair to compare the two books.

In THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT, domestic diva Sophie's professional (and personal) rival Natasha arranges for a television crew to come in and build her a much-needed garage. Since Natasha is never really looking out for Sophie, she's a bit suspicious about her intentions; however, she figures it's worth a shot not to have to worry about street parking in Old Town Alexandria. Meanwhile, Sophie goes to her boyfriend Wolf's house to surprise him with a new rosebush and "digs" up a purse belonging to his missing wife. Wolf becomes the prime suspect in the mystery surrounding her disappearance. And then, another dead body is discovered that complicates things even more. Sophie and her friends find themselves caught up in trying to prove Wolf's innocence while at the same time trying to figure out who is behind all of the mayhem.

THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT is a cute story (or at least as cute as some murders and poisonings can be!) In the case of this book, I thought the mystery was pretty good. There were lots of suspects and Sophie and her friends had many different imagined scenarios, but I ended up getting a little confused about how all of the characters were linked -- both in the present and the past. I think that's probably because my attention span isn't up to speed right now, but parts of the story did get a little jumbled for me. Having said that, everyone was resolved by the end of the book and I understood all of the connections. In addition, there were a few surprises at the end of the book.. and they weren't all related to the whodunit aspect of the story.

There is no doubt that I enjoy the Domestic Diva series, especially the characters and the setting; and I do like the helpful decorating/gardening hints that both Sophie and Natasha provide at the beginning of each chapter. I also loved all the descriptions of flowers and gardens that appeared in this book. However, since I'm not exactly a "domestic diva" when it comes to all the gardening stuff, I found that I appreciated the food descriptions even more than the plant ones. Ms. Davis includes recipes for many of the treats she mentions throughout the book including Caramel Banana Muffins, Arnold Palmers, and Pesto, Prosciutto & Goat Cheese Crostini; and the recipes sound delicious and seem relatively simple.

Overall, THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT was a fun mystery and a great way to spend a few hours by the pool or at the beach.

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, May 20, 2012

Review: Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook

Summary: Home cooking comes to gorgeous full-color life with the Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook! It’s loaded with instructional photos, easy-to-follow recipes and insightful tips from our Cooking School experts. Delicious dishes from breakfast to lunch to dinner and including dessert, of course. 

Contemporary topics are comprehensively explored with techniques ranging from simple basics to true wow-factor recipes. Each recipe has been tasted and reviewed in the Taste of Home test kitchen, plus there are practical, proven tips, storage charts, and at-a-glance prep and cook times—so you’ll enjoy perfect results every time.  -- Reader's Digest

When I was contacted about potentially reviewing the TASTE OF HOME COOKING SCHOOL COOKBOOK: 400+ SIMPLE TO SPECTACULAR RECIPES, I could barely contain my excitement! I am a huge fan of anything Taste of Home. I have subscribed to the magazine (plus two of their sister publications) for years. I own at least 10 of their cookbooks, and I've even attended the Taste of Home Cooking School twice with my mom and sister. Needless to say, I love Taste of Home and their recipes!

And the TASTE OF HOME COOKING SCHOOL COOKBOOK was everything I hoped it to be. This is truly an excellent cookbook and perfect for my busy life-style -- especially with the commitments we have around the dinner hour. There are over 400 recipes for all types of food from appetizers, to soups, to salads, to main dishes, to desserts; and the instructions are very simple. I especially appreciated that the recipes use easy-to-find ingredients and that the nutrition facts are included for every recipes.

The cookbook is divided into the following sections: Introduction, Appetizers, Drinks, Better than Takeout, Soups, Beef & Pork, Poultry, Seafood, Vegetarian, Side Dishes, Breakfast, Baking, Desserts, References, and Indexes. In addition, there are hundreds of photographs and loads of instructions making it ideal for any levels of cooks. The Introduction section contains a great deal of valuable teaching tools such as what you need for a well-stocked kitchen including the types of knives, cookware, and bakeware.

For those of you (like me!) who love cookbooks with photos, the TASTE OF HOME COOKING SCHOOL COOKBOOK has tons of them. Not only are there small colored photographs for every single recipe (yay!), there are even step-by-step photographs for some of the cooking techniques -- i.e. how to braise, how to peel a kiwi, how to easily finish a cake (frost it), and many, many more.

I admit that the first time I looked through the TASTE OF HOME COOKING SCHOOL COOKBOOK, I was a bit overwhelmed. I couldn't even begin to mark the number of recipes that I wanted to try. So many of them looked so good... and so easy. Since I aim to cook a meal that we can all eat given Booking Son's allergies, I was quickly able to narrow my search. (Lots of these recipes do have dairy!)

The first recipe that I tried was for Pepperoni Pizzazz. It's a baked penne pasta dish with cheese, pepperoni, sauce, and a few vegetables Not exactly the healthiest of meals, but I figured everyone would like it! I found Boar's Head pepperoni that Booking Son would eat, and I was able to separate a bit of the pasta mixture and add his soy mozzarella. I also substituted fresh mushrooms for the canned ones that were called for in the recipe. It was extremely simple but did take almost an hour to bake. Since it served nine, I did have leftovers to serve on a busy night later in the week. The Pepperoni Pizzaa was a pretty big hit with my husband and me, but the kids thought it was a little spicy. Everyone ate it though and I consider that a success!

The following night, I decided to try something a little healthier and made the Pan-Seared Chili Salmon. Of course, I had a feeling that the kids would prefer theirs plain with just a little salt, but I made my husband's and mine exactly like the recipe instructed. I have to say that my husband and I aren't huge salmon fans, but I figured the little kick might change our minds. Once again, the recipe was extremely simple and this time, it was very quick to prepare; and we both thought it was delicious. Definitely a keeper!

I still have a few more recipes to try including a simple Honey Grilled Shrimp and the Shrimp 'N' Spinach Risotto that I intend to make within the next few days. And after that, I'll continue to try one or two recipes a week. If I keep to this schedule, this cookbook could feed us for some time. And don't even get me started on all of the wonderful sounding desserts. The recipes I want to try are in the dozens!

I highly recommend the TASTE OF HOME COOKING SCHOOL COOKBOOK. Since it does have lots of instructions, it's perfect for beginner cooks; however, I also think the recipes are simple enough to appeal to busy moms. It's definitely my new favorite cookbook.

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing a review copy.

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, May 19, 2012

Kid Konnection: Wonder & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to feature one of my favorite books of 2012!

Summary: I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a
New York Times bestseller, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. -- Knopf

I should probably begin this review by telling you that there is absolutely no way that I can do justice to the middle-grade novel WONDER by R.J. Palacio. I had heard some wonderful things about this book from some fellow bloggers (namely Kathy and Sandy) and my go-to-source for books Entertainment Weekly even selected it for their Must-List, so I kind of figured that I would enjoy it. What I wasn't expecting was just how much I loved this book.. and how much it moved me. WONDER is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've read this year. And it just might go down as one of my favorite middle grade reads ever!

WONDER tells the story of Auggie, a 10 year old boy who is making the transition from being home-schooled to attending a middle school. Beginning a new school can be difficult enough, but when you add that Auggie has a severe facial deformity, his experiences are even more difficult. Auggie is convinced that he's just like everyone else, but as we all know, middle school kids can be cruel... sometimes very cruel. In this heartwarming story, Auggie learns the true meaning of friendship as well as his own inner strength.

WONDER is mainly Auggie's story and the book begins and ends with sections in his voice, but the reader also gets to hear other characters' stories. In addition to Auggie's chapters, there were also sections narrated by Auggie's sister Via, a few of his friends, and even Via's boyfriend. Of course, I adored Auggie and loved learning his perspective on himself and the events in his life; however, I also really appreciated seeing how the other characters were affected by their relationship with Auggie. These sections gave the book an added depth and provided me with some wonderful insight into the true meaning of friendship.

WONDER absolutely blew me away and it is exactly the type of middle grade book that I love. It has great characters (especially Auggie), but it is also an entertaining story and there is definitely some humor. All of these things make it a book that will appeal to kids; however, as a mom, I loved that WONDER is chock-full of valuable life lessons. I believe that while most kids aren't dealing with the severity of Auggie's issues, they will still be able to relate to many of the events that take place in the story. Auggie isn't always treated very well by his classmates (that's kind of an understatement), and I think most kids will relate (either directly or indirectly) to the bullying that occurs in this story. Furthermore, I'm betting that children will also be able to relate to many of the peer pressure issues that Auggie's friends faced.

Needless to say, WONDER would make a wonderful discussion book -- either for book groups or in the classroom. The author has a fantastic link on her website for teachers that includes some thought-provoking questions, but I think mother/daughter book clubs could use these resources as well. Some of the life lessons that children will learn (and want to discuss) from this story include inner strength, friendship, loyalty, family love, devotion, and staying true to one's self.

WONDER is an incredibly touching book that had me crying more times than I can count (even during my son's karate class); however, it is also very uplifting and has some wonderful messages about the inner beauty of individuals. I believe this novel has the power to be life-changing for readers of all ages; and I can't recommend it enough! I loved WONDER and want to put it in the hands of every child (and adult) I meet!

I received a copy of WONDER from a friend.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Random House, I have an amazing contest! I am giving away a signed copy of WONDER to share with one very lucky Booking Mama reader! To enter, just fill out the form below before May 31st 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!
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, May 18, 2012

Guest Review: The Floor of Heaven

Summary: It is the last decade of the 19th century. The Wild West has been tamed and its fierce, independent and often violent larger-than-life figures – gun-toting wanderers, trappers, prospectors, Indian fighters, cowboys, and lawmen –are now victims of their own success. They are heroes who’ve outlived their usefulness.

But then gold is discovered in Alaska and the adjacent Canadian Klondike and a new frontier suddenly looms - an immense unexplored territory filled with frozen waterways, dark spruce forests, and towering mountains capped by glistening layers of snow and ice.

“Klondicitis,” a giddy mix of greed and lust for adventure, ignites a stampede. Fleeing the depths of a worldwide economic depression and driven by starry-eyed visions of vast wealth, tens of thousands rush northward.

Joining this throng of greenhorns and grifters, whores and highwaymen, sourdoughs and seers are three unforgettable men. In a true-life tale that rivets from the first page, we meet Charlie Siringo, a top-hand sharp-shooting cowboy who, after futilely trying to settle down with his new bride, becomes one of the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s shrewdest; George Carmack, a California-born American Marine who’s adopted by an Indian tribe, raises a family with a Taglish squaw, makes the discovery that starts off the Yukon Gold Rush – and becomes fabulously rich; and Soapy Smith, a sly and inventive predator-conman who rules a vast criminal empire.

As we follow this trio’s lives, we’re led inexorably into a perplexing mystery. A fortune in gold bars has somehow been stolen from the fortress-like Treadwell Mine in Juneau, Alaska, with no clues as to how the thieves made off with such an immensely heavy cargo.  To many it appears that the crime will never be solved.  But the Pinkerton Agency has a reputation for finding the answers that elude others.  Charged with getting the job done is Charlie Siringo who discovers that, to run the thieves to ground, he must embark on a rugged cross-territory odyssey that will lead him across frigid waters and through a frozen wilderness.  Ultimately, he’ll have his quarry in his sights. But then an additional challenge will present itself.  He must face down Soapy Smith and his gang of 300 cutthroats.  Hanging in the balance: George Carmack’s fortune in gold.

At once a compelling true-life mystery and an unforgettable portrait of a time in America’s history when thousands were fired with a vision of riches so unimaginable as to be worth any price,
The Floor of Heaven is also an exhilarating tribute to the courage and undaunted spirit of the men and women who helped shape America. -- Broadway

While I have been reading more nonfiction lately, it's usually in the form of memoirs -- not history. So when I heard about THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN: A TRUE TALE OF THE LAST FRONTIER AND THE YUKON GOLD RUSH by Howard Blum, I knew it sounded like a book that my dad would enjoy. Here are his thoughts:

In THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN: A TRUE TALE OF THE LAST FRONTIER AND THE YUKON GOLD RUSH, author Howard Blum traces the lives of three seemingly unrelated characters and brings them together in an exciting conclusion with the Yukon gold rush as a backdrop.

Jefferson “Soapy” Smith was a cowboy turned con-man.  Smith earned his nickname from a scam he ran persuading people to bid on a bar of soap with the promise that some would contain a $100 bill.  He also ran shell games and other con games.  He wore out his welcome in most places and ended up controlling the illegal activity in Skagway, Alaska, the gateway town in the Yukon gold rush.

George Carmack was a marine deserter who married into the Tagish Indians in Alaska and actually considered vying for the position of Chief of the Tagish tribe.  Like his father before him, he always dreamed of finding gold.  After many disappointments he and two Indian friends found gold in Alaska and set off the famous Yukon gold rush.

The third character in this saga was Charlie Siringo, a cowboy who became a Pinkerton detective in the hopes of adding new adventures into his life after his cowboy days were over.  Siringo traveled to Alaska and worked as an undercover agent to solve a crime involving gold theft from a local mine.  The pursuit of one of the thieves led him to Skagway. 

Blum spends a considerable amount of the 407 page story in setting up the characters from their early years up until the gold rush.  He moved smoothly back and forth from one character to another amusing the reader with countless stories.  He tells of Smith’s escapades in Colorado and Carmack’s life as a marine and later living as an Indian.  Blum relates stories of Siringo’s cattle drives and his effort to settle down, marry and run a tobacco store.  He weaves in mentions of Billie the Kid, Bat Masterson and other notorious characters of the Wild West.

The three men’s lives intersect in Skagway in 1898 in an armed clash when Soapy Smith and his outlaw gang set up a plan to steal George Carmack’s gold not knowing that Charlie Siringo is an ally of Carmack.  

Howard Blum uses memoirs, news accounts and memories recorded from descendents of the three main characters to develop his true story.  Although it’s classified as an historic narrative some questions may arise as to the truthfulness and accuracy of the reference documents.  After all, Smith was a con man whose life centered on lying, Siringo often misled people in his job as an undercover detective and Carmack was a marine deserter who lied to avoid arrest.  Additionally, with high profile characters like these three, information often gets exaggerated as it’s passed on over time.  There is no real way to know.  

Nonetheless THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN is a very enjoyable book that gives the reader a great perspective of the Yukon gold rush and its impact.   I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of the Alaska gold rush period.

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