Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kid Konnection: Easter Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you some books that are guaranteed to get you in the mood for Easter.

Summary: Duck & Goose are back! New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Tad Hills brings our favorite feathered friends out to celebrate spring in this sturdy board book. Duck & Goose have lots of ideas about how to find the Easter Bunny, but will they succeed? Preschoolers won't be able to resist this latest board book featuring Duck & Goose, lots of colorful eggs, and the Easter Bunny. -- Schwartz & Wade

DUCK & GOOSE HERE COMES THE EASTER BUNNY! by Tad Hills is the perfect Easter gift for little ones. I am a huge fan of Duck & Goose and I admit that every time I read one of their books, I smile. Isn't this cover just adorable? And you can't tell from this picture, but the eggs are all glittery.

DUCK & GOOSE HERE COMES THE EASTER BUNNY is an adorable board book about two friends who are attempting to hide from the Easter Bunny. They try to hide in a few different places, but none seem right. They eventually fall asleep to discover that they missed the Easter Bunny, but he has left them loads of colorful Easter Eggs.

Toddlers and parents alike are sure to adore this book and its silly ending.

Summary: One by one, 10 very hungry rabbits find 10 very yummy vegetables for Mama Rabbit's soup pot. Caldecott Honor Book artist Anita Lobel combines learning to count with color concepts in this mouth-watering celebration of good things to eat. One big purple cabbage, two white onions, three yellow peppers, and so on through 10—garden vegetables have never looked so appetizing! Here Anita Lobel makes a delightful story for preschoolers with the two most basic early learning concepts, counting and color. And her beautiful illustrations of vegetables might even tempt picky eaters into new adventures in eating!-- Knopf

10 HUNGRY RABBITS: COUNTING & COLOR CONCEPTS by Anita Lobel is great for toddlers and preschoolers alike. This picture book is as fun as it is educational. The basic idea is that Mama Rabbit has nothing for her soup, but her little rabbits are very hungry. Papa suggests that the rabbits gather food from their garden for the soup. Each rabbit finds something new to add to the soup. For example, the first rabbit finds one purple cabbage and the tenth rabbit finds ten black peppercorns. Of course, with the help of the ten rabbits, Mama Rabbit makes a delicious soup for the entire family.

I think this book is a great way to reinforce color and number concepts, and that makes it perfect for home and classrooms. There is even a reading guide with an additional counting worksheet as well as information about the author and other counting books.

Summary: When Little Bunny can't sleep because "there's too much dark at night," it's up to Papa to find just the right night-light for his little bunny. The pair go for a walk around the woods and Papa points out the possibilities. Perhaps the moon is the ideal night-light? Or maybe the fireflies will be able to help? Or even the little glowworm? Featuring luminescent nighttime illustrations that glow in the dark, and a comforting text, this bedtime story will resonate with little bunnies and their parents. -- Random House

THE BUNNY'S NIGHT-LIGHT: A GLOW-IN-THE-DARK SEARCH by Geoffrey Hayes is another cute bunny book that's probably more appropriate to older preschoolers. There is a bit more text on each page and the illustrations are quite detailed. And did I mention that parts of this book actually glow-in-the-dark?

THE BUNNY'S NIGHT-LIGHT tells the story of a bunny who is afraid of the dark and can't sleep. Papa is quite the trooper and sets out to discover the perfect night-light for little Bunny. He suggests the moon, the stars, a glowworm, and even fireflies, but none of these please Bunny. Papa continues to show bunny that there are lots of available light sources at night, but the bunny wants his or her own light. Mama comes to the rescue with a little lamp that she used when she was a young bunny and little Bunny is finally able to fall asleep.

THE BUNNY'S NIGHT-LIGHT is a very sweet story with gorgeous illustrations and even a few glow-in-the-dark images. I think it's perfect for a bedtime read,especially for those children who are afraid of the dark.

Summary: In this hilarious chapter book mystery, meet a girl whose parents have been kidnapped by disreputable foxes, and a pair of detectives that also happen to be bunnies! When Madeline gets home from school one afternoon to discover that her parents have gone missing, she sets off to find them. So begins a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving a cast of quirky and unforgettable characters. There's Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who drive a smart car, wear fedoras, and hate marmots; the Marmot, who loves garlic bread and is a brilliant translator; and many others. Translated from the Rabbit by National Book Award-winning author Polly Horvath, and beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall, here is a book that kids will both laugh over and love. -- Schwartz & Wade

MR. AND MRS. BUNNY - DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE by Mrs. Bunny translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath

Basically, MR. AND MRS. BUNNY - DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE tells the story of two empty nest rabbits who are trying to figure out the next stage of their lives. They are toying with becoming bunny detectives when they meet a young human girl who parents have just been kidnapped. That's pretty much all they need to hear, and they are off and running on the case. Along the way, they meet many hilarious characters including their neighbor, some ruthless foxes, and even a crazy garlic-loving marmot. It's an adventure like none other that is sure to bring lots of laughs to the reader.

I enjoyed MR. AND MRS. BUNNY - DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE, and I was pleasantly surprised by the humor in the story -- it really is a laugh-out-loud book. I could immediately tell that this story was going to be cute with larger-than-life characters, but I was surprised by just how smart the humor was. While Booking Son has a pretty sophisticated sense of humor for a boy of seven, I am pretty sure that some of the humor in this story would fly over his head. Having said that, I had quite a few laughs - especially with Mr. and Mrs. Bunny's bantering and their crazy insights into life. In fact, as I read this story, I kept thinking that MR. AND MRS. BUNNY - DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE is one of those books that can be enjoyed by both parents and the kids alike; and as a result, I think it's an ideal book to be read aloud!

If you are looking for a funny book for young readers this Easter season, then look no more. MR. AND MRS. BUNNY - DETECTIVES EXTRAORDINAIRE is the solution!

Thanks to the publisher for sending 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, March 30, 2012

Review: The Professionals

Summary: Four friends, recent college graduates, caught in a terrible job market, joke about turning to kidnapping to survive. And then, suddenly, it's no joke. For two years, the strategy they devise-quick, efficient, low risk-works like a charm. Until they kidnap the wrong man. 

Now two groups they've very much wanted to avoid are after them-the law, in the form of veteran state investigator Kirk Stevens and hotshot young FBI agent Carla Windermere, and an organized-crime outfit looking for payback. As they all crisscross the country in deadly pursuit and a series of increasingly explosive confrontations, each of them is ultimately forced to recognize the truth: The true professionals, cop or criminal, are those who are willing to sacrifice . . . everything. 

A finger-burning page-turner, filled with twists, surprises, and memorably complex characters, The Professionals marks the arrival of a remarkable new writer. -- Putnam

I can't put my finger on why I've been so into thrillers lately, but when I look at my stack of books, these types of books seem to rise to the top. The latest thriller that I've read and really enjoyed is called THE PROFESSIONALS by Owen Laukkanen. It's getting rave reviews from some pretty well-known authors and I can certainly see why.

THE PROFESSIONALS tells the story of four friends who decide to become kidnappers when they can't get a jobs after college graduation. What starts out as a joke begins to become more real as they make plans to kidnap wealthy  men (no women or children) and ask for moderate ransoms (so as not to draw attention to themselves.) Things seem pretty close to perfect for almost two years until they kidnap a man whose wife is connected to organized crime. And then... everything changes as two cops, Stevens and Windermere, and some organized crime thugs begin to hunt them down.

When I first started THE PROFESSIONALS, I knew it was going to be a novel that I would enjoy. I immediately appreciated Mr. Laukkanen's writing style and the pace of the novel; and I thought the premise seemed like an interesting one (especially in an economy where kids are forced to get creative with their jobs.) The book is written with lots of chapters (93 if you're interested) made up of just a few pages each. For whatever reason, I always find that this style works well for me in suspense stories. I think the smaller chapters make me feel as if the pace of the story is very fast and it definitely makes me turn the pages. In fact, I read this entire novel which is over 370 pages in just two sittings. It's a very easy and quick read that I found hard to put down.

I found it interesting that THE PROFESSIONALS is Mr. Laukkanen's debut novel. It's a pretty commendable feat especially given how polished the story is. I think what I most appreciated about his writing was how well he developed the characters. And by that, I'm not just talking about the good guys. The author managed to make the four criminals (and even the organized crime guys to some extent) very real to me, and I admit that I liked them despite their crimes. It's rare for me to read a book like this and feel an affinity with the criminals -- usually I'm rooting for their demise. However, in THE PROFESSIONALS, I was torn. While I adored Stevens and Windermere and wanted them to succeed after their stellar police work, I also really liked the criminals; and I wasn't exactly sure who I was rooting for by the end of the novel.

As far as thrillers go, THE PROFESSIONALS is a very good one. The action is the story is pretty much non-stop and had me on the edge of my seat for much of the story. The characters are involved in cross-country chases, shoot-outs, and much much more. I thought Mr. Laukkanen did a wonderful job of building suspense and tension, and he even made a few of the scenes touching. All in all, this novel was a great ride!

I was very excited to learn that the author is busy at work on another book involving Stevens and Windermere. Of course, I'll be anxiously awaiting that novel's publication date. Stevens and Windermere are extremely likable and their chemistry is definitely special. I'm not sure how Stevens is going to find an excuse to be away from his family again and work with FBI Agent Windermere, but I have little doubt that the author will find another creative crime that they need to solve.

If you enjoy thrillers, then you won't want to miss THE PROFESSIONALS!

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Save Me

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline’s Save Me will touch the heart of every woman, as its heroine, the unforgettable Rose McKenna, makes a split-second decision that alters the course of her life—and makes you wonder what you would do in her shoes.

Nobody could have foreseen what would happen the day that Rose McKenna volunteers as a lunch mom in the cafeteria of her daughter’s elementary school.  Rose does it to keep a discreet eye on her third-grader, Melly, a sweet, if shy, child who was born with a facial birthmark that has become her own personal bull’s-eye.  Melly has been targeted by the mean girl at their new school and gets bullied every day, placing Rose in a no-win position familiar to parents everywhere.  Do we step in to protect our children when they need us, or does that make things worse?

When the bully starts to tease Melly yet again. Rose is about to leap into action—but right then, the unthinkable happens.  Rose finds herself in a nightmare, faced with an emergency decision that no mother should ever have to make.  What she decides in that split second derails Rose’s life and jeopardizes everyone she holds dear, until she takes matters into her own hands and lays her life on the line to save her child, her family, her marriage—and herself.

Lisa Scottoline has thrilled millions with her inspiring female characters and her exploration of emotional justice, writing about real issues that resonate with real women.  In Save Me, she returns with her most stirring and thought-provoking novel yet. -- St. Martin's Griffin

I don't know that I'd say I'm a huge fan of Lisa Scottoline's, but I have read and liked some of her books in the past -- and by that I mean her mysteries as well as her humorous essays. I am always up for a good story, and I figured Ms. Scottoline's latest SAVE ME sounded exactly like a book that I'd enjoy. The book's description made it sound like a story about a mother and the lengths she'd go to save her daughter. And it also sounded like it addressed some interesting ethical and moral dilemmas that moms can face.

And that's exactly how SAVE ME began -- with Rose facing some difficult decisions as a mother. Her daughter Melly is being bullied by some of the girls at her elementary school because she has a large birthmark on her face. Rose has to decide whether she should approach the girl and if so, what she should say. What mother hasn't wondered whether to get involved in her child's problems? However, this situation pales in comparison when an explosion occurs in the cafeteria. Rose just happens to be at school that day when the disaster strikes and she is faced with an even more terrifying decision. Does she save the girls right in front of her or sacrifice them so she can try to save her daughter?

As a mother, I could really relate to Rose at the beginning of this story. Of course, my heart broke for the pain that Melly was experiencing as a result of the bully, but I also really felt bad for Rose because I know I would have had many of the same thoughts that she did. And then when Rose was faced with the decision of whom to help after the explosion, I felt an affinity with her because I would have experienced similar feelings of guilt. However, my ability to relate to Rose's story quickly began to change as I discovered that Rose had some deeper, underlying issues from her past.

And once these secrets started being revealed, I found that I didn't enjoy this novel quite as much. Rose began shutting out her husband (who seemed like a pretty nice guy) and acting very strange; and the story took a dramatic turn. SAVE ME became more of a mystery (and a pretty complex one at that) with Rose running around trying to solve it at the expense of her marriage, her family and even her own safety. I'm probably not expressing this clearly, but it almost seemed as if there were two very different and distinct "parts" of this story.

Having said that I did appreciate the mystery and how Rose pieced everything together. (My issue wasn't with the mystery itself. Rather, it just didn't seem to fit well with the first part of the book.) I liked that Rose exhibited strength and intelligence (as is the case with all of Lisa Scottoline's female characters) in solving the mystery, and I felt as if she demonstrated just how much moms can accomplish when they set their minds to it. I will admit that the mystery had many layers and I had no idea where the story was going to go. Needless to say, it wasn't one of those novels where I was able to make sense of any of the clues.

I did have one more slight issue with SAVE ME. While I do root for happy endings (most of the time), I thought that everything in SAVE ME was wrapped up a little too neatly. Of course, I was glad that the bullying of Melly pretty much stopped and that she gained some self-confidence; however, almost every aspect of Rose's life seemed to work out too. I can't go into too many details because I think I'd spoil the story for future readers, but for as far-fetched as parts of this story seemed, the last chapter was just a little too perfect.

While I did have a few problems with SAVE ME, that doesn't stop me from recommending it for book clubs. In fact, I think it might be interesting to hear some additional viewpoints about some of these topics because I might be alone with my thoughts. There is a reading guide available there is a great deal to discuss including parent/child relationships, guilt, marriage, forgiveness, bullying, secrets, self-esteem, "helicopter parenting," and redemption.

And speaking of book clubs, The SheKnows Book Club will be "meeting" this evening at 5 to 6 p.m. PST/8 to 9 p.m. EST to discuss SAVE ME. You can participate live at Ms. Scottoline's Facebook page.

Overall, I enjoyed SAVE ME and for the first half or so, and I thought this story had the makings to be an excellent one. While it wasn't my favorite Scottoline book, I do think fans of her work will appreciate her latest.

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: We Bought a Zoo & Giveaway

Summary: Here is a story about triumph against all odds.

When Benjamin Mee decided to uproot his family and move them to an unlikely new home – a dilapidated zoo where more than 200 exotic animals would be their new neighbors – his friends and colleagues thought he was crazy. Mee’s dream was to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. The grand reopening was scheduled for spring, but there was much work to be done and none of it easy for these novice zookeepers. Tigers broke loose, money was tight, the staff was sceptical, and family tensions ran high.

Then tragedy struck. Katherine Mee, Benjamin’s wife, had a recurrence of a brain tumor, forcing Benjamin and his two young children to face the heartbreak of illness and the devastating loss of a wife and mother. But inspired by the memory of Katherine and the healing power of the incredible family of animals they had grown to love. Benjamin and his kids resolved to move forward, and today the zoo is a thriving success.

We Bought a Zoo is the heartwarming and unforgettable story of an ordinary family living in the most extraordinary circumstances. -- Weinstein Books

I am the first to admit that I'm not a regular movie goer. Heck, I'm not even a regular movie watcher, but when the opportunity presented itself to review both the book and movie for WE BOUGHT A ZOO by Benjamin Mee, I jumped at the chance. I had seen previews for WE BOUGHT A ZOO and thought it looked like a great family movie. However, being the book lover that I am, I wanted to read the book that the movie was based on prior to seeing the movie.

So a few days ago, I sat down with the book version of WE BOUGHT A ZOO. I have to tell you that I was a bit surprised by it, and I don't know that I'd say I loved it. The book description that I included above pretty much tells the story (and sounds a lot like the movie!), but I have to say that the book and movie were very different. In fact, as I was reading WE BOUGHT A ZOO, I wasn't quite sure how it was going to work as a movie. I felt that the book was a little dry and I didn't feel like I got an inside look into the author's emotions. I guess I just wanted more about how he and his children coped with losing his wife. The book was much more focused on the zoo and getting it ready for inspection and opening.

Having said that, Benjamin Mee's story is fascinating and inspiring and I definitely saw the potential for a movie. There were scenes with the zoo and zoo workers that I knew would play well on the big screen. Plus, there were animals... lots of animals; and who isn't a sucker for family movies about animals?

You're rarely going to hear me say this, but I definitely enjoyed the movie version of WE BOUGHT A ZOO better than the book one. (Of course it didn't hurt that the movie starred Matt Damon!) The movie took all the cute and funny scenes from the book and brought them to life; and it had lots of gorgeous animals. There were some pretty drastic changes from the book to the movie including the "Americanization" of the story, the timing of Mee's wife's death, and the involvement of Mee's family in the venture. I'd definitely go so far as to say that many of these changes were improvements over the original story, if not quite keeping to the accuracy of Mee's story. But hey... it's Hollywood.

I actually found this movie to be extremely heartwarming and inspirational. It not only explored how persistent Mee and his family and the zookeepers were in preparing the zoo for visitors, but it also delved into the loss of Mee's wife and the effect it had on Mee and his children. (This was exactly what I wanted more of in the book!) I thought all of the actors (and especially the kids) did a good job with the script, and WE BOUGHT A ZOO is truly a feel-good family movie. I might have even choked back tears a few times, but I'm like that with movies!

This might sound picky, especially coming from someone who doesn't watch a ton of movies, but I really wanted to share this movie with both of my kids; and for the most part, I could. (It has a PG rating.) But here's the sticky part for me. My son is 7 years old -- the exact same age as the little girl in the movie. There was one scene where Benjamin references that he has a daughter who still believes in the Easter Bunny. Hello? My son is hanging on to those childhood beliefs by a thread and I don't think I'm ready for him to hear the truth about the Easter Bunny in a movie just days before he comes. In addition, there was a scene at the end where the little girl says a dirty word (a slang term for male anatomy.) Just putting that out there for you moms!

Here's a little more about the movie:


WeBoughtAZoo_Title (2)

Featuring Family Friendly Audio Track The Whole Family Will Go Wild for this Heartwarming Adventure Starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson On Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download April 3 

This Easter, be unpredictable, do something crazy and embrace your wild side!  Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presents an inspiring adventure based on a true story of one man who brought a zoo back to life and family back together in WE BOUGHT ZOO, arriving on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download April 3.

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) and starring Matt Damon (Contagion, True Grit), Scarlett Johansson (Iron Man 2, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Thomas Haden Church (Easy A, Sideways), WE BOUGHT A ZOO is “a sweet-natured tale…that you’ll want to see with your kids” (Liz Braun, Jam! Movies).

Benjamin Mee (Damon) is a Los Angeles newspaper columnist and adventure writer who, as a single father, faces the challenges of raising his two young children.  Hoping that a fresh start and a new life will restore their family spirit, Mee quits his job and buys an old rural house outside the city with a unique bonus feature: a zoo named the Rosemoor Animal Park, where dozens of animals reside under the care of head zookeeper Kelly Foster (Johansson) and her dedicated team.  With no experience, limited time and a shoestring budget, Mee sets out with the support of his family and the local community to reopen the zoo.  Now, Benjamin is no longer reporting an adventure story; he’s living it in his own backyard.

Featuring an incredible musical score composed by Jónsi of the band Sigur Rós, the WE BOUGHT A ZOO Blu-ray is loaded with over 2½ hours of special features including 20 deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary with Director Cameron Crowe, star J.B. Smoove (The Sitter, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Editor Mark Livolsi, and more. The film also features an English Family Friendly Audio Track that earned the Dove Seal of Approval.  The Blu-ray and DVD will be available for an average retail price of $24.99 and $19.99 respectively. 

WE BOUGHT A ZOO Blu-ray Combo Pack Special Features
  • Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy including theatrical film
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes
o   Elevator Empathy
o   A Gift From Ronnie
o   Life is Elemental
o   Thank You, Rhonda
o   Rosie Names Her Peacocks
o   Quick Learner
o   Just Can’t Get a Handle On It
o   So Much Bloodshed
o   Buster is Loose
o   Utterly Free / Nobody Died
o   I Make My Own Hours
o   The Stuff is Alive
o   We’re Living The Story
o   Disaffected Youth
o   It’s Their Zoo, Too
o   Goodnight Big Mac
o   Such a Cliché
o   Sorry About the Rain
o   Benjamin’s Big Speech
o   Opening Day
  • Gag Reel
  • “The Real Mee”
  • “We Shot a Zoo
  • “Their Happy is Too Loud”
  • Audio Commentary with Director Cameron Crowe, Star J.B. Smoove and Editor Mark Livolsi
About Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC (TCFHE) is a recognized global industry leader and a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a News Corporation company. Representing 75 years of innovative and award-winning filmmaking from Twentieth Century Fox, TCFHE is the worldwide marketing, sales and distribution company for all Fox film and television programming, acquisitions and original productions on DVD, Blu-ray Disc Digital Copy, Video On Demand and Digital Download. The company also releases all products globally for MGM Home Entertainment. Each year TCFHE introduces hundreds of new and newly enhanced products, which it services to retail outlets from mass merchants and warehouse clubs to specialty stores and e-commerce throughout the world.

Follow Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on Twitter @FoxHomeEnt

I really enjoyed comparing and contrasting the book and movie. It kind of added a whole new level to my movie and reading experience. Thanks to Weinstein Films and Think Jam for providing review copies of WE BOUGHT A ZOO.

Giveaway alert: I have copies of the WE BOUGHT A ZOO book and DVD to share with one lucky reader. You can host your own book/movie discussion! To enter, just fill out the form below before April 8th 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. and Canada addresses only -- no p.o. boxes. Good luck!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: The Land of Decoration

Summary: In Grace McCleen's harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps—the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father's modest lives—a strike threatens her father's factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory—Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God's chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her newfound power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world. 

With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we'll go to protect the things we love most. -- Henry Holt

I really hadn't heard much of anything about the new novel THE LAND OF DECORATION by Grace McCleen, but when I read the description, I thought it sounded fascinating. Plus it had a great blurb on the cover from Emma Donoghue, author of ROOM a book that I loved; and it also received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. It definitely sounded like a winner to me.

THE LAND OF DECORATION tells the story of Judith, a 10 year old girl who is deeply spiritual and has faith like few others. She spends a lot of time with her father and their church members, and she doesn't really have any friends her own age. In fact, quite the opposite, she is bullied in school for her strong beliefs and different lifestyle. As a way to help Judith cope, she has created a model miniature of the Promised Land in her room which she calls the Land of Decoration. This small-scaled model is made from bits of trash that Judith collects and then converts into biblical and real world scenes. When Judith thinks that she is able to create some real-life miracles with her Land of Decoration, her faith soars to a whole new level; and Judith actually believes that she is one of God's instruments. When her miracles end up having negative consequences, Judith is forced to reevaluate everything she has ever thought to be true.

If I'm being entirely honest, I did have some pretty high expectations for THE LAND OF DECORATION. The storyline sounds like nothing I've ever read, and I imagined this book to be part coming-of-age and part spiritual exploration. However, I was also somewhat hesitant to get my hopes up too much because I do think it can be difficult to effectively write a novel that encompasses so much from a child's point of view. I guess I was concerned whether I'd be able to buy the character and her actions.

In many ways, I did find Judith and her father to be believable. I thought, for the most part, that the author did a pretty good job of capturing the essence of a young girl with incredible faith; and she even threw in that Judith was extremely smart and mature for a child her age so that did give her a little leeway on some of Judith's thoughts and actions. I admit that I personally have a hard time understanding their dedication and devotion to their faith, but I didn't have any doubt that there are individuals out there who live this way.

The author has a very interesting background story and I think her insights are what gave this novel an authentic feel. Ms. McCleen grew up in a fundamentalist religion and she didn't have much contact with non-believers. I would venture to say that many of Judith's thoughts mirrored either Ms. McCleen's or someone else's that she knew as a child. Where the story differed a bit from Ms. McCleen's childhood concerned the amount of contact Judith had with others. Despite being shielded from a lot of real-world situations, Judith did attend school while the author was schooled at home. I actually enjoyed that Judith had to learn to interact with both worlds, and I thought it provided a great deal of thought for the reader on how a child would need to balance two very different sets of people.

I did enjoy THE LAND OF DECORATION... a lot. I might even go so far as to say that I loved it. I found the book to be incredibly interesting and entertaining too. It is one of those books that is a pleasure to read because the writing is darn good and the characters are so intriguing; and the story just draws you in as it builds to its stunning conclusion. However, I think it's how this book made me think which brought it to the next level for me. A few days after completing this novel, I am still thinking about Judith and her father; and I think that's a strong testament to the power of this novel.

THE LAND OF DECORATION would make a wonderful book club pick, and I actually hope it catches on with book groups around the country. There is a reading guide available with twelve thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes that you might want to further explore include faith, loss, grief, parent/child relationships, bullying, escapism, fear, the possibility of miracles, religion and spirituality. In addition, there are some very interesting symbols in the story that would be interesting to discuss.

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Chick & Chickie and Giveaway

Summary: Chick and Chickie love to play in their very own way, whether scaring each other silly or tickling the letter A. As young readers eagerly turn the pages of the story, they'll look forward to spotting all the witty side jokes and hilarious details. The fast-paced and zany narrative by Claude Ponti, one of the world's most beloved children's book authors, will instantly delight early readers and will just as surely turn reading into play. -- Toon Books

If you are a frequent follower of Booking Mama, then you know I'm a big fan of the Toon Books. And not only am I a fan, but Booking Son loves these books. For those of you who don't know, Toon Books are easy-to-read comics for early readers; and I think they are just a fantastic concept to gets kids reading.

One of the most recent Toon releases is CHICK & CHICKIE PLAY ALL DAY by Claude Ponti. This graphic novel is for children who are really just beginning to read. There are only a few words per page and there is also lots of repetition. (You can check out some sample pages here.) Booking Son read this book in less than a minute, but I know just a few years ago, he would have loved it!

Chick and Chickie are two friends who certainly know how to entertain each other. They make masks and scare each other and then they decide to play school with the letter "A." As they play with the letter A, it makes different sounds representing the long and short A sounds. At the end of the book, Chick and Chickie decide to play with B tomorrow. Sequel, perhaps?

All of the Toon Books have specifics about the Lexile Level and Guided Reading Level. In the case of CHICK & CHICKIE PLAY ALL DAY, the Lexile Level is BR and the Guided Reading Level is E. There are also lesson plans included for this comic. All of these resources make these books perfect for home and school.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Toon Books, I have a copy of CHICK & CHICKIE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before April 1st 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. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

How timely is a giveaway for a book about two chicks since Easter is quickly approaching?

Review: Elegy for Eddie

Summary: Maisie Dobbs—psychologist, investigator, and "one of the great fictional heroines, equal parts haunted and haunting" (Parade)—returns in a chilling adventure, the latest chapter in Jacqueline Winspear's bestselling series. 

Early April 1933. To the costermongers of Covent Garden—sellers of fruit and vegetables on the streets of London—Eddie Pettit was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. When Eddie is killed in a violent accident, the grieving costers are deeply skeptical about the cause of his death. Who would want to kill Eddie—and why? 

Maisie Dobbs' father, Frankie, had been a costermonger, so she had known the men since childhood. She remembers Eddie fondly and is determined to offer her help. But it soon becomes clear that powerful political and financial forces are equally determined to prevent her from learning the truth behind Eddie's death. Plunging into the investigation, Maisie begins her search for answers on the working-class streets of Lambeth where Eddie had lived and where she had grown up. The inquiry quickly leads her to a callous press baron; a has-been politician named Winston Churchill, lingering in the hinterlands of power; and, most surprisingly, to Douglas Partridge, the husband of her dearest friend, Priscilla. As Maisie uncovers lies and manipulation on a national scale, she must decide whether to risk it all to see justice done. 

The story of a London affected by the march to another war years before the first shot is fired and of an innocent victim caught in the crossfire, Elegy for Eddie is Jacqueline Winspear's most poignant and powerful novel yet. -- Harper

A few days ago, I participated in a Maisie Dobbs twitter chat with Book Club Girl and some other Maisie fans. There were three interesting things that struck me about this fun activity. First, a few of the participants had already finished Jacqueline Winspear's latest novel ELEGY FOR EDDIE and were raving about it, so I immediately had to drop everything and pick up this book. Second, I suggested that they we need some vintage Maisie tee-shirts based on the gorgeous cover art for the books. I'm sure hoping that the folks at Harper Collins can work something out because I would love to own a Maisie tee! And finally, we were asked what our favorite Maisie book was; and I answered, "Whatever one I'm reading at the time." If you've read some of the Maisie books, then you know how true this is.

I had fairly high expectations when I picked up ELEGY FOR EDDIE (especially after the twitter chat), and I can definitely say that Ms. Winspear has done it again! ELEGY FOR EDDIE is a wonderful mystery and it encompasses everything I've come to know and love about the Maisie mysteries. It just might be my favorite Maisie book yet, but I always say that about the most recent one I've read. ELEGY FOR EDDIE had the perfect blend of mystery and Maisie's personal story, and I absolutely adored it!

In ELEGY FOR EDDIE, the ninth book in the series, Maisie finds herself investigating the death of Eddie, a costermonger who was killed in a violent factory accident. Since Maisie's father was a former costermonger, she wants to assist her father's friends in whatever way she can, and she soon finds out that there is more to Eddie's "accidental" death than what appears at the surface. Maisie discovers that there are many political and financial secrets surrounding his death, as well as the possible involvement of some major power players in London politics. She even learns that some of her closest friends might know something and potentially be involved themselves.

The mystery surrounding Eddie's death was extremely well done -- no surprise there. There were lots of twists and turns and the clues surrounding the murder itself were pretty complex. Of course, I had no idea where the story was going for the first three quarters of the novel, but fortunately, Maisie did. As the story unfolded, I was once again amazed by just how tight the mystery plot was and how everything came together so well at the end of the novel.

However, I also truly appreciated the storyline about Maisie's personal life. Just when I thought she might be finding some semblance of happiness with her love interest James, Maisie begins to question what she wants out of their relationship. Again, I shouldn't have been surprised because Maisie is an extremely complex character who just happens to be dealing with a lot of major baggage. I thought Ms. Winspear also did a great job of showing some of the conflicts in Maisie's life like balancing work versus personal time and the guilt she has over her financial circumstances. None of the Maisie books are particularly upbeat, and ELEGY FOR EDDIE was no exception. My heart just broke for Maisie as I read this novel and because so much of the aspects of her personal life were left open-ended, I am so curious to see where the next book takes her.

Finally, one of the best things about the Maisie books is the setting. This story takes place after World War I, but some Londoners are sensing that trouble is brewing on the horizon in the form of a certain Adolf Hitler. Ms. Winspear manages to capture the look and feel of this time period perfect from the descriptions of the city streets to the fashion of the time; however, I think her real gift is conveying the atmosphere of London in the 1930s. In ELEGY FOR EDDIE, she includes so much about the political environment in the years leading up to World War II; and I have to say that I found some of her concepts to be absolutely fascinating.

Dobbs books and ELEGY FOR EDDIE was another fantastic one. I highly recommend not only checking out this book, but the entire Maisie series. I guarantee 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, March 25, 2012

Review: Made from Earth Products

About Made from Earth: It has been our honor to work with the best eco-friendly, environmentaly concious and recognized people in the health and beauty industry. Our company is based on the same healthy values from the day we started: excellent customer service for high quality and healthy ingredients. It is our objective to continue to grow by providing exciting new formulas and treatments to serve our healthy family.

Our line of organic skincare essentials contain the highest possible levels of certified organic ingredients and fruits. We have searched the entire USA for ingredients that meet our earth-friendly requirements and are hand-selected to provide you with exceptional skincare. You will find our ingredients listed prominently on our products and throughout this website. No catchy phrases or deceptive marketing – our ingredients speak for themselves. -- website

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Made from Earth, an organic holistic skincare care company; and they wanted to see if I was interesting in trying a few of their products. Normally, I only review books and book-related products; however, I couldn't pass up this offer. (I guess you could say that this falls under the "occasionally other things" part of my blog's description.) I absolutely adore skincare "products" and I'm always trying out new ones, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to learn about Made from Earth products.

I immediately went to their website to learn a little bit about the company and their products, and I was extremely impressed. Not only is the site very attractive (and organized), but this company does things the right way. They use certified organic ingredients without adding harmful chemical preservatives (unlike some other companies who claim they are organic but end up adding toxins to their products.) They also use only cruelty-free products in their manufacturing process. In addition, their line of products seemed to have something for everyone. I had no idea were to start, so I just requested some sort of anti-aging product. I am in my early 40s and I think my age is really beginning to show!

Much to my surprise (and excitement), a big box of Made from Earth products arrived a few days later -- check out the picture above to see all of the goodies. I think it's fair to say that I received not only some anti-aging products, but also some overall body care, hair and bath products, and lip balms. Here's the run down on my goodies:
I have been using all of these products for a few weeks now and I am thrilled with them. I have major skin allergies, and I am allergic to so many soaps, cleansers and lotions so I am always a little hesitant to start a new regimen. I am so happy to say that I haven't had issues with any of the twelve products that I have been regularly using. These products aren't only high-quality, but they are extremely gentle.

I can't really say what product is my very favorite since I seem to change my mind on a daily basis. I do love the soaps -- they smell amazing, and the lip balms stay on for a very long time. However, I think the skin care products are my favorites. In fact, there are a few more I'd like to try including some of their cleansers and moisturizers. Right now, I'm absolutely loving the serums (they make my skin glow!) and the Olive Night Cream.

As far as prices go, I think Made from Earth is more than competitive.. especially when you consider what you're getting. Many of the products that I've tried are pretty concentrated and a little goes a long way. It is recommended that you only use some of the scrubs/exfoliators two or three times a week, so one bottle/jar will last for a pretty long time. Made from Earth also offers packaged product sets that are discounted as well as trial sizes/travel sets.

I honestly love Made from Earth products and I look forward to being a regular customer in the future!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kid Konnection: A Breath of Eyre & Class 2K12

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 the latest 2K12 book release.

Summary: In this stunning, imaginative novel, Eve Marie Mont transports her modern-day heroine into the life of Jane Eyre to create a mesmerizing story of love, longing, and finding your place in the world…

Emma Townsend has always believed in stories—the ones she reads voraciously, and the ones she creates. Perhaps it’s because she feels like an outsider at her exclusive prep school, or because her stepmother doesn’t come close to filling the void left by her mother’s death. And her only romantic prospect—apart from a crush on her English teacher—is Gray Newman, a long-time friend who just adds to Emma’s confusion. But escape soon arrives in an old leather-bound copy of Jane Eyre…

Reading of Jane’s isolation sparks a deep sense of kinship. Then fate takes things a leap further when a lightning storm catapults Emma right into Jane’s body and her nineteenth-century world. As governess at Thornfield, Emma has a sense of belonging she’s never known—and an attraction to the brooding Mr. Rochester. Now, moving between her two realities and uncovering secrets in both, Emma must decide whether her destiny lies in the pages of Jane’s story, or in the unwritten chapters of her own… -- Kensington

I was pretty excited to receive a copy of the new YA novel A BREATH OF EYRE by Eve Marie Mont . First of all, Ms. Mont is an almost local author to me since she lives in Philadelphia; and I love to support Pennsylvania authors. Secondly, I read and reviewed another one of her novels FREE TO A GOOD HOME, and I enjoyed it. And finally, A BREATH OF EYRE is one of the Class 2K12 books which I will be featuring throughout this calendar year.

A BREATH OF EYRE is a creative take on the Jane Eyre novel. Emma is a teen girl who loves books and feels most comfortable when she is caught up in a story (needless to say, I could relate.) She is able to forget about the pressure of her elite private school, the void left from the loss of her mother, and even guy problems. When some family friends give her a copy of JANE EYRE, her mother's favorite book, Emma finds that the novel really resonates with her... so much so that she is transported into the pages of the story after a freak encounter with a lightning bolt. Through Emma's journey between reality and fiction, she experiences a sense of belonging and realizes some important things about her own self.

I thought A BREATH OF EYRE was a very cute young adult book, and in some ways I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I am pretty sure that I would have liked this novel as a teen, and I do think tween and teen girls will feel an affinity with the character of Emma. Emma has so many traits that are universal to girls. She worries about fitting in at school and lacks confidence when it comes to guys, but she also feels as if she isn't pretty and she has issues with her stepmother. And even though Emma is dealing with some bigger things like the loss of her mother and a father who can't express his emotions, I'm betting that most girls will see not only themselves in her character, but also many of their friends.

I couldn't help but love Emma and that went a long way in my enjoyment of this novel, but I also found the premise of the story to be very creative. I don't want to say that there has never been a book where girls (or women) time travel or else become some of their favorite characters, but I do think Ms. Mont approached the story in a unique way. I enjoyed both of Emma's worlds, the real one and her fictional one, and I appreciated how Ms. Mont merged the two. Through Emma's travels, she learned some extremely important lessons about life and she better learned how to accept (and even embrace) her own self. The story was sweet (and clean) and. at the same time, it was also deep. I actually loved how much Emma matured throughout the course of the novel.

A BREATH OF EYRE is the first book in a new young adult series, and I was pretty excited to discover this. Of course, that means that I will have to read the next couple of books, but I think I can live with that. The next novel in the series is A TOUCH OF SCARLET which takes Emma into the pages of THE SCARLET LETTER; and the following is A PHANTOM ENCHANTMENT which merges reality and the story THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

A BREATH OF EYRE would make a cute book club pick for teens or even mother daughter groups. I couldn't find a formal discussion guide, but I don't think one's necessary for a quality discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendship, loss, parent/child relationships, insecurity, discovering one's true self, and love. Most of the themes are pretty common, but I've found that girls never tire of discussing them and that they love comparing themselves to the main character.

Update: Ms. Mont has prepared a discussion guide. You can find it here.

I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining A BREATH OF EYRE was, and I recommend it to fans of young adult chick lit as well as fans of JANE EYRE.

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

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 Eve Marie Mont author of A BREATH OF EYRE to describe her book in just a few words; and here's what she had to say:

A shy girl who gets transported into her favorite novel, Jane Eyre, must determine whether her destiny lies in the pages of Jane's story or in the unwritten chapters of her own.

As a child, Eve was a tomboy/animal lover/aspiring actress who staged lip-synched productions of her favorite musicals since she couldn’t sing. Her love for athletics and animals remained, but the acting bug was soon replaced by the writing bug. In fourth grade, she wrote her first chapter book entitled, The Only Tomboy in My Class, and she was hooked.

Now Eve teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Philadelphia suburbs and sponsors her school’s literary magazine. When not grading papers or writing, Eve can be found watching the Phillies with her husband, playing with her shelter pup, or daydreaming about her next story.

You can connect with Ms. Mont in any of the following places:






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, March 23, 2012

Guest Review: Island of Vice

Summary: When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice . . . and vice won.

In the 1890s, New York City was America’s financial, manufacturing, and entertainment capital, and also its preferred destination for sin, teeming with forty thousand prostitutes, glittery casinos, and all-night dives. Police cap­tains took hefty bribes to see nothing while reformers writhed in frustration.

In Island of Vice, Richard Zacks paints a vivid portrait of the lewd underbelly of 1890s New York, and of Theodore Roosevelt, the puritanical, cocksure police commissioner resolved to clean it up. Writing with great wit and zest, Zacks explores how young Roosevelt goes head to head with Tammany Hall, takes midnight rambles with muckraker Jacob Riis, and tries to convince two million New Yorkers to enjoy wholesome family fun. When Roosevelt’s crackdown succeeds too well, even his supporters turn on him, and TR discovers that New York loves its sin more than its salvation.

With cameos by Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, and a horde of very angry cops, Island of Vice is an unforgettable snap­shot of turn-of-the-century New York in all its seedy glory and a brilliant miniature of one of America’s most colorful presidents. -- Doubleday

My dad made me promise that I wouldn't give him any more books to read about Teddy Roosevelt. He said he's sick of reading about President Roosevelt and he couldn't possibly want to know anything more about the guy. I guess he does have a point that I've given him about four or five books in the past year or so about him; however, when I saw ISLAND OF VICE: THEODORE ROOSEVELT'S DOOMED QUEST TO CLEAN UP SIN-LOVING NEW YORK by Richard Zacks, I thought it looked really good... and different from all of the other ones that have been recently published. I think I can now say that I was right! Here are his thoughts:

Theodore Roosevelt has been a popular subject over the past few years and when I received ISLAND OF VICE by Richard Zacks I thought: “Not another Roosevelt book! Hasn’t everything possible been written about this man?”

However in spite of my initial negative reaction I found the book to be both entertaining and informative. It was much more than a portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt. It is about New York City in the late nineteenth century and its emergence as a world city. New York was struggling with issues such as Tammany Hall, immigration, wealth, vice, politics, finance and industry growth, politics and a corrupt police department.

The public's concern about these issues led to a reform candidate being elected as mayor in 1896. Teddy Roosevelt was one of four newly appointed New York City police commissioners charged by the mayor with cleaning up the city and police. Roosevelt took his assignment seriously and attacked the issues with the same high-energy he approached all challenges.

Generally, Roosevelt’s tenure as a police commissioner was not particularly successful. After some early positive results, Roosevelt’s self-righteous and arrogant attitude and his demand to enforce every law on the books with equal vigor led to commission infighting and public dissatisfaction. The public sentiment soon moved against the commission to such an extent that Tammany Hall candidates were once again elected to key city offices. After a little more than a year, Roosevelt moved on to become the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the leader of the Rough Riders and then McKinley’s Vice-President and as we say… the rest is history.

The strength of ISLAND OF VICE is in the great stories the author shares with the reader. His depictions of Teddy Roosevelt in action give us a picture of a highly volatile and egocentric man. Roosevelt’s midnight tours to check on his policemen are chronicled in great detail by Zacks. His accounts of New York City at the end of the nineteenth century bring the story to life. Zacks introduces us to characters such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Little Egypt who was a popular stripper, Reverend Charles Parkhurst who led the charge against corruption, Commissioner Andrew Parker who feuded with Roosevelt and Police Chief “Big Bill” Devery who later brought to New York the team that would become the Yankees. Zacks’ portrayals of poverty among the immigrants and the accounts of police trials and raids on prostitution and illegal alcohol sales are exciting, deeply troubling and sometimes humorous. The author’s description of the Roosevelt-backed Raines Law enacted by the New York State legislature to prevent Sunday liquor sales tells a very enlightening story of the unintended consequences of government actions.

ISLAND OF VICE is a well researched, informative and entertaining novel. Richard Zacks brings to life a portion of the life of Theodore Roosevelt that has been neglected in other Roosevelt novels I have read. It is also a study of New York City at the turn of the century. I would highly recommend this book to those who are students of Theodore Roosevelt or anyone with an interest in the history of New York City.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy and to Booking Pap Pap for his excellent review.

And by the way, it's Booking Pap Pap's birthday! Happy Birthday Dad!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: The Dovekeepers

Summary: Over five years in the writing, 

The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel. 

In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. 

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece. -- Scribner

I admit that I probably wouldn't have tackled THE DOVEKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman had it not been a book that my on-line book club chose to read. It's a historical fiction book set in ancient Israel in 70 C.E. that tells the story of four unique women who are living in the Judean desert Masada as the Romans massacre their tribe, and it did sound interesting to me. But it's also pretty intimidating at over 500 pages. I tend to shy away from big books lately and I was also hearing from some of my blogging friends (Sandy and Kathy) that it wasn't exactly an easy read. Nonetheless, a few days prior to our scheduled book club meeting, I decided to tackle THE DOVEKEEPERS.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to meet with my friends to discuss THE DOVEKEEPERS, but I don't regret having read it. Having said that, I still don't think I would have picked up this book if I hadn't had to read it; however, now I am glad that I stuck with it. I didn't love THE DOVEKEEPERS, but I did enjoy it; and there were many things that I appreciated about this novel. And I do think I enjoyed it more than some members of my on-line book club!

It's been a few weeks since I've finished THE DOVEKEEPERS and the book has still remained in my thoughts. For the most part, that's a good thing because it shows that the story and the characters are memorable; however, in the case of this novel, it's also a negative aspect. One of the things that pops into my head when I reflect on THE DOVEKEEPERS is that it was entirely too long. This book felt like a 500 page book, if that makes any sense. Maybe it's because I don't read many chunksters anymore, but this novel wasn't an easy read for me. The book contained some very detailed descriptions, as well as some flowery prose; and I thought there were many, many scenes that could have been cut or shortened. I hesitate to even say bring this up because who am I to question Ms. Hoffman;s writing style, but it is one of the things I remember most about this novel, so I'm just putting it out there.

So apart from my issues with the length of the novel and the detailed prose, I did enjoy THE DOVEKEEPERS. I thought the premise of this novel was so original, and I found the story of the Jews at Masada to be fascinating. While I had heard of Masada, I definitely wasn't familiar with the details of the Jews' plight; and I appreciated that this book brought that story to my attention. I have read that this book was five years in the making, and I absolutely believe that. I can only begin to imagine the amount of research Ms. Hoffman conducted while writing this novel, and I do think she managed to capture the essence of the time period.

THE DOVEKEEPERS is divided into four sections -- one for each of the four main female characters; and I appreciated how the story was told. Of course, there were women whose stories resonated with me more than others, but I found all of them to be interesting in their own right. I enjoyed hearing their stories in their own words, and I felt as if I got to know and understand each of the women. Furthermore, I liked seeing how the different actions were interpreted by each character, and I especially enjoyed reading about those times when their stories crossed. What I most enjoyed was how Ms. Hoffman managed to unravel secrets about each character through the use of another character's story. I thought she did an excellent job of telling each woman's individual story while also managing to make the novel a cohesive unit.

Another very interesting aspect of THE DOVEKEEPERS was how Ms. Hoffman incorporated the spiritual and mystical aspects of the culture into the story. The women in this novel received messages in their dreams, interpreted signs and even saw some ghosts; and usually, I'm not a big fan of books that include these types of things. However, these items seemed to belong in this story and I think the author used them to effectively tell these women's stories.

THE DOVEKEEPERS is a good choice for book clubs (as long as your group is up to reading a 500 page novel!) This novel is an extremely ambitious effort and it does cover many universal themes. There is a reading guide available with fourteen thought-provoking questions, and I actually found many of them to be extremely interesting. In addition to discussing each women's character, you can also choose to focus on themes including friendship, the role of women, parent/child relationships, love, faith, war, mysticism, and devotion.

I can't say that I loved THE DOVEKEEPERS, but I did enjoy it and I'm very glad that I read it. I don't think this book is for everyone, but it is an interesting look at the people of ancient Israel and the Masada massacre.

I received an ARC of this novel at the 2011 BEA.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Heft

Summary: A heartwarming novel about larger-than-life characters and second chances.

Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career—if he can untangle himself from his family drama. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel’s mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur’s. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene’s unexpected phone call to Arthur—a plea for help—that jostles them into action. Through Arthur and Kel’s own quirky and lovable voices, Heft tells the winning story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. Like Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, Heft is a novel about love and family found in the most unexpected places. -- Norton

HEFT by Liz Moore wasn't even on my radar until I read the review at She is Too Fond of Books, and then I just knew that I had to read it. HEFT sounded like an unusual, but heartwarming, novel; and for some reason this story about two very unlikely heroes appealed to me. After reading HEFT, I must say that I agree 100% with Dawn's review, and this novel most definitely touched my heart. I have been recommending it to everyone I know!

HEFT tells the story of Arthur Opp, a 500 pound man who hasn't left his home in almost ten years, and Kel Keller a teenage boy who is hoping for a future as a professional baseball player. Both characters are linked when Kel's mother, who was a former student of Arthur's, calls him out-of-the blue and asks for help. The connection between Arthur and Kel changes both of their lives in ways they never thought possible.

HEFT is told in both Arthur and Kel's voices and this presentation style gives readers not only an understanding of both characters, but it also allows readers to genuinely care about them. While Arthur and Kel are both sort of misfits in our society and feel as if they don't fit in, through their relationship with each other, they begin to feel loved.

I honestly can't think of the last time that two characters in a novel affected me like these two. While I did feel sorry that both of them considered themselves losers (or at the very least that they didn't belong in their environments), I don't know that I'd say my heart broke for them. Even from the beginning of the novel, I could sense that both Arthur and Kel were strong and that they would eventually work through their personal issues. Rather than evoking a sense of pity for these two, I think it would be more appropriate to say that this book gave me  feeling of hope. I loved how HEFT focused on not only the strength and resilience of the human spirit, but it also showed the importance of love and support in our lives. And those are some wonderful (and feel-good) messages!

In addition to just loving the characters and the feelings that this novel evoked in me, I was deeply impressed with Ms. Moore's writing. It goes without saying that I loved this heartwarming book, but I'm not sure that just any author could have pulled off this story. Ms. Moore created characters who were larger-than-life (and in the case of Arthur that is almost literal!), but I truly believed in them. In addition, I think this novel could have come across as a little corny with its feel-good messages about love and second chances; however, it didn't. I laughed and cried for these characters and I became totally caught up in their quest for happiness and acceptance.

HEFT would make a fantastic book club pick. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a discussion guide; however, I don't think having one is necessary to talking about this book. It's just one of those stories that individuals will want to discuss among friends. I am confident that you could discuss the characters of Arthur and Kel for some time, but I also think some of the secondary characters are interesting in their own right. In addition, the relationships between all of the characters are fascinating. Some of the themes you  might want to talk about include families, love, friendships, second chances, redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance. The title of the book is also symbolic and worthy of a few minutes of conversation.

HEFT is a touching story about two characters who are looking for love and acceptance. It will most definitely warm your heart and bring a smile to your face.Very highly recommended!

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