Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kid Konnection: Workman Fun


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 fun books that Booking Son has been playing with all week.

Summary: Every child who wears glasses will know just how Arlo feels, and will feel better because of it. And every parent will want that child to know that glasses are cool and fun and enable us to do the things we want to do. Take Arlo: He’s a shaggy, free-spirited dog who loves to play catch, until one day he can’t. He can’t see the ball anymore. He needs glasses!

In this inventive, interactive picture book created by Barney Saltzberg, the bespectacled author of
Beautiful Oops!, who charms young readers and their parents with a perfect light touch and joyful spirit, kids get to do just what Arlo does to solve his problem. They read an eye chart, look through a fold-out phoropter (that big machine optometrists use), and try on different pairs of glasses—movie star glasses! superhero glasses! mad scientist glasses! And they interact with Arlo as he rediscovers how to be the best ball-catcher in the neighborhood and picks up a new favorite pastime along the way—reading! One out of five school-age children needs glasses. Arlo will show them just how lucky they are. -- Workman

ARLO NEEDS GLASSES by Barney Saltzberg is positively adorable! In fact, I think it's my new favorite picture book. And Booking Son agreed. When I initially saw this book at the Workman booth at BEA, I fell in love with it, but I thought my son would be too old to appreciate it. You can imagine my thrill when he immediately grabbed this little picture book and started playing with it... and playing with it... and playing with it.

ARLO NEEDS GLASSES is an interactive picture book with many cute pull tabs -- one even shows how Arlo sees an eye chart with his uncorrected vision. In addition, there is a fold-out phoropter (I got that word from the book -- it's the machine that optometrists use to check your eyesight) as well as many different glasses for little readers to model. It is so darn cute that I can't even begin to express how much I adore Arlo and his need for glasses!

The book begins with Arlo missing the ball over and over again during a routine game of catch. Arlo's owner tries to show him how to play to no avail, so he decides that it might be Arlo's eyesight that's the problem. He takes Arlo to the eye doctor where they realize that Arlo needs glasses. After trying on many different pairs of glasses including Movie Star ones and Superhero ones, Arlo finds the perfect pair. He and his owner can now play catch, but most importantly, Arlo can do something else he loves to do... READ! Is that so sweet? I told you this book was fantastic!

Booking Son had a wonderful time reading ARLO NEEDS GLASSES, but he also had fun trying on the different styles of glasses. Just check out these photos:

As much fun as this book was to play with (and it really was), this book is also super-special because it deals with a very important topic for many children -- the need for glasses. I had no idea that one out of five children school-age children have a need for glasses. ARLO NEEDS GLASSES is a great way to introduce the issue to kids and show them that the entire process is nothing to be afraid of. I sure wish it had been around a few years ago when Booking Daughter discovered that she needed them!

There is also a fun contest going on where you can win a copy of ARLO NEEDS GLASSES. All you have to do is share a photo of your dog wearing glasses and you could be the lucky winner: Share a Photo of Your Dog in Glasses!
As far as Booking Son and I are concerned, ARLO NEEDS GLASSES is a must-have for any child's library. It's a fun, interactive book that also has a great message for kids who discover that they need glasses.



Summary: A breakthrough paper-folding book for kids—paper airplanes meet Origami meets Pokemon. Papertoys, the Internet phenomenon that’s hot among graphic designers and illustrators around the world, now comes to kids in the coolest new book. Created and curated by Brian Castleforte, a graphic designer and papertoy pioneer who rounded up 25 of the hottest papertoy designers from around the world (Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Italy, Croatia, Chile, even Jackson, Tennessee), Papertoy Monsters offers 50 fiendishly original die-cut designs that are ready to pop out, fold, and glue. The book interleaves card stock with paper stock for a unique craft package; the graphics are colorful and hip, combining the edginess of anime with the goofy fun of Uglydolls and other collectibles. Plus each character comes with its own back-story.

And the results are delicious: meet Pharaoh Thoth Amon, who once ruled Egypt but is now a mummy who practices dark magic in his sarcophagus. Or Zumbie the Zombie, who loves nothing more than a nice plate of brains and yams. NotSoScary, a little monster so useless at frightening people that he has to wear a scary mask. Yucky Chuck, the lunchbox creature born in the deepest depths of your school bag. Plus Zeke, the monster under your bed, Nom Nom, eater of cities, and Grumpy Gramps, the hairy grandpa monster with his very own moustache collection. -- Workman


Another book that Booking Son and I have been playing with this past week is PAPERTOY MONSTERS: 50 COOL PAPERTOYS YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF! by Brian Castleforte. This isn't exactly a book for reading, but rather it's more of a hands on craft book. It's so much fun! Just look at the first two Papertoy Monsters that we created on a rainy day:
PAPERTOY MONSTERS contains 50 adorable templates so you can create your very own paper monsters. Each template is pre-scored for easy tearing out as well as easy-to-fold lines, and every monster has a difficulty rating. The directions are extremely easy to follow although I admit it took me one monster to get the hang of it. (I suggest starting with an easy pattern and not an intermediate one like we did!) Everything you need to make these cool monsters is included in the book. All we needed was a glue stick and a little patience.

In addition to the 50 monster templates, there are also 10 blank templates so you can design your very own monster. Booking Son was a little intimidated by the blank ones, so I told him we have many to make before we have to worry about coloring our own.

I'm going to put on my mom hat here and mention that this book isn't all about the papercrafting (although that's definitely a lot of fun.) There are also plenty of opportunities for kids to work on their reading skills. In addition to reading (and following) the assembly directions, there are also detailed descriptions about the  monster's backgrounds. These snippets are very entertaining and almost as much fun as the actual monster-making!

Booking Son is almost eight years old and I think most eight year olds (and older) should be able to make these monsters. While he was able to tear out the templates and read the directions, he was still hesitant to make the monsters by himself. He had some difficulty with holding the glued sections together and he wasn't exactly patient, but he did love how they turned out. And, of course, he enjoyed playing with the monsters.


PAPERTOY MONSTERS would make a fabulous birthday gift for any little kid, and it's priced reasonably at $16.95 -- which is quite the bargain when you consider that this book offers countless hours of entertainment. If I haven't convinced you how cool PAPERTOY MONSTERS is, just check out this video:


Thanks to the publisher and PR by the Book for providing review copies of these fantastic 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, June 29, 2012

Guest Review: Death in the City of Light

Summary: Death in the City of Light is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-Occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, head of the Brigade Criminelle, was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, resistance fighters, pimps, prostitutes, spies, and other shadowy figures of the Parisian underworld.  

The main suspect was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a handsome, charming physician with remarkable charisma.  He was the “People’s Doctor,” known for his many acts of kindness and generosity, not least in providing free medical care for the poor.  Petiot, however, would soon be charged with twenty-seven murders, though authorities suspected the total was considerably higher, perhaps even as many as 150.

Who was being slaughtered, and why?  Was Petiot a sexual sadist, as the press suggested, killing for thrills?  Was he allied with the Gestapo, or, on the contrary, the French Resistance?  Or did he work for no one other than himself?  Trying to solve the many mysteries of the case, Massu would unravel a plot of unspeakable deviousness. 


When Petiot was finally arrested, the French police hoped for answers.

But the trial soon became a circus.  Attempting to try all twenty-seven cases at once, the prosecution stumbled in its marathon cross-examinations, and Petiot, enjoying the spotlight, responded with astonishing ease.  His attorney, René Floriot, a rising star in the world of criminal defense, also effectively, if aggressively, countered the charges.  Soon, despite a team of prosecuting attorneys, dozens of witnesses, and over one ton of evidence, Petiot’s brilliance and wit threatened to win the day.

Drawing extensively on many new sources, including the massive, classified French police file on Dr. Petiot,
Death in the City of Light is a brilliant evocation of Nazi-Occupied Paris and a harrowing exploration of murder, betrayal, and evil of staggering proportions. -- Broadway

Every once in awhile, my dad reads a book and gets very excited about it. That was definitely the case with
DEATH IN THE CITY OF LIGHTS: THE SERIAL KILLER IN NAZI-OCCUPIED PARIS by David King. I had dinner with him a few weeks ago and he kept raving about this book. After reading his view, I'm convinced! Here are his thoughts:

Try to imagine a crime spree in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II that would rival the ruthlessness of the Nazi occupation. That’s exactly the story David King tells in DEATH IN THE CITY OF LIGHT. It is the story is about one of the most notorious mass-murderers in French history.

In March, 1944, neighbors reported foul smelling smoke coming from a town house in Paris. When the police and firemen arrived they found a haunting scene of skulls, bones, dismembered body parts and partially burned corpses. The owner of the town house was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a very handsome and charismatic physician. A lengthy investigation led the police to a very bizarre finding. Petiot, while posing as a French Resistance fighter, would offer individuals safe travel out of Nazi-occupied Paris to South America. But rather than provide safe travel, Petiot would murder them, get rid of the bodies and keep their money and valuables. The police captured Dr. Petiot after an eight month man-hunt and charged him with twenty-seven murders.

The man-hunt and investigation led the police to some very strange places in Nazi-occupied Paris. The trail traced Petiot through a mental institute and a Nazi prison, to the Paris underworld with its gangsters and prostitutes and to the French Resistance.

The trial began in March, 1946, two years after the gruesome discovery at Petiot’s town house. The combination of the French judicial system and the brilliant tactics of Dr. Petiot, the chaotic trial became a circus. After all the drama, Petiot was found guilty of murder and died at the guillotine. Many questions remained unanswered such as how did he actually kill the victims and what did he do with the money and valuables. Author David King speculates on some logical answers in the Epilogue.

In addition to telling the story of a mass-murderer, King gives the reader a glimpse of Paris during the Nazi occupation. It’s always amazing to me how some people not only survive wartime but actually take advantage of the situation, like Dr. Petiot, to benefit them, usually at the expense of others.

The story reflects King’s thorough research as he utilized detailed trial material and police dossiers previously not made available to provide vivid detail into the investigation and court proceedings.

DEATH IN THE CITY OF LIGHT is a combination of history and true crime and reads like a thriller. It is another example that truth is often stranger than fiction. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good thriller or has interest in French World War II history.

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: The Next Best Thing

Summary: Actors aren’t the only ones trying to make it in Hollywood.…At twenty-three, Ruth Saunders left her childhood home in Massachusetts and headed west with her seventy-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to make it as a screenwriter. Six years later, she hits the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the showrunner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on her boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials.

Set against the fascinating backdrop of Los Angeles show business culture, with an insider’s ear for writer’s room showdowns and an eye for bad backstage behavior and set politics, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel is a rollicking ride on the Hollywood roller coaster, a heartfelt story about what it’s like for a young woman to love, and lose, in the land where dreams come true. -- Atria


It seems like there are so many books being published this summer that I'm dying to read. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like I'm scrambling to even keep up with all of the great releases (and frankly, I'm not really doing a very good job of it.) One book that I've been looking forward to is THE NEXT BEST THING by Jennifer Weiner. Each year, I look forward to reading Ms. Weiner's latest novel, and while I always enjoy them, I keep wishing that one will entertain me as much as GOOD IN BED did.

Keeping things real here, I liked THE NEXT BEST THING, but I didn't love it like I had hoped. I'm beginning to think it's unfair to compare everything to her earlier novel, and I just need to stop doing that. THE NEXT BEST THING tells the story of Ruth, a young woman who heads to Los Angeles to make it as a television sit-com writer. She brings her seventy year old grandmother who raised her after her parents died in a car accident when Ruth was a little girl; and together, the women live a pretty routine existence for six years. And then it finally happens! Ruth gets the opportunity to make a pilot of her television show which is called The Next Best Thing.

Ruth quickly learns some valuable lessons -- namely that Hollywood is not for the faint of heart. Once the network begins production on her show, much of Ruth's vision is tossed out for the executive's "better" ideas. She also has to deal with quirky actors and budget conscious execs. However, it's her personal life that offers some very unique challenges too. Ruth's grandmother decides to get married and leave Ruth all alone for the first time in her life, and she finds that she's very attracted to her wheelchair-bound boss who just happens to have a gorgeous girlfriend. As things heat up with The Next Best Thing, Ruth has to balance her desire to make a successful show along with her professional and personal issues; and in the process, she has to decide what's truly important in her life.

Overall, I have to say that THE NEXT BEST THING was a fun read for me. I have always been attracted to the lifestyles of Hollywood stars, so I found all of the information about show business to be extremely interesting. I felt as if Ms. Weiner did an excellent job of bringing Hollywood and the setting of television production to life; and it was apparent that she took away some interesting lessons after her stint as co-creator and co-executive producer of the sitcom State of Georgia. I especially appreciated the inside look into the writer's room as they bantered with each other and came up with original (and some not-so-original) ideas for the shows. One thing's for sure.. I don't think I'll ever watch a sitcom again without thinking about a few things I learned in this novel.

Another part of THE NEXT BEST THING that I enjoyed were the characters. Ruth was such a special character and I found myself rooting for her to succeed, especially since she had so many setbacks as a child. Ruth was such a multi-dimensional character, and I appreciated her character's complexity in a book (and town) where so many people were fake and stereotypical. Ruth was dealing with some major baggage -- she was scarred from the automobile accident that killed her parents; and as a result, she was extremely insecure in both relationships and life in general. (Can you imagine having a huge scar on one side of your face and trying to make a go of in in Hollywood -- the place where appearances are so important?) My heart went out to her many times in this novel, and I sincerely hoped that she would find some happiness.

I also adored Ruth's grandmother. She was another really special character, and I loved how much she took care of Ruth (although I could argue that she was a little too involved in her life given that Ruth was almost 30 years old!) In addition, Ruth's bosses, the Daves, were both very likable; and I enjoyed how they were a so supportive of Ruth and her career. It was nice to see a side of Hollywood where some people weren't shallow and selfish!

And finally, I found THE NEXT BEST THING to be a very funny novel -- which should come as no surprise to you if you've ever read a Ms. Weiner book. The novel was told in Ruth's voice and her insights were fantastic. Ruth was a hilarious woman just like I'm sure sitcom writers are, and I loved laughing at the Hollywood stereotypes and Ruth's reaction to them. However, this book wasn't all fun and games. It was also very touching and dealt with some very serious issues; and in many ways, it was a coming-of-age story for Ruth.

As is the case with all of Ms. Weiner's books, I thing THE NEXT BEST THING would make a wonderful book club pick. It's a fun read for the summer, yet it still offers some very real issues to discuss. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide yet, but I'm sure there will be one available shortly. Some of the themes you might want to explore are parent/child relationships, love, insecurities, the importance of appearances, loyalty, friendship, and staying true to one's self.

I enjoyed THE NEXT BEST THING and think it would make a great addition to your beach or pool bag this summer!

Thanks to Engelman & Co. for providing a review copy of this novel.

And there's lots of exciting news surrounding the release of THE NEXT BEST THING:

You can enter a sweepstakes for Ms. Weiner to personally visit your book club. If you pre-order any version of THE NEXT BEST THING between now and July 1, 2012 and sends Ms. Weiner your receipt, you will be entered to win a visit from Jennifer Weiner to your book club (or dinner with Jennifer and a group of friends)!! The following is a link to the contest page and official rules: http://www.jenniferweiner.com/thenextbestthingcontest.htm

There is also Jen’s "Cupcakes Across America" book tour! To celebrate the launch of THE NEXT BEST THING (July 3rd 2012), Jen will be embarking on a “Cupcakes Across America” tour to bookstores across the country -- as thanks to all of her fans for their enormous support, she will be bringing delicious cupcakes for the audience catered by local bakeries! The following is a link to her book tour schedule: http://www.jenniferweiner.com/events.htm

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: The Far Side of the Sky

Summary:  November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror for Jews all across Germany. Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army rampages through China and tightens its stranglehold on Shanghai, a city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, a renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence and flees to Shanghai with his daughter. At a refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, but Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor murders her father.

The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jews as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Facing starvation and disease, Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open and protect his family from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish history when cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival. -- Forge

It's been awhile since I've read a big historical fiction book, but after seeing some reviews for THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY by Daniel Kalla, I knew this was exactly what I needed to break up all of my "beach books." I enjoy historical fiction and especially books that take place around World War II, and THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY promised to offer a unique perspective on this war. However, what actually convinced me to read this novel was how much book bloggers were raving about it!

THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY was a fabulous book and fans of historical fiction won't want to miss it. I admit that I've read quite a few books that take place during World War II, but none was like this one. THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY tells the story of Franz, a well-known Austrian doctor who also happened to be a Jew. After Kristallnacht, he decides that he has to leave his beloved country to protect himself and his daughter. After learning that most places are no longer taking Jews, he flees to Shanghai with his daughter and sister-in-law. Once he is there, he establishes himself in the Jewish community and he is able to use his skills as a doctor to provide for his family.

While working in a refugee hospital, Franz meets Sunny a half-Chinese nurse and falls in love with her. Of course, the path to true love is never smooth, and Franz and Sunny find that they have their fair share of obstacles -- both are involved with other people, they come from entirely different backgrounds including their race and religion, and Sunny is still dealing with the aftermath of her father's murder by a Japanese soldier. As the war escalates and Franz struggles to keep the hospital open to refugees, he also finds that he has to make some difficult choices to save himself and his family.

THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY is a beautifully written novel that was a sheer pleasure to read. Mr. Kalla is a new author to me, and I couldn't have been more impressed. His characters were fully developed (and very likable) but he also managed to have just enough action and excitement to make the book a page-turner. In addition, Mr. Kalla is an emergency room physician and it was evident throughout the novel. The scenes where Franz was performing surgeries were extremely detailed and very realistic -- so much so that I shuddered a few times.

One of the things that I most enjoyed about THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY was that I managed to learn so much while reading this novel. (Most of you know that I prefer to learn through my fictional reading!) Maybe I've been living under a rock, but I had no idea that Jews fled to Shanghai during the war. And not just a few Jews. Over twenty thousand of them were able to find safety in this very diverse city. In fact, Shanghai harbored more German and Austrian Jewish refugees than any other city, and I have to ask, "Why didn't I ever learn this either in school or my reading?"

I was extremely impressed with the research that Mr. Kalla conducted while writing this novel. I thought he did an outstanding job of incorporating the fact with the fictional aspects of his story. He even included an author's note at the back of the book with some additional explanations. Furthermore, when he did take some liberties with facts, he explained (and justified) them. As a reader who wasn't at all knowledgeable about these events, I really appreciated this.

And while it's obvious that I loved the historical aspects of THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how entertaining this novel was. I loved Franz and Sunny as well as many of the secondary characters, and I thought the author developed them very well. These characters experience so much pain and had little, if any, control over their lives. And yet, they were so strong and always seemed to do the "right" thing. As I read this novel, my heart broke for them over and over again; and I just hoped that they could find some peace and happiness.

What I don't feel like I've expressed in this review is how intriguing I found this book to be. I actually read it in a day and a half, and it's over 450 pages! The pace of this story was very fast and so much action was happening to the characters that it read like a much shorter book. The characters faced a great deal of adversity, but they also found themselves in a number of ethical and moral dilemmas. At one point in the novel, I thought, "How much can these people take?" However, I kept turning those pages, seriously hoping that the ultimate message would be one of strength and hope!

THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY would make an excellent book club selection. I wasn't able to find specific questions for the book, but that shouldn't deter you from picking it. The book covers a lot of ground; and as a result, there is much to discuss. Some of the themes that you might want to explore include war, loss, grief, love, parent/child relationships, sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption. All of the issues that I mentioned are universal and sure to generate a lot of discussion.

I adored THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY and highly recommend it for fans of historical fiction. This is one book that you don't want to miss.

Thanks to Diane Saarinen for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: Keepsake

Summary: From the critically acclaimed author of Real Life & Liars and Things We Didn't Say comes a timely and provocative novel that asks: What happens when the things we own become more important than the people we love? 

Trish isn't perfect. She's divorced and raising two kids—so of course her house isn't pristine. But she's got all the important things right and she's convinced herself that she has it all under control. That is, until the day her youngest son gets hurt and Child Protective Services comes calling. It's at that moment when Trish is forced to consider the one thing she's always hoped wasn't true: that she's living out her mother's life as a compulsive hoarder. 

The last person Trish ever wanted to turn to for help is her sister, Mary—meticulous, perfect Mary, whose house is always spotless . . . and who moved away from their mother to live somewhere else, just like Trish's oldest child has. But now, working together to get Trish's disaster of a home into livable shape, two very different sisters are about to uncover more than just piles of junk, as years of secrets, resentments, obsessions, and pain are finally brought into the light. -- William Morrow

I am pretty confident in saying that if Kristina Riggle writes a book, then I'm going to enjoy it. So far I've read and really liked THINGS WE DIDN'T SAY (my review) and REAL LIFE AND LIARS (my review.) And her latest novel KEEPSAKE is no exception -- I thought it was terrific! Ms. Riggle has an extraordinary talent for creating complex characters and I think she explores family dynamics in such an insightful way. She's fast becoming one of my go-to authors!

KEEPSAKE tells the story of two sisters, Trish and Mary, who are both still dealing with the fallout from some their tumultuous childhoods. Their mother was a severe hoarder, and Trish is following in her mother's footsteps. Trish's husband has divorced her because he could no longer deal with her issues and her teenage son has moved out; however, when her young son is injured because her "stuff" falls on him, Trish finally decides that she needs to take charge of her life... and her possessions.

Mary is pretty much the polar opposite from Trish, and the two women don't have much of a relationship. Mary is single (and never has really been in a serious romantic relationship) and she is a serious neat-freak. When Trish's oldest son tells her about the extent of Trish's issues, Mary reluctantly offers to help. Of course, Trish isn't too thrilled about having her older sister who "abandoned" her come to her aid, but she's desperate. As the two women work together to clean up Trish's house, both discover that this process is extremely painful. Not only do they discover things about each other as well as themselves, but they also realize that their mother wasn't the woman that they thought she was.

I absolutely adored KEEPSAKE and it pretty much encompassed everything I've come to know and love about Ms. Riggle's novels. It's a very touching story that deals with some very serious issues, but there is also enough humor woven into the story that makes it an entertaining read. I especially appreciated that KEEPSAKE dealt with the very timely issue of hoarding... which I found absolutely fascinating (I think I need to add a new show to my Tivo season pass!) It's evident to me that Ms. Riggle did a lot of research on this subject matter because I definitely got a handle on the "whys" of the disease. In addition, I think she did an outstanding job of showing the effects that hoarding has on both the hoarder as well as their loved ones.

There were a number of things about KEEPSAKE that stood out to me besides the issue of hoarding. First and foremost, I loved that this novel explored some very interesting family dynamics between two very different women. Ms. Riggle is so good at creating complex family situations and I do love books that deal with dysfunctional families! I also really appreciated how she developed both of these characters and made them so real. There were times when I wanted to hit both women upside the heads (or maybe just knock them together) because they said and did the darnedest things, but you know what? They were actually just like people I know, and I have no doubt that everyone who reads this book will be able to relate to at least one of the characters.

Another really terrific thing about KEEPSAKE is the way the story was told. The chapters alternated between Trish's and Mary's stories, and I thought both voices were very distinct. However, it was how the story eventually unfolded that really impressed me. In addition to the first person narratives, there were also some snippets from their mother's diary that gave insight into the reasons why she became a hoarder. As a reader, I got caught up in all three women's lives and felt as if I was almost part of the story because I was learning things right along with the characters.

And while KEEPSAKE did deal with some very serious (and depressing) issues, the book did end on a hopeful note. As the sisters started to really talk (and listen) to each other, they cleared up some of their misunderstandings from the past... and they became much more "normal" (and by that I guess I mean stable.) Their relationship with each other, of course, improved by the end of the novel, but they also became better at the other relationships in their lives. It was extremely heartwarming!

I think KEEPSAKE would make an excellent book club pick! I mentioned the storyline to a few of my friends and they all mentioned that they had family members (or friends) with hoarding tendencies. As a result, I think a lot of people might relate to the characters. There is a reading guide included in the back of the novel. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family dynamics, secrets, psychological issues, insecurities, divorce, parent/child relationships, obsessive compulsive disorder, love, forgiveness, and acceptance.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed KEEPSAKE and I highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction. Ms. Riggle has once again written a book with realistic characters that are guaranteed to touch your heart.

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Giveaway: Rules of Civility

Summary: This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike. -- Penguin

Last year, I couldn't stop raving about the debut novel RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles. It really is a beautiful story and perfect for book clubs -- you can read my review here. Time sure does fly because it's already time for the paperback release of this wonderful novel.

To celebrate the paperback release of RULES OF CIVILITY, the publisher has a fun contest taking place on Facebook:

Two (2) grand prize winners will receive this marvelous basket of goodies valued at $500 along with one copy of the new paperback edition of RULES OF CIVILITY. The gift set includes two Tiffany “art deco” martini glasses, a cocktail shaker, a beautiful women’s broach and men’s pocket watch, Tiffany playing cards, three of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Penguin Classics hardcovers, a selection of great music from the 1930s, and more.

Twenty-five (25) runners up will each receive one copy of the new paperback edition of Rules of Civility.

Enter by Tuesday, July 3, 2012, for your chance to win!


In the meantime, I have a little giveaway of my own. You can win your very own paperback edition of RULES OF CIVILITY. To enter, just fill out the form below before Monday, July 9th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Review: No Mark Upon Her (Audio)

Summary: New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie makes her mark with this absorbing, finely hued tale of suspense—a deeply atmospheric and twisting mystery full of deadly secrets, salacious lies, and unexpected betrayals involving the mysterious drowning of a Met detective—an accomplished rower—on the Thames. 

When a K9 search-and-rescue team discovers a woman's body tangled up with debris in the river, Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation fraught with complications. The victim, Rebecca Meredith, was a talented but difficult woman with many admirers—and just as many enemies. An Olympic contender on the verge of a controversial comeback, she was also a high-ranking detective with the Met—a fact that raises a host of political and ethical issues in an already sensitive case. 

To further complicate the situation, a separate investigation, led by Detective Inspector Gemma James, Kincaid's wife, soon reveals a disturbing—and possibly related—series of crimes, widening the field of suspects. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca's body, the case becomes even more complex and dangerous, involving powerful interests with tentacles that reach deep into the heart of the Met itself. 

Surrounded by enemies with friendly faces, pressured to find answers quickly while protecting the Yard at all costs, his career and reputation on the line, Kincaid must race to catch the killer before more innocent lives are lost—including his own. -- HarperAudio

I have been wanting to read a book by Deborah Crombie for some time, but I have been reluctant to pick one up because I don't really love starting series in the middle. However, I was assured by some friends that I would really like her books, and I shouldn't hesitate to read one... even if that meant reading them out of order. So I decided to not only begin with her latest mystery novel NO MARK UPON HER, but I also chose to read it as an audio book. Pretty daring for me, right?

I have to give my friends some credit because I really enjoyed NO MARK UPON HER. In fact, I am wondering why I never discovered Ms. Crombie's books prior to this one. Ms. Crombie is a Macavity Award winning author, and NO MARK UPON HER is the fourteenth book starring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. I really appreciated her writing style, especially the complex mystery; and I loved her character development. I will not hesitate to pick up more of her books, and fortunately, there are thirteen more that I can now explore.

NO MARK UPON HER begins when a female Met detective Rebecca Meredith, who also a rower training for an Olympic comeback , is found dead along the Thames River. Her death appears to suspicious, and Duncan Kincaid is handed the investigation. There are a variety of potential suspects, including her ex-husband; however, Duncan doesn't believe he's to blame. When Duncan's wife Gemma James turns up some clues in a separate investigation that might tie-in to Rebecca's death, Duncan fears that the deception and secrets might exist amongst some high ranking officials in the Met. Duncan sets out to determine the truth and reveal the cover-up, yet he also has to worry about protecting his career and his family.

NO MARK UPON HER has everything I look for in a great mystery, and I absolutely loved it. The mystery itself was excellent with many twists and turns; and I was honestly kept in the dark for almost the entire story. I appreciated that there were so many suspects and I loved seeing how Duncan (and Gemma) used their investigative skills to find the person (or persons) responsible. Just when I thought I had things figured out (much like the characters in the story), there were new clues revealed that made me rethink everything. I loved how this novel played with my mind!

In addition, I liked the characters in this story, namely Duncan and Gemma. I enjoyed how their relationship was portrayed as well as their family life, and I think it was a fantastic juxtaposition to the horrors they faced in their everyday jobs. I liked that there was a fair amount of information about their personal lives woven into the story, and I felt as if I truly go to "know" them. The author did an outstanding job of making NO MARK UPON HER work as a standalone; however, she did include some references to their past cases. This information served to explain the characters' backgrounds and actions, and it actually made me want to go back and learn more about their prior cases and their personal lives.

One element of the story that I really enjoyed was how it delved into the world of competitive rowing. It's evident that Ms. Crombie did a lot of research on the subject matter (or was familiar with it prior to writing the book.) She did a fabulous job of bringing this world to life and I loved all of her descriptions of the rowers, the boats, and even the boat houses. I found all of it just fascinating!

NO MARK UPON HER was performed by Gerard Doyle. This won't come as a surprise to any of you, but he was a new-to-me narrator. (I say this because I still consider myself a newbie to audio books!) I appreciated his performance and thought he did a wonderful job with the different accents.

I was happy to see that there is a reading guide for NO MARK UPON HER because I think this book would be great for discussion (and something a little different for most book clubs.) Because Ms. Crombie does deal with a lot of family issues in her story as well as character development, there is actually more to discuss in this novel than a typical mystery. Some of the themes you might want to explore a little further include family, love, and secrets; however, you can also discuss the theme of rowing along with what's in store for Duncan's career.

Overall, I loved NO MARK UPON HER and I can see why Ms. Crombie has such a huge fan base. I am looking forward to reading more of her mysteries!

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

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, June 24, 2012

Review: The Truck Food Cookbook

Summary: It’s the best of street food: bold, delicious, surprising, over-the-top goodness to eat on the run. And the best part is now you can make it at home. Obsessively researched by food authority John T. Edge, The Truck Food Cookbook delivers 150 recipes from America’s best restaurants on wheels, from L.A. and New York to the truck food scenes in Portland, Austin, Minneapolis, and more.

John T. Edge shares the recipes, special tips, and techniques. And what a menu-board: Tamarind-Glazed Fried Chicken Drummettes. Kalbi Beef Sliders. Porchetta. The lily-gilding Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger. A whole chapter’s worth of tacos—Mexican, Korean, Chinese fusion. Plus sweets, from Sweet Potato Cupcakes to an easy-to-make Cheater Soft-Serve Ice Cream. Hundreds of full-color photographs capture the lively street food gestalt and its hip and funky aesthetic, making this both an insider’s cookbook and a document of the hottest trend in American food. -- Workman


I know I haven't said much about my trip to BEA earlier this month, and I promise I will write something up in the very near future.... but one of my highlights was the Workman party. I have heard fabulous things about this event for four years now, and I finally had the chance to see what all of the fuss was about! I have to agree that the Workman Party was fantastic because of the location, the people, the books, and especially the food.

One of the very first things that I tried was a tasty little beverage called a Grapefruit Fizz. I love drinks that are grapefruit based, and I have to say it was heavenly! I loved the tartness of the juice along with the fresh basil pieces, and I was desperate to get my hands on the recipe. I was told that it came from one of their new cookbooks, THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK by John T. Edge.

Much to my excitement, THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK arrived on my doorstep just a few days after BEA. I guess I really "hinted" around at the party that I needed a copy! Of course, I immediately found the recipe I was looking for and marked it for my husband to make later that same day (but more on that later.) What I also discovered is that this fun cookbook is chock full of fantastic recipes!

THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK is a collection of recipes from America's best street food. I admit that I'm not exactly adventurous when it comes to trying food from trucks, but I have been known to frequent ones that have been okayed by friends. It's not that the food doesn't appeal to me, because who doesn't love the all-American foods that you can get from restaurants on wheels? I figured that THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK might be perfect for me since I enjoy the food but would prefer to make it myself.

And I found that THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK is a really great cookbook! Not only are there loads of delicious (and unique) recipes, but the author has provided some history about the food including some background on the food trucks. And if you are a fan of photographs, this cookbook is for you. There are tons of pictures of the food as well as the trucks and their locations. It was all very interesting to me and the entire cookbook has a very "funky" look and feel.

One thing is for certain -- this cookbook is not lacking in unique recipes. I honestly had never tasted or even heard of many of the foods featured in this book. There are quite a few ethnic specialties including Peanut Rice Pancakes, Horchata, and Kimichi Quesadillas to name just a few, but there are also standards like waffles, hot dogs, and tacos. THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK truly has a huge assortment of goodies.

The cookbook is set up in the following chapters: Fries & Pies, Waffles & Their Kin, Brunch on Wheels, Unexpected Pleasures, Sandwich Up!, Hot Dogs (with a Bow to Burgers), Tacopalooza, and Rolling in Sweets. There is also a chapter on Street Eats Ethics as well as a section called My Life as a Lucky Dog where the author describes just how difficult it is to make-a-go of things as a street food vendor.

I have to warn you that most of the recipes in this cookbook aren't exactly healthy, so put your fat and calorie-counting aside as you flip through the pages. But seriously, what did you expect from a cookbook full of street food recipes? I am seriously dying to try the Grilled Cheese Mac and Cheese Sandwiches as well as the Sweet Potato Cupcakes. I am still on my diet, but when I'm ready for a treat, there isn't a lack of yummy things to try.

As I mentioned earlier, I convinced my husband to make me a Grapefruit Fizz based on the recipe from THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK. I have to tell you that he wasn't about to squeeze the juice so he "cheated" and bought some pink grapefruit juice, but we did use fresh basil from our garden. I also have to admit that we added a little gin to the concoction -- the author suggested a slug of vodka which would have been yummy too! My husband did, however, serve it in a mason jar just like the author taste-tested it. I agree that it's an "ideal summer tonic."


Grapefruit Fizz
Serves 2

1 grapefruit
3 basil leaves
2 teaspoons agave nectar
Ice
2 pints soda water

Juice the grapefruit and add the basil. Pour the mixture into a blender and whir until the basil is pulverized. While the blender is running, add the agave nectar. Place ice in 2 pint glasses. Pour the grapefruit juice mixture over the ice, dividing it evenly between the 2 glasses. Top each serving with soda water; setting the remaining soda water aside for another use. Quaff.

THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK is a must-see for anyone interested in recipes from different locations. It's an easy-to-use cookbook which is also full of some fun recipes.

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, June 23, 2012

Kid Konnection: New Picture Books


Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you some fun picture books that Booking Son got a kick out of.

Summary: Ever wanted to ask about it, but felt a little shy? Inside these pages you'll discover the who, the how, they why! Get the scoop and scuttlebutt. Become and expert on you-know-what! Though it may offend and stink, there's more to poop than you might think! Artie Bennett and Mike Moran have created a smart, witty, fun-filled ode to a ceratin something all creatures have some acquaintance with -- oh yes, we do! -- "from aardvarks to the humped zebu." -- Blue Apple

A few years ago, we received a copy of THE BUTT BOOK by Artie Bennett and Booking Son thought it was hilarious! You can read more about this reaction here. So I couldn't help but share with him Mr. Bennett's latest picture book which is called POOPENDOUS! I was willing to bet a fair amount of money that this book would appeal to the boy as well since it deals with... all things poop. (What seven year old boy doesn't like to read a book with poopy words?)

POOPENDOUS! really is a lot of fun to read. I appreciated all of the silly words (and euphemisms for poop) as well as the rhyming cadence; and Booking Son definitely thought the book was funny. As a mom, I was prepared that some of the words or content might be inappropriate; however, I think Mr. Bennett handled the subject matter in a good way. I especially appreciated how much Booking Son and I learned about poop while reading POOPENDOUS! That's right, POOPENDOUS! is actually educational!

POOPENDOUS! makes learning fun and I think that's a huge testament to Mr. Bennett. This book teaches children about the various names for different animal waste as well as the "many ways dung is of use." As we read through these uses, Booking Son asked me if the author made up all of this. When I informed him that all of these things were, in fact, true, he was absolutely blown away and then he started laughing! He couldn't believe that people actually used animal poop to build their houses. His next question was, "Is our house made of poop?" (I should have seen this one coming!) And then he proceeded to give me one of his silly grins.

In addition to being very entertaining and educational, POOPENDOUS! has some very cute illustrations by Mike Moran. This book is full of colorful drawings and has plenty of funny creatures; and I think you can't help but smile at their facial expressions.

Overall, POOPENDOUS! was a huge hit in our house. Booking Son grinned the entire time we read it and then told me, "I LIKED this book! It was funny and interesting!" I think that pretty much says it all.
Thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book.

Summary: What do you get when you combine a word and a number? A wumber! Paying tribute to William Steig’s CDB!, best-selling book, cre8ors Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld have wri10 and illustr8ed this s2pendous book that is 1derful 4 readers in kindergar10 and up. If we’ve confused you, just take a look at the book—4tun8ly it has helpful pictures. We are sure you will get it ins10tly! -- Chronicle Books

WUMBERS wri10 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustr8ed by Tom Lichtenheld was another big hit with Booking Son. The idea behind this very fun book is that words and numbers combine to make up "wumbers." I had a feeling that Booking Son would enjoy trying to figure out these words, but I had no idea how quickly he would catch on. When he read this book to me, he didn't even pause on the wumbers.

WUMBERS is really cute and each page has a different scenario filled with a variety of numbers. For example, one page has a family picnicking at a "4est Preserve." The father says, "We have the 2na salad and the pl8s. What have we 4gotten?" And the mother exclaims, "The 4ks!"

The illustr8tions by Tom Lichtenheld were also a lot of fun and the perfect complement to this whimsical book. Many of you might already know this but Ms. Rosenthal and Mr. Lichtenheld were the creative genius behind the Duck! Rabbit! books.

I was so happy to see that there is an activity kit and teachers guide for this book, therefore making it ideal for the classroom. As I was looking through the activity kit, I decided to print it out for Booking Son because there were some more wumbers to figure out, and he does enjoy these word puzzles.

Very highly recommended for kids of all ages!


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

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with Alma Katsu

I sure hope you saw my post yesterday because I reviewed a great read -- THE RECKONING by Alma Katsu. While this book definitely doesn't fall under my usual reading fare, I really, really liked it and I'll be recommending the entire series to all of my friends.

Since I think Ms. Katsu is a fabulous writer (and I've also heard that she's a very nice person), I was extremely excited that she agreed to answer a few of my questions. I really enjoyed her answers and I hope you'll agree:
 
Booking Mama: I have to admit that THE TAKER and THE RECKONING aren't really the types of books that I normally read; however, I enjoyed them both a great deal! I think that's a huge testament to your writing ability. Of course, I'm now dying to read the third book in the series because you definitely left me hanging at the end of THE RECKONING. I was wondering what inspired you to create these characters and their unusual adventures? 



Alma Katsu: Thank you very much for that compliment! I want to be a good storyteller first and foremost, so your comment is high praise. I think The Taker sprang from my own experiences when I was growing up and trying to find my way on the road to becoming an adult. (Not taken exactly from real life; unfortunately, I didn’t have a best friend with god-like good looks.) How will I find the person I’m supposed to share my life with? What will my life be like? I grew up in a small town and like Lanny, the main character in the novels, was terrified that I’d never get the chance to experience the world beyond it. Also like Lanny, love was an enormous mystery to me. I think when you’re young, there’s a certain amount of angst over whether you’re going to find the right man and fall in love. It’s easy to see it as a test of your femininity. Lanny, being a bit headstrong and having no one to help her figure things out, follows her heart and not her head, makes some bad decisions and soon gets caught up in a terrible situation. 

Booking Mama: When you set out to write THE TAKER, did you know that you wanted to write a series? How much of the other novels had you already "plotted" when you wrote THE TAKER?

Alma Katsu: I wrote The Taker as a standalone. It wasn’t until after I’d finished and my agent sold the book that I started to miss the characters—I’d spent ten years writing The Taker, and by this point had spent more time with Lanny, Jonathan and Adair than I’d spent with my flesh-and-blood friends—and I could see how the story could continue. That’s why there’s a bit of a change in tone between The Taker and The Reckoning, too. When I conceived of The Taker I definitely was going for something sinister and dark. Whereas for the next two books, the story became more magical and, dare I say it, romantic in its own twisty way. I don’t want to give away too much, but the series ends up in a very romantic place. 
 

Booking Mama: Since your books are quite ambitious and cover many different time periods, I am assuming that you do a lot of research prior to the actual writing. Can you share a little bit about your research process?



Alma Katsu: I find that for Lanny’s and Adair’s backstories, I’m going to time periods that intrigued me at some point, so luckily I haven’t had to do too much additional research. For instance, a love of Kipling and especially The Man Who Would Be King is the influence for Lanny’s period traveling in Central Asia with Savva, and specifically for the scene with Abdul in the Hindu Kush. Paul Bowles, who wrote The Sheltering Sky, was the influence for the character of Savva. Just wait until you see the third book, which goes from medieval Venice to the Siege of Peking in 1900! I admit to doing some additional research for this book. I have to say that my long experience as an intelligence analyst probably has something to do with this facility to hop through history. In this line of work, you end up researching lots of history so that you have the proper background for a current-day problem. Also, you have to have a really good memory. It’s turned out to be a good combination of skills for writing these books. 

Booking Mama: You have had a very interesting road to becoming a successful writer. Despite getting a Masters degree in writing, you didn't start out writing books. Rather, you worked as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies as well as a journalist. What prompted you to make the career change to a novelist? How difficult was it to take the plunge and actually start writing?



Alma Katsu: My intelligence career actually forced a hiatus in my writing. I wrote fiction as well as worked as a journalist when I was young, but had to stop when I started working in intelligence (you just can’t be too public, plus it was a very demanding job.) As my career went on and on, I didn’t think I’d ever return to writing fiction, but then one day decided to try. I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing when I was younger and thought, now that I was older, I had a better chance of figuring it out. By that point I was used to really applying myself to a problem—you can’t be a good analyst if you give up easily. But seeing The Taker through to the finish was one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life. Looking back, I see that I could’ve definitely picked an easier book to write. 

Booking Mama: I read that you studied writing at Brandeis University under John Irving. I bet that was an amazing experience! What was the most valuable thing he taught you about writing? 


Alma Katsu: Gosh, it was so long ago that it’s hard to pinpoint something specific. I remember being in complete and total awe of him. Garp had just come out in mass market paperback and was zooming up the bestseller lists. He was like a god and I was an undergraduate who really didn’t know the first thing about writing. I do remember he wrote ‘wow’ across the page of one of the most daring scenes I’d written to date. I was a little afraid that I’d gone over the top with that scene. Talk about validation! I remember thinking ‘I’ve impressed John Irving.’ I still have that piece of paper. 

Booking Mama: When I have the opportunity to talk to authors, I always ask them about their reading tastes. I think I'm always looking for book recommendations! What are you currently reading? What are some of your favorite books? And, who are some of your favorite authors?

Alma Katsu: I’m a pretty eclectic reader so I rarely read all of an author’s books. Also, I prefer books that play with narrative form. David Mitchell is one of my favorite authors. His last novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, was amazing but I prefer his novels-in-chapters, Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas. I also love the Hungarian author Sandor Marai. He is the master of peeling back layers in a story until the end when you see that the story wasn’t what you thought it was. Embers is probably his most famous book but I also love Casanova in Bolzano. Audrey Niffenegger is another favorite, both for her incredible storytelling and unwillingness to take the easy way out, ever. 

A huge thanks to Ms. Katsu for answering all of my questions! 

*****
Alma Katsu lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. Her debut, The Taker, a Gothic novel of suspense, has been compared to the early work of Anne Rice and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. The novel was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by the American Library Association and has developed an international following. The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy, was published in June 2012. The Taker Trilogy is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster.

Ms. Katsu is a graduate of the Master's writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor's degree from Brandeis University, where she studied with John Irving. She also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Prior to publication of her first novel, Ms. Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: The Reckoning

Summary: Lanore McIlvrae is the kind of woman who will do anything for love. Including imprisoning the man who loves her behind a wall of brick and stone.

 She had no choice but to entomb Adair, her nemesis, to save Jonathan, the boy she grew up with in a remote Maine town in the early 1800s and the man she thought she would be with forever. But Adair had other plans for her. He used his mysterious, otherworldly powers to give her eternal life, but Lanore learned too late that there was a price for this gift: to spend eternity with him. And though he is handsome and charming, behind Adair’s seductive façade is the stuff of nightmares. He is a monster in the flesh, and he wants Lanore to love him for all of time. 

Now, two hundred years after imprisoning Adair, Lanore is trying to atone for her sins. She has given away the treasures she’s collected over her many lifetimes in order to purge her past and clear the way for a future with her new lover, Luke Findley. But, while viewing these items at an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Lanore suddenly is aware that the thing she’s been dreading for two hundred years has caught up to her: Adair has escaped from his prison. He’s free— and he will come looking for her. And she has no idea how she will save herself. 

With the stunningly imaginative storytelling and rich characterizations that fascinated readers worldwide and made The Taker a singular and memorable literary debut and an international sensation, Alma Katsu once again delivers “a powerful evocation of the dark side of romantic love” (Publishers Weekly) in her breathtaking new novel. -- Gallery

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed THE TAKER by Alma Katsu -- you can read my review here. I am so not a person who reads books like this; however, everyone was talking about it! So I decided to take the plunge and see what all the fuss was about. I have to say that I agreed that THE TAKER was a fantastic book... and quite the adventure ride. I was extremely impressed with Ms. Katsu's storytelling abilities and I even got up in these characters' lives.

Needless to say, like many of you, I've been anxiously awaiting the second book in the series THE RECKONING for months. And I have to say, my expectations were a bit higher now that I already read and enjoyed THE TAKER. Thankfully, Ms. Katsu delivered with THE RECKONING! It was everything I had hoped for and, of course, I'm now desperate for the next book.

THE RECKONING picks up right where THE TAKER left off, and I definitely recommend reading THE TAKER first. I actually can't even speak to whether this book works as a stand-alone because I think it's essential to read them in order to fully appreciate all of the background and character development. It's difficult to describe THE RECKONING without giving away too much about the first novel. In fact, even the publisher's summary gives away some critical plot elements of THE TAKER. So I guess I'm saying that you might not want to keep reading if you haven't completed THE TAKER.

THE RECKONING continues telling the story of Lanore, a woman who has been "granted" eternal life by the very cruel Adair. She and Luke are seemingly happy together, and Lanore feels as if it's time for her to atone for her past sins. However, when Lanore senses that Adair has escaped, her life quickly turns upside down and she does everything in her power to save herself. Along the way, she encounters many characters from her and Adair's past, and ultimately, she is forced to face Adair and answer for her betrayal.

THE RECKONING had many similar elements to the THE TAKER, and I especially appreciated that there were many flashbacks to the characters' and their past lives. I loved how Ms. Katsu wove so much history into the story as well as how well she set the mood. However, THE RECKONING did have a different feel to me than THE TAKER. I'm not exactly sure why, though. Initially, I thought it was because some of the characters (namely Adair) had changed so much from the first story; and that's definitely one of the reasons. But I also think the book was less dark and less violent, and there just wasn't as much wanton behavior. Having said that, I don't think I missed these lack of these things -- I'm just saying that the book was different.

I definitely got caught up in Lanore's story and I even found myself starting to think that maybe Adair had changed for the better (although I'm not entirely sold on him yet.) And while I'm not a fan of most romance stories, I do find that when it's well done, like it was in both THE TAKER AND THE RECKONING, I appreciate even that aspect of the story line. I do have to warn you though, THE RECKONING ends with a major cliffhanger about Adair and his past. So if you read this book, I can pretty much guarantee that you will have to read the next one!

THE RECKONING would make a very interesting book club pick. Maybe your group could read both THE TAKER AND THE RECKONING together so you'd be able to discuss the character development through both books. There is a reading guide available which has fourteen discussion questions as well as some suggestions to enhance your book club. Ms. Katsu even makes herself available for author chats. Some of the themes that you might want to explore include love, passion, loyalty, secrets, sacrifices, change, and forgiveness.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE RECKONING and I have to admit that I'm really excited to learn more about Adair's life in book three. Highly recommended for fans of historical and paranormal fiction.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: The Song of Achilles (Audio)

Summary: The legend begins... 

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals. 

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. 

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller’s page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career. -- Harper Audio

While I haven't been doing many audio book reviews lately, I actually do "read" books every day during my morning run. Of course, it's only about a half hour at a time so I don't read audio books at anywhere near the same pace that I do print ones. But because it's June and officially audio book month, I decided it was high time for me to catch up on some of my audio book reviews. The first one I decided to share is THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller. This audio book was nothing short of amazing!

Most of you already know that THE SONG OF ACHILLES was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, and not that this means anything, but I can certainly see why. THE SONG OF ACHILLES is at its simplest a retelling of the Trojan War; however, it's so much more than that. It's also a beautiful love story about the complex relationship of Achilles and Patroclus.

When I decided to read THE SONG OF ACHILLES, I was afraid that I didn't have enough background knowledge on the Trojan War or the Iliad to appreciate the story. This next part is a little embarrassing to admit... but rather than research these things prior to picking up the book, I decided to just listen and see what happened. It turns out that I had absolutely no problems following the story, and I was surprised to find that I actually knew more about the war than I first thought. As I listened to this novel, I discovered many familiar stories and characters; and I have to say that I think the author did an incredible job of incorporating the classic parts of the Iliad with her re-telling. It was only after I finished listening to the book in its entirety that I went back and researched the Trojoan War and the Iliad; and I was even more impressed with Ms. Miller's writing and creativity.

THE SONG OF ACHILLES was told through the eyes of Patroclus, a relatively minor player in the Iliad; and I think that was a very wise move on the part of the author. By using a character that wasn't a well-known, she was able to bring new insight to a popular story. In addition, I thought she did a marvelous job of bringing Patroclus to life and making him a very real, and very likable, character. I especially appreciated seeing Achilles and his actions through Patroclus' eyes and I thought their relationship and love affair were fascinating.

I am still a relative newbie to audio books and I never feel like I'm experienced enough to review the quality of the narrator. But in the case of THE SONG OF ACHILLES, I adored Frazer Douglas and he definitely brought this book to the next level for me. Needless to say, he is new narrator to me (but that's not saying much!) and I thought he did an outstanding job. His voices and accents were terrific, and I have to wonder if I enjoyed this story even more because I listened to his interpretation of it.

THE SONG OF ACHILLES would make a wonderful book club selection. Not only is the story interesting, but the characters and their relationships are so complex. There is a reading guide available which has eighteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the things you might want to explore include the various characters and their motivations (namely Achilles and Patroclus), destiny vs. free will, loyalty, love, and honor.

It's difficult for me to express just how wonderful this novel truly is. It's true that the Iliad is one of the most famous stories of all time and I wasn't sure that a re-telling would be my cup of tea. However, I am so glad that I gave this book a chance because it exceeded all of my expectations... especially for an audio book. Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Blogger: Elin Hilderbrand & Giveaway

Earlier today, I reviewed SUMMERLAND by Elin Hilderbrand. I'm a big fan of Ms. Hilderbrand's so it shouldn't have come as any surprise to me that she has done it again! SUMMERLAND is an engaging and entertaining book that's perfect for the summer.  

I am extremely honored that Ms. Hilderbrand has taken time from her busy touring schedule to write a guest post for Booking Mama. And to make this even more exciting for me, she's written about one of my very favorite subjects in the entire world -- BEA! Here are her thoughts:

BEA stands for BookExpo America, the largest booksellers convention in the country.  Used to be that BEA switched locations -- one year in LA, one year in DC, one year in Big Apple.  Now, however, BEA is held only in New York, at the Javits Center, which is basically its own small nation on the west side of Manhattan.

But for me the initials BEA have a slightly different meaning...

B is for Banner.  Every year the wonderful souls at Hachette create a huge, and I mean ENORMOUS, banner celebrating my latest book.  It's like having my name in lights for the 2-3 hours that it hangs, and I love it.  This year, the banner read: It's not summer without ELIN HILDERBRAND.  I have to say, this tag line delighted me.  Imagine, an entire season riding on my existence, or at the very least, on the existence of my newest novel.

B is also for Bergdorf Goodman.  For those of you who don't know, BG is a very fancy department store located on 58th Street and Fifth Avenue.  I shop there while at BEA.  I shop on the fifth floor, known to those who frequent BG as 5F.  5F at BG has the best clothes on earth.  I comfort myself about the extraordinary price by telling myself that anyone who has to sit in front of such an enormous banner and who is carrying the survival of an entire season on her shoulders had better look damn good.

E is for Eating.  There are great restaurants on Nantucket, yes there are.  But no place delivers a culinary experience like New York.  Being at BEA is a great excuse to eat, eat, eat -- many times on the expense account of my publisher or my agent.  My favorite restaurant in New York is Bar Americain, located on 52nd Street between 7th Avenue and Broadway.  This is a Bobby Flay restaurant.  I like to get the oysters, followed by the fries with chili aioli, followed by the Boston lettuce salad with lardons and poached egg.  This year I discovered Bill's Bar and Burger on Ninth Avenue and 13th Street.  I ate the grilled shrimp burger which came on a grilled bun with coleslaw, pickle, special sauce and fried shallots.  Add cold beer and you basically needed a crowbar to get me out of the Meatpacking district.

A is for Alive.  The best thing about BEA, as I wandered through the Javits, and as I did interviews for things I had never heard of such as Kobo (a new E-reader) and Google Play (I have heard of Google of course, despite living on an island 30 miles out to sea, but Google Play, what could this mean?) was that I was reassured that the book business is still alive and well.  It's thriving in dozens of new incarnations!  People are still reading!  The written word is still relevant!  The Javits, for that week in June is saying something to A for America.  It's saying: READ! READ! READ!  And America is listening.

***** 
Elin Hilderbrand is the New York Times bestselling author of A Summer Affair and Barefoot. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the graduate fiction workshop at the University of Iowa. She lives on Nantucket with her husband and their three young children. Her newest Nantucket novel will be out in the summer of 2009. To find out more about Elin Hilderbrand and see her tour schedule, visit her at www.elinhilderbrand.net

I'd like to give a huge thanks to Ms. Hilderbrand for writing such a fun guest post about BEA. I've been feeling a bit remiss because I haven't written my BEA wrap-up post yet, so Ms. Hilderbrand has also helped to ease my guilt at bit with her fantastic summary. I don't know about you, but I think Ms. Hilderbrand knows how to live it up while she's visiting New York!

Giveaway alert: I have three copies of SUMMERLAND to giveaway courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 28th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. No p.o. boxes please. Good luck!

Review: Summerland

Summary: A warm June evening, a local tradition: the students of Nantucket High have gathered for a bonfire on the beach. But what begins as a graduation night celebration ends in tragedy after a horrible car crash leaves the driver of the car, Penny Alistair, dead, and her twin brother in a coma. The other passengers, Penny's boyfriend Jake and her friend Demeter, are physically unhurt - but the emotional damage is overwhelming, and questions linger about what happened before Penny took the wheel.

As summer unfolds, startling truths are revealed about the survivors and their parents - secrets kept, promises broken, hearts betrayed. Elin Hilderbrand explores the power of community, family, and honesty, and proves that even from the ashes of sorrow, new love can still take flight. -- Reagan Arthur Books

One thing I know I can count on is that every summer Elin Hilderbrand will write a book that I want to read. This year was no exception! She always manages to writing poignant stories about women, and she also sets her stories in the most wonderful settings... usually beaches. She truly is my go-to author for summer escape reading.

Her latest novel SUMMERLAND was a little different for me than some of her previous books; however, I still really enjoyed it! The novel did take place in a beach setting -- Nantucket this time, and there were plenty of fascinating female characters, and the book did have major themes of love and loss, so it might first appear that this is another "typical" Elin Hilderbrand book. (I say that in a good way because I love her stories!) However, this book actually explored the effects that a horrific accident had on a town, the survivors and their families. As a mother, I found it to be an extremely touching story; and I will tell you that it broke my heart over and over again.

SUMMERLAND begins with Nantucket High's graduation and the tragic car accident that occurs after one of the parties. Penny, one of the most talented girls in the school's history, dies; while her twin brother Hobby, the school's star athlete, is in a coma. The two other passengers, Jake (Penny's boyfriend) and Demeter are able to walk away from the accident seemingly uninjured. In what should have been a summer of celebration as these four students got ready for their senior year, their loves are forever changes because of this tragedy.

The accident raises many questions about Penny's mental state, and her brother and friends are desperate for answers. In addition, the survivors have to face many of their own issues including survivors' guilt as well as their own dark secrets. And it isn't just the survivors' lives that are altered by the car crash. Their parents and the entire community are deeply affected by this tragedy. Long-held secrets, obligations, and even broken promises all come to light upsetting the balance of this beautiful small town.

After reading my description of this book, you might be thinking that SUMMERLAND is a major downer and doesn't sound like a relaxing summer read. I have to say that you'd be missing out if you leave this one out of your beach or pool bag. While SUMMERLAND does deal with some very heavy issues (namely the death of a young teen), it is ultimately a story about love and hope; and one that reminds you that bad stuff can (and will) happen to us in our lives, but many times, these events will lead to beautiful things.

Ms. Hilderbrand has once again brought to life Nantucket, a wonderful setting for a summer novel. I often times say that an author has done such a great job with the details about the story's location that it almost becomes another character in the novel. Well in the case of SUMMERLAND, that's exactly what the author did. (Seriously, that's exactly what she did.) The story is told through the eyes of various characters, including the survivors and their families, but there are also sections of the story told in the voice of Nantucket. I thoroughly appreciated how Ms. Hilderbrand not only used Nantucket to reveal the story, but how she also showed the lasting effects that an accident can have on an entire town and its people.

As I write this review, I want to say so much about this story and its characters... but then it would be so long that no one would read it! Maybe it's just best for me to recommend that you read this book and explore the characters for yourself. SUMMERLAND does set out to accomplish a lot in its almost 400 pages, and I think it's safe to say that there will be at least one character and/or one story line that will capture you attention (and your heart.)

SUMMERLAND would make a great summer book club pick. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any discussion questions at this time, but I'm sure the publisher will have them available in the near future. SUMMERLAND explores so many universal themes including love, parent/child relationships, loss, grief, resentment, and secrets; and I have no doubt that most book groups wouldn't have any problem finding things to discuss.

I enjoyed SUMMERLAND a great deal and I think fans of Ms. Hilderbrand's or fans of women's fiction will find a lot to like about this novel.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel. Make sure you check out my other post from today because Ms. Hilderbrand wrote a fantastic essay and I'll be giving away three copies of SUMMERLAND.