Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Club Exchange: Tanis Rideout & Giveaway

I'd like to welcome author Tanis Rideout to Book Club Exchange. I am getting ready to start her debut novel ABOVE ALL THINGS, and I'm so excited since I've read a few wonderful reviews by some fellow book bloggers.

ABOVE ALL THINGS is being described as "THE PARIS WIFE meets INTO THIN AIR in this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return." Sounds fantastic to me... and perfect for book clubs.

I just adore Ms. Rideout's guest post because not only does she give readers some potential questions to help start their discussion, she also gives a great food idea for the meeting! I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do.

One of the loveliest parts about putting a novel out into the world is the chance to share the experience with readers. I’ve been lucky enough to join a few book clubs when they’ve met to discuss Above All Things—and it’s been fun and exhilarating and humbling. Readers open up their hearts (and then their homes!) to an author and fiercely discuss the book. Amazing.

As an author, it’s so interesting to hear what other people think and feel about your characters and your decisions. Having been a fly on the wall to some of these discussions, here are a few questions that might spur your own:
  • Is George selfish to do what he does? What does that—“selfish”—even really mean? 
  • What do you think drove these men to go to Everest? Do they all have the same motivations? Is Sandy’s, say, different from George’s? 
  • How did the war shape the climbers’ attitudes toward the mountain? 
  • How do you feel about Ruth? Can you relate to her? What might you have done in her situation? 
  • How important is it to support your partner’s obsessions? How far should you support them? What’s the best way to be a good husband or wife and parent in these types of situations? 
  • What do you think George decides to do? To go forward to the summit, or turn back to Sandy? 
  • Is Everest—or anything like it—worth dying for? What is worth dying for? 
I assume, to go along with the book, most people don’t want to consume tepid tea, meat jerky, and lousy chocolate—so instead I suggest one of the most English of meals—a ploughman’s lunch, which is a cold meal, ideal for sharing and perfect for book clubs. Think of it as a take on a cheese tray. It’s normally made up of cheese, sliced apple, caramelized onion or chutney, and perhaps some cured meat and served with baguette or crackers. My personal addition is roasted garlic.

Recipe for roasted garlic to accompany the ploughman’s lunch (borrowed from Food & Drink magazine): 

Heat up your oven to 450 degrees.

Cut the tops of your garlic bulbs and tuck them into an oven-safe dish—the smallest one that they’ll all fit into. Fill the container with chicken stock (or veggie) so that the garlic isn’t quite covered over. Top with slices of lemon and sprigs of rosemary and add a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Chuck them in the oven for about an hour—basting every 15 minutes or so. Top up chicken stock if required.

Take them out, let them cool. To eat, scoop the garlic cloves out of their skins with a knife and smoosh on bread with cheese. Don’t worry; they’re super mild and tasty.

To make a greater quantity to store, you can also try this garlic confit recipe at the Modernist Cuisine:

Serve with that most English of drinks—gin and tonic with a slice of cucumber. Enjoy! (And invite me.)

Tanis Rideout’s work has appeared in numerous publications and has been shortlisted for several prizes, including the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award and the CBC Literary Awards. Born in Belgium, she grew up in Bermuda and in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto. Above All Things is her first novel.

Giveaway alert: To celebrate the new Putnam & Riverhead Book Club Community,the publisher is giving away copies of ABOVE ALL THINGS for your entire book club! To enter, just fill out the form here. You will also be included on the mailing list for suggested book club titles and special offers, including sweepstakes, call-ins, reading group guides, and more. The contest to win ABOVE ALL THINGS ends 11:59pm EST on 3/17/2013 and winners will be notified by 3/22/13. Best of luck!

A huge thanks to Ms. Rideout for participating in Book Club Exchange!

If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.    

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Disney Princess Half Marathon Update

For those of you who follow my blog, you probably know that I spent the last few days at Disney World. One of my goals for this year was to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon! I am thrilled to say that I accomplished my goal -- I ran the entire 13.1 miles and am here to tell you about it.

Here's how it all started:

A few months ago, I got it in my head that I wanted to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I already knew that fellow book bloggers Dawn and Sandy were planning on running it, and they convinced me that it would be a blast! So I asked my sister Karlie and if she wanted to take a long girls' weekend to Orlando. I proposed that she could run the Royal Family 5K and I could run the half. Since Karlie wasn't a runner at all and I had never run a half marathon, we thought it would be a great challenge for both of us. Plus, we both love all things Disney and a Disney vacation at the end of February did have some appeal!!!

A few months into my training I decided that if I'm doing Disney, I should "do" Disney so I signed up to run the 5K with my sister on Saturday followed by the half on Sunday. I admit I was a tad bit worried about running that much two days in a row, but I figured the adrenaline would get me through both races. I assured myself I would take it easy on Friday and Saturday at the parks and everything would be just fine.

What I didn't take entirely into account is the crazy person I am at Disney. I LOVE Disney and can't just do Disney half-way. Some (like my family) might say I'm a nut when it comes to squeezing out every experience at Disney. After these past few days, I think I have to agree with them!

Karlie and I arrived to Orlando after lunch on Friday and headed straight to Coronado Springs, our hotel and coincidentally where the Expo was taking place (we didn't know that when we selected the hotel a few months ago.) Everything just fell into place and we were able to check in our room and head straight over to the Expo where we needed to register for the races, pick up our race tees, and do some shopping. Then we headed to Magic Kingdom for a light dinner and fireworks and back to our hotel for an early evening.

The races at Disney all take place super early in the morning because they want the runners out before the parks open. That means we set our alarms for 4:30 in the morning hoping to catch the 5:00 bus to Epcot. Neither one of us could sleep so our alarm never went off. We kept waking up every hour -- it was one of the worst nights of sleep I've ever had!

We arrived at Epcot to find thousands of people partying! There was a DJ and tons of dancing. I couldn't believe the amount of people. (Little did I realize that tomorrow's race would be three times the size of this one!) Here's a picture of Karlie and me wearing our homemade Minnie Mouse costumes with "Sole Sisters" printed on the back.

Sole Sisters!
The Royal Family 5K was so much fun! We were lucky enough to be in the second corral so we ended way ahead of most of the runners. We passed the finish line to find that that Mickey Mouse didn't have a long line for photos -- so lucky! I was so proud of my sister. She hates running but did a fantastic job; and she actually got faster in our third mile.

Celebrating with King Mickey

Karlie and me with our medals!
I thought I'd take it easy on Saturday after the 5K but that's not what happened. We rushed back to our hotel for a quick shower and headed over to Disney Hollywood Studios. We arrived by 9:45 but it felt like early afternoon to us since we had been up for so long! We had a great time doing most of the attractions with the highlights being the Tower of Terror and the Rock "N" Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. We were lucky enough to meet up with Dawn and her gorgeous family for dinner at Mama Melrose's and ended the evening with Fantasmic!

When we got back to the hotel, I realized just how tired I was and panic started setting in. I was so nervous that I had major issues sleeping for the second night in a row. Since the half is a longer race, it begins even earlier, so I got up at 2:50 (technically the middle of the night if you ask me) and headed over to Epcot. Fortunately, I was about ten minutes before the big rush and made it over in just a few minutes, but I heard from others (including Sandy) that it was a nightmare getting there if you left after 3:15.

I can't even begin to tell you how many people were there. It was crazy! There were over 26,000 runners and I felt very overwhelmed. If I'm being entirely honest, I was tired and grumpy and definitely just wanted to get it over with. Added to that, I couldn't meet up with Sandy and Dawn and her daughter because I wasn't able to find the area they were in. I had a late start time which just made things worse because I had to sit around for over two and half hours waiting!

Right before we had to head to our corrals, Dawn and her daughter found me! Thank goodness!!! It felt like I was one of the few runners there alone so seeing two friendly faces helped me to relax and remember that this race was supposed to be fun. We walked to our corrals (Dawn and her daughter were one after me -- seven minutes later) and it took forever! It must have been a mile to just line up to the corral and then we still had to walk back to the starting line.

But it was all worth it!

And we're off!
I was warned by many friends that I should just enjoy this run and not worry about my time, and I have to say that was great advice. There were just too many runners (and walkers) to really be able to run like I had hoped. I admit there were times when I was extremely frustrated because I was almost walking and I couldn't pass the other runners. And when I heard my first 5K split, I wanted to cry, but eventually it opened up... a little; and I felt less claustrophobic. The heat and humidity weren't helping either -- I was used to training in 30 degree weather and it was closer to 80. Of course, there were lots of characters and entertainment along the way but I didn't stop to pose for any photos. But the highlight for me (and probably 26,000 other runners) was running through Magic Kingdom, namely Cinderella's castle and Main Street!

I finished up and met up with Karlie! She was waiting near the last quarter mile cheering me on, but sadly I didn't see her -- I guess I was in the zone by then! Then I found Sandy and finally got the chance to meet her. Of course, I'm mortified that she had to meet me when I smelled the worse I've ever smelled -- truly I was disgusting. And then we found Dawn's daughter and eventually Dawn. I was so proud of all these women for completing the race, but I was especially inspired by Dawn who made it through it despite numerous injuries. I swear I don't know how she did it!!!

Sandy, me, and Dawn post race!
I stayed at the race socializing for a bit before catching a bus back to my hotel for a shower. All I wanted was a hot shower and ironically the hotel shower was freezing. Well maybe not freezing, but not warm either. I guess the cool water revitalized me, though, because I headed right back to Epcot and arrived by noon. My sister and I love Epcot and did some attractions (like Soar!) before meeting back up with Dawn and her daughter. We decided that we wanted a photo with Minnie... and our medals:

Dawn was kind of enough to treat me to a celebratory post race margarita and it was one of the best drinks I've ever had! Dawn decided to head back to her condo for a rest while Karlie and I hit the World Showcase side of Epcot! We slowly visited each country and sampled some yummy food. It was a great way to spend the day although we did head back to our hotel early and were asleep by 9:30.

Maybe it's because we're moms and early risers (although it was probably the excitement of being at Disney World), Karlie and I woke up at 6:00 the next morning and headed to Magic Kingdom for the 9:00 opening. We arrived around 8:30 to make sure we could see the opening presentation! I just love that countdown!!!! We headed straight to Space Mountain to catch that ride early and then spent the rest of the morning in the Fantasyland. I loved the new Circus area and Ariel's new ride, but I still hold a soft spot for the rides I remember from my childhood.

We planned on heading back to our hotel mid-day for a rest, but that never happened. We were there to open and close the park! We experienced almost everything Magic Kingdom had to offer including a few parades, the fireworks (again!) and the highlight of our day -- dinner at the brand new Be Our Guest restaurant. Belle is my very favorite princess and I couldn't wait to see the castle! It was beautiful and a very special dining experience. We even met the Beast:

Me, Beast and Karlie in the library
I arrived back to Harrisburg yesterday morning to find my incredibly supportive husband waiting for me at the airport with 13 pink roses. Then I came home to find a balloon bouquet, a clean house, and finished laundry. He truly is the best and I'm very lucky to have him!

Overall, I had the most amazing time at Disney World with my sister... even though I'm still feeling some guilt for leaving the rest of the family at home!!! There's always next time....

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guest Review: Paul and Jesus

Summary: This fascinating examination of the earliest years of Christianity reveals sharply competing ideas about the significance of Jesus and his teachings and shows how the man we call St. Paul shaped Christianity as we know it today. 

Historians know almost nothing about the two decades following the crucifixion of Jesus, when his followers regrouped and began to spread his message. During this time the apostle Paul joined the movement and began to preach to the gentiles. 

Using the oldest Christian documents that we have—the letters of Paul—as well as other early Christian sources, historian and scholar James Tabor reconstructs the origins of Christianity. Tabor reveals that the familiar figures of James, Peter, and Paul sometimes disagreed fiercely over everything from the meaning of Jesus’ message to the question of whether converts must first become Jews. Tabor shows how Paul separated himself from Peter and James to introduce his own version of Christianity, which would continue to develop independently of the message that Jesus, James, and Peter preached.  

Paul and Jesus gives us a new and deeper understanding of Paul as it illuminates the fascinating period of history when Christianity was born out of Judaism and became the religion we recognize today. -- Simon and Schuster

Based on my father's review for PAUL AND JESUS: HOW THE APOSTLE TRANSFORMED CHRISTIANITY by James D. Tabor, I might have to reconsider my initial impressions on this book. I usually don't read much history or religion, but he makes a very strong case for picking up this book.

In PAUL AND JESUS: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity, author James D. Tabor examines how St. Paul shaped modern Christianity. Tabor, a biblical scholar and historian, uses ancient documents, the Q source (earliest collection of teachings and sayings of Jesus) and the original letters of Paul to lay out his positions on the influence of Paul on Christianity. Tabor’s basic tenet is that the Christianity that Catholics and Protestants practice today is derived from Paul, not Jesus.

Tabor tells how Paul moved from being a devout Jew and persecutor of the followers of Jesus to later carrying the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul never met Jesus in the “flesh” but claims to have experienced repeated revelations from the “spiritual” Jesus. Paul carried his message based on his revelations to the Gentiles while James and Peter, who actually knew Jesus, led a movement that incorporated the teachings of Jesus into traditional Jewish teachings. According to Tabor there is sufficient evidence to indicate that James, Peter and Paul had major disagreements over their teachings. Paul’s views of Christianity ultimately won out and James’ and Peter’s “Jewish-Christianity” gradually disappeared.

Tabor contrasts his views of the Christianity taught by James and Peter to that taught by Paul. He makes some interesting comparisons regarding Judaism, Baptism, the Resurrection and the Last Supper. Tabor presents to the reader his analysis of the New Testament’s strong Pauline influence to support his position of Paul’s importance in today’s Christianity. The author also presents an interesting chapter about the historical Paul.

Through his 30 years of research and clear writing style, Tabor presents in PAUL AND JESUS an interesting scenario that challenges the thinking about the origin of today’s Christianity. Some of the information may make some Christians uncomfortable, but even if one disagrees with Tabor’s conclusions, he gives the reader a real understanding about the period of history that witnessed the birth of Christianity. I recommend this book.

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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: The Next Time You See Me

Summary: In The Next Time You See Me, the disappearance of one woman, the hard-drinking and unpredictable Ronnie Eastman, reveals the ambitions, prejudices, and anxieties of a small southern town and its residents. There’s Ronnie’s sister Susanna, a dutiful but dissatisfied schoolteacher, mother, and wife; Tony, a failed baseball star-turned-detective; Emily, a socially awkward thirteen-year-old with a dark secret; and Wyatt, a factory worker tormented by a past he can’t change and by a love he doesn’t think he deserves. 

Connected in ways they cannot begin to imagine, their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves. -- Touchstone

THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME by Holly Goddard Jones is exactly the type of book I love -- part mystery, part Southern fiction, and part literary fiction. All in all, I'd have to say it was a fantastic read and one that I will be thinking (and talking) about for some time.

THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME is an intriguing novel about a small Kentucky town, the disappearance of a woman, and the effects it has on a few of the town's residents. At the heart of this novel is the disappearance of Ronnie Eastman, a woman who parties hard and lives life to the fullest; however, the true beauty of this book is how it explores the hearts and minds of a few of the town's lonelier people.

The story is told in alternating chapters about various characters including Susanna, Ronnie's sister who is frustrated with her marriage; Tony, the high school baseball hero who is now a cop; Emily, a thirteen year old girl who doesn't fit in with her peers; and Wyatt, a factory worker who has a lot of past baggage and guilt. All of these characters' stories come together, in what seems like effortless writing, through the search for and eventual discovery of Ronnie's body.

THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE me really rocked my world! I am always up for an interesting mystery, and truthfully, that's all I expected from this novel -- a well-executed mystery, albeit a very well written one! What absolutely delighted me about this book is that it read more like literary fiction than a mystery, and I found myself getting caught up in these characters' thoughts and actions. True, all of the characters in this novel were suffering in one way or another (physically and mentally), and many times they all seemed hopelessly lost; however, I was drawn to their lives in an almost desperate way. I had to read not only to uncover who murdered Ronnie, but also to see if any of these characters' would find some sort of happiness or contentment.

I don't even know if I can express just how talented Ms. Jones is. I loved her writing style -- from the character development, to the pacing of the story, to the prose and dialogue. However, I think what impressed me the most about this novel is how it made me think and feel. I loved that this novel was about more than than just the mystery of a missing woman. It explored some pretty hard hitting themes including loneliness, bullying, racism, and happiness. In addition, these characters got under my skin (in a good way) and made me truly care about what happened to them. There were times when I was reading this novel that I didn't even think about who committed the murder and why; and personally, I found it strange (again, in a good way) that I was able to to become so involved in the other aspects of the story.

Needless to say, THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME would make an excellent book club selection! There is a reading guide available with eleven discussion questions as well as some ideas to enhance your book club experience. I've mentioned some of the topics you might want to explore, but here are a few more: self doubt, forgiveness, blame, sympathy, adultery, memories, and the dark side of human nature. I can assure you that the various characters in this novel are fascinating and worthy of hours of discussion.

THE NEXT TIME YOU SEE ME is a terrific debut novel from a very talented author. Highly recommended.

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.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kid Konnection: Beholding Bee

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 a sweet middle grade book about a very special young girl.

Summary: Bee is an orphan who lives with a carnival and sleeps in the back of a tractor trailer. Every day she endures taunts for the birthmark on her face—though her beloved Pauline, the only person who has ever cared for her, tells her it is a precious diamond. When Pauline is sent to work for another carnival, Bee is lost.

Then a scruffy dog shows up, as unwanted as she, and Bee realizes that she must find a home for them both. She runs off to a house with gingerbread trim that reminds her of frosting. There two mysterious women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter, take her in. They clothe her, though their clothes are strangely out of date. They feed her, though there is nothing in their house to eat. They help her go to school, though they won't enter the building themselves. And, strangely, only Bee seems able to see them.

Whoever these women are, they matter. They matter to Bee. And they are helping Bee realize that she, too, matters to the world--if only she will let herself be a part of it.

This tender novel beautifully captures the pain of isolation, the healing power of community, and the strength of the human spirit.  -- Knopf

I was very excited to find BEHOLDING BEE by Kimberly Newton Fusco in my mailbox last week. I loved middle grade novels and don't have a reason to read them as much now that Booking Daughter is officially a teen! The cover alone of BEHOLDING BEE drew me in, but the positive reviews also made it a book that I wanted to read sooner rather than later -- it's a Children's Top Pick for February from BookPage.

I am so glad that I read BEHOLDING BEE. I really enjoyed this sweet story about a young girl who manages to overcome so much adversity. Bee is an orphan who lives with a traveling carnival. She also happens to have a big diamond shaped birthmark covering one side of her face. It's hard enough not having a mother (or a father), but Bee is also constantly hiding her birthmark with her hair to avoid stares and taunting Thankfully Pauline, a nice young woman who runs the hot day cart, has taken her under her wing and strives to make Bee feel good about herself.

When Pauline leaves Bee to work at another carnival, Bee is lonelier than ever until she finds a lost dog. Knowing that she wouldn't be allowed to keep this dog with her at the carnival, Bee decides that she must find a home for both of them. She discovers a little cottage that looks like a gingerbread house and she meets two mysterious women, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter. These two "aunts" allow Bee to live with them and they take care of her in a very quiet way. In fact, they are so quiet that Bee is the only one who ever sees them....

Bee eventually realizes that these woman are only real to her; however, by then, she's already made some wonderful friends and she learns that she's got a lot to offer! Bee begins to accept herself and embrace all of her beautiful qualities.

BEHOLDING BEE is a very entertaining book with so many wonderful messages for today's girls. For the most part, I really enjoyed the story, although I admit I really liked the beginning when Bee was working at the carnival. I also loved, loved, loved the ending where Bee was making new friends and starting to gain confidence and appreciate herself. However, if I'm being entirely honest, I think it was what I took away from this book that made it so special to me. I absolutely loved the messages about inner beauty, self-confidence, friendship, strength, forgiveness, compassion, and staying true to one's self.

I have a feeling that young girls and tweens are going to love Bee. Heck, I'm way outside the target audience for this novel, and I absolutely adored her. While most girls don't have to deal with the hardships that Bee did, I am betting that girls will still relate to Bee's feelings of insecurity and desire to isolate herself. More importantly, I hope girls will see how strong Bee was and how she was able to learn to take care of herself -- both physically and mentally.

Overall, BEHOLDING BEE is a "magical" read for so many reason! Highly recommended to young girls and tweens... and even their moms!

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, February 22, 2013

Guest Review: Fireproof

Summary: When a building bursts into flames on a cold winter night in D.C., investigators see a resemblance to a string of recent fires in the area. There is one difference, however: This one has a human casualty. The local team insists they're looking for a young white male, suffering from an uncontrollable impulse to act out his anger or sexual aggression. But when special agent Maggie O'Dell is called in, everything she sees leads her to believe that this is the work of a calculating and controlled criminal.

Jeffery Cole, a reporter looking for his big break, is also at the scene of the crime and decides to make Maggie part of his news piece, digging up aspects of her past that she would rather forget. Maggie's brother Patrick is also back in DC where he is working for a private firefighting company and is frequently called in as these fires continue to light up around the city.

As the acts of arson become more brazen, Maggie's professional and personal worlds begin to collide dangerously. The killer may be closer than she imagines. -- Doubleday

I'm heading to Disney World today for the Princess Half Marathon, but Booking Pap Pap is back with another great review. This time it's for FIREPROOF by Alex Kava. Here are his thoughts:

FIREPROOF by Alex Kava is the tenth book in a series featuring Maggie O’Dell, an FBI profiler. A string of abandoned warehouse arsons in Washington D.C. prompt Metropolitan Police Detective Julia Racine to call in the FBI and Maggie O’Dell.

The case becomes more complex when two bodies are found at the latest warehouse fire. Maggie must determine if the arsonist has escalated his crime spree or if two separate crimes were committed.

Enter Jeffrey Cole, an ambitious news reporter, who decides to make Maggie part of his news feature on the fires. This intrusion into her private life doesn’t sit well with Maggie.

The case is further complicated by several personal battles Maggie must deal with. First, Maggie is recovering from a gun shot wound from her last assignment and is suffering severe headaches. Her FBI superiors insist she meet with psychiatrist Dr. James Kernal, an old nemesis. Second is her on again-off again relationship with Dr. Benjamin Platt and third is her mother’s objection to Maggie’s friendship with her half-brother Patrick. Patrick happens to be a private firefighter which fits well into the storyline. Finally Maggie senses that she is being stalked.

The book contains many characters from prior books in the series and references past cases handled by Maggie O’Dell. It would be helpful to have read the prior books in the series to understand all the relationships.

FIREPROOF is an easy to read, moderately paced, uncomplicated thriller that would make a good beach book. The story is a little predictable as identity of the arsonist is apparent to the reader long before the final chapter. The uncertainty of whether the confessed arsonist is also a murderer leaves plenty of material for the next book in the Maggie O’Dell series.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: The Night Circus

Summary: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance. -- Anchor

My book club decided to read THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern as our February pick. I was extremely excited since I've had this book on my shelf for some time now (I won it from Jenn's Bookshelves!) and had never gotten around to reading it. I had heard that it's a beautiful novel, and while it's not exactly my normal reading fare, I thought it sounded intriguing.

For those of you who have been living under a rock(!), THE NIGHT CIRCUS tells the story of Le Cirque des Reves, a traveling circus that "magically" appears and opens only at night. There are some traditional circus acts, and some not so traditional ones; and the entire circus is decorated in black and white -- absolutely no color.

While this circus is the basis for this novel, the story really delves into the special relationship between Celia and Marco, two magicians who have been training their whole lives for a competition against each other. They are given little details about this game-- and definitely not the important one that only one will be left standing; and they aren't quite sure what their role is. When they find themselves falling in love with each other, the game takes on a different meaning; and their actions end up having consequences for not only themselves but everyone involved in the "night circus."

I liked THE NIGHT CIRCUS a great deal, and there were even quite a few times when I thought I loved this novel. There is no doubt that it's an extremely well written piece of literature and unlike anything I've ever read. I will admit that I absolutely treasured the first half of this novel -- how the author brought the characters and the setting to life as well as how she told this story; however, I found that I was wanted a little more plot as the story went on. Having said that, the longer I've let this book stew in my thoughts, I've grown to appreciate it more and more -- and I liked how magical the story was!

I don't think I can do justice to explaining how amazing Ms. Morgenstern's writing skills are. Truly, this is one of those novels that you need to experience for yourself. The book's description barely touches the surface of everything this book encompasses, and I am still shaking my head at how the various story lines all came together at the end. There were lots of characters, both members of the circus as well as fans, and I never had an issue keeping them straight. In addition, the story was told in a non-linear format which could have been confusing, yet all of it just meshed perfectly into a beautiful tale.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend this month's book club meeting to discuss the book and see what all of my friends thought -- both of my kids were suffering from the flu and my husband was out of town; however, I did hear that everyone liked the book quite a bit. Beyond that, I have no idea what we discussed! I'm pretty sure we used this reading guide to get started. These twenty questions are complex and require some deep thought and I bet the discussion was fascinating! Some of the topics that you might want to explore further include the concept of dreams, morals/ethics, deception, love, competition and much more. There is also a great deal of symbolism to analyze including some Shakespeare references, the bonfire, and the concept of time to name just a few.

Overall, I found THE NIGHT CIRCUS to be a beautifully written story that transported me to a magical place and time. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: The Good House

Summary: How can you prove you're not an alcoholic?

You can’t.

It's like trying to prove you're not a witch.  

Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of an historic community on the rocky coast of Boston’s North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. Hildy is a descendant of one of the witches hung in nearby Salem, and is believed, by some, to have inherited psychic gifts. Not true, of course; she’s just good at reading people. Hildy is good at lots of things.  A successful real-estate broker, mother and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights have become lonely ever since her daughters, convinced their mother was drinking too much, staged an intervention and sent her off to rehab.  Now she’s in recovery—more or less.

Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy needs a friend. She finds one in Rebecca McCallister, a beautiful young mother and one of the town’s wealthy newcomers. Rebecca feels out-of-step in her new surroundings and is grateful for the friendship. And Hildy feels like a person of the world again, as she and Rebecca escape their worries with some harmless gossip, and a bottle of wine by the fire—just one of their secrets. 

But not everyone takes to Rebecca, who is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an eccentric local who shares a complicated history with Hildy, tries to warn her away from Rebecca, Hildy attempts to protect her friend from a potential scandal. Soon, however, Hildy is busy trying to cover her own tracks and protect her reputation.  When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one threatens to expose the other, and this darkly comic novel takes a chilling turn.

THE GOOD HOUSE, by Ann Leary is funny, poignant, and terrifying. A classic New England tale that lays bare the secrets of one little town, this spirited novel will stay with you long after the story has ended. - St. Martin's Press

When I leaned that Ann Leary had a new novel coming out, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. Fortunately, THE GOOD HOUSE mysteriously showed up in my mailbox; and it was everything I hoped it to be. This novel was smart, witty, and dark -- and very entertaining. Plus, it touched my heart and even managed to make me think. I really couldn't ask much more from a piece of fiction.

THE GOOD HOUSE tells the story of Hildy, a "recovered" alcoholic who lives in a historic seaside community outside of Boston. She is a mother of two daughters, a grandmother, a successful realtor, and some would say part witch -- one of her relatives was a witch that was hung in Salem! However, Hildy is lonely and missing something in her life ever since her daughters staged an intervention and sent her to rehab for a drinking problem.

When Rebecca, a young mother and wife of a wealthy man moves to town, Hildy is intrigued and the two become fast friends. Rebecca is having a hard time fitting into this close-knit community and appreciates this new friendship, and Hildy has found someone who fills a void in her life and with whom she can share a drink or two. Things take a dark turn in this cozy town when Rebecca becomes involved in a scandal. At first, Hildy tries to help her friend; however, she soon realizes that it's more important to protect herself.

THE GOOD HOUSE was one of those books that I couldn't put down. I think I read it in one or two sittings, and I was so caught up in Hildy's life that I had to find out what happened to her. While there were many wonderful things about this novel, I have to say that the character of Hildy is, without a doubt, the best part. Ms. Leary did a remarkable job of creating a character that was extremely real to me -- from the way she knew everything about her hometown, to her relationship with her daughters, to her love affair with a stubborn old handyman, to her ability to keep her drinking a secret -- and I can honestly say that she will remain in my thoughts for a very long time.

Another aspect of THE GOOD HOUSE which I appreciated was how well written this novel was. I've already mentioned that Hildy was such a fantastic, well-developed character, but I also loved how the story was told. The book was written in Hildy's voice and I thought the author captured her voice perfectly -- and by that I mean her sarcasm, her sneakiness, and even her honesty. I found myself laughing a great deal at Hildy's snarkiness as well as her insight into human nature; however, I also found myself touched by Hildy's loneliness and hidden insecurities.

In addition, I really liked how the story unfolded and its pacing. The book was a quick read (namely because it was so well written), but there was a bit of mystery and intrigue in both Rebecca and Hildy's characters -- enough so that I consider the book a page turner. I wasn't entirely sure which direction the story was going to take, and I admit to being slightly surprised a few times. Trust me when I say that it was all very smart how everything came together.

I think THE GOOD HOUSE would make a fantastic book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a reading guide, but I can assure you that you don't need formal questions to jump start your discussion. Hildy and Rebecca are fascinating characters in their own right, and their actions are worth loads of speculation. Some additional the themes you might want to explore include marriage, adultery, love, trust, secrets, friendship, mother/child relationships, mental illness, addiction, and redemption.

I just adored THE GOOD HOUSE and highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction!

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Celebrate 100 Days Until the Release of A Hundred Summers

Summary: Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak.

That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily's friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction...and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.

Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever. -- Putnam

I am very excited to be part of the celebration for the upcoming release of A HUNDRED SUMMERS by Beatriz Williams. The book will be available on May 30th -- just a mere 100 days away! I have had the pleasure of reading this novel and I think it has the potential to be a big summer read. It takes place in a peaceful oceanfront Rhode Island community during one very memorable summer. It deals with love, loss, friendship, and betrayal; and I'm promising you that it's the one book that you should have in your beach (or pool) bag this summer!

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of A HUNDRED SUMMERS to share with one lucky reader! To enter, fill out the form below before March 4th 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!

For an extra entry, post this on Twitter:
Enter @bookingmama contest to win A HUNDRED SUMMERS by @bcwilliamsbooks - #100days

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: The Forgotten (Audio)

Summary: In Paradise, nothing is what it seems...


Army Special Agent John Puller is the best there is. A combat veteran, Puller is the man the U.S. Army relies on to investigate the toughest crimes facing the nation. Now he has a new case-but this time, the crime is personal: His aunt has been found dead in Paradise, Florida.

A picture-perfect town on Florida's Gulf Coast, Paradise thrives on the wealthy tourists and retirees drawn to its gorgeous weather and beaches. The local police have ruled his aunt's death an unfortunate, tragic accident. But just before she died, she mailed a letter to Puller's father, telling him that beneath its beautiful veneer, Paradise is not all it seems to be.

What Puller finds convinces him that his aunt's death was no accident . . . and that the palm trees and sandy beaches of Paradise may hide a conspiracy so shocking that some will go to unthinkable lengths to make sure the truth is never revealed. -- Hachette Audio

I pretty sure that I wouldn't have picked up THE FORGOTTEN by David Baldacci just based on the book's description. It sounded like a "guy's" book to me and very different from his other books that I've enjoyed. However, I do like to listen to suspense/thriller audio books while I run; and this one was getting some pretty positive reviews.

In THE FORGOTTEN, Army Special Agent John Puller decides that something isn't quite right about the death of his elderly aunt. He travels to Paradise, FL, his aunt's hometown, to investigate. Despite being a tourist destination where vacationers go to relax and catch some rays, Paradise doesn't live up to its name. Some individuals in this small town have some very dark and serious secrets. As Puller delves into the events surrounding his aunt's death, he begins to uncover some shocking events which threaten to destroy many people's lives.

I liked THE FORGOTTEN but I definitely didn't love it. It was one of those novels that I didn't dread reading, but I didn't find myself rushing back to listen to it either. For the most part, I thought the story was a very good one and I was most definitely kept guessing; however, there were times when I thought the story dragged. I guess I'm saying that the novel was just okay for me.

As I suspected from the description, THE FORGOTTEN was more of a guy's book to me, filled with lots of action and adventure, so I suspect that it might appeal more to men than women. (I do like the occasional suspense book with action scenes, so I probably shouldn't stereotype like that!) The main character Puller was definitely a "manly man" albeit very likable. I did appreciate his character and his dedication to the cause, but I still felt like he was a bit of a stranger to me. I'm sure that's part of his mystique, although I wonder if reading ZERO DAY first would have made a difference.

The strength of this novel to me was the mystery itself. I really enjoyed following Puller's investigation and even the smaller crime that he discovered. However, it was the major one -- the one which references the title "The Forgotten" -- that I found to be extremely interesting. I don't want to give too much away, but I was shocked to realize what what going on in Paradise; and I enjoyed that I was kept guessing by who was a good guy (or girl) and who was bad!

As far as audio books go, THE FORGOTTEN was a pretty good one. It was read by Ron McLarty, with some help from Orlagh Cassidy. Mr. McLarty narrated the majority of the novel, and Ms. Cassidy served as all of the female voices. I thought they both did a nice job with the variety of characters and accents. My only issue with this audio book was the special effects. It's probably just me, but I'm not a huge fan of audio books having shots and blasts and splashes (and even blood gushing -- I think) to make the action scenes more real. I don't need to hear them to get the gist when I read a traditional book, nor do I need to hear them when I listen to an audio book.

Overall, THE FORGOTTEN was a decent novel. It won't go down as one of my favorites by Mr. Baldacci, but it did manage to entertain me and even surprise me a few times!

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.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Kid Konnection: Little Dinos Don't...

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 cute picture books that also teach some valuable lessons.

Summary: Little Dino must learn that even though he's very strong, hitting is not proper behavior. -- Capstone

Summary: Little Dino has lots of sharp teeth and starts using them to bite objects and other dinosaurs. He must learn to use them in the right way. -- Capstone

Summary: Little Dino must realize that pushing is wrong, even if she is very strong. - Capstone

Summary: Even though Little Dino has a loud roar, she must learn that yelling all the time is not okay. - Capstone

LITTLE DINOS DON'T HIT, LITTLE DINOS DON'T BITE, LITTLE DINOS DON'T PUSH, and LITTLE DINOS DON'T YELL are four new books in the Hello Genius Little Dino series written by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Adam Record. This cute set of over-sized books is new-to-me, but I no longer have little ones that are the target age for board books.

Basically, the idea behind these books is to teach little ones (namely toddlers and preschoolers) how to demonstrate good behavior. In the Spring 2013 set of Little Dino books, children will learn that it's not appropriate to hit, bite, push and yell. Now that might seem pretty obvious to most adults (and children), but I guarantee if you've had a toddler acting out in any of these ways, you will try anything to convince them to stop.

These Little Dino books use funny examples and sweet illustrations to make their point, and I think they could be an effective way to teach children what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior. I like that there is humor included in the lessons and that the books also show that positive behavior works better for getting attention. In addition, these books are very sturdy and perfect for even those kids who are "rough" on books.

Here's a page layout showing a silly example from the LITTLE DINO'S DON'T YELL book:

The Little Dinos series are very cute board books that also have valuable lessons. Definitely recommended for parents of toddlers and also preschool classrooms.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing review copies of these books.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Overseas

Summary: When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college?

The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer.

Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space. -- Putnam

A few weeks ago, I realized that I had never read OVERSEAS by Beatriz Williams. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of books on my bookshelves that I haven't read or reviewed, but when I realized that Ms. Williams' next novel is being released this spring, I figured it was high time to read this one. I have to admit that the premise of OVERSEAS didn't appeal to me quite as much as her new book, but I thought it looked like a sweet read... and something a little different than my normal reading fare.

OVERSEAS tells the story of Kate Wilson, an attractive Wall Street analyst who draws the attention of the very eligible bachelor Julian Laurence during a business meeting between their two firms. She is shocked that this gorgeous and very rich man would be interested in her, but she finds herself falling head over heels in love with him.

As Kate becomes more involved in Julian's life, she begins to realize that he's not what he seems. She also starts to think that she and Julian have ties to the past -- and I'm talking the long ago past, like World War I past! As these two lovers try to protect each other from their history, they find that true love can exist despite the odds.

There is no doubt that OVERSEAS is something I would normally pick up. I am not a big fan of romances (although I do enjoy the occasional chick lit/romantic comedy), and I usually don't appreciate time travel stories. As a result, I'm not sure I was the target audience for this book and I probably didn't enjoy it as much as some readers. Believe me, there are plenty of positive reviews out there and this novel has been published in many countries.

Having said that, I found that I did like some things about OVERSEAS. First of all, I liked Kate and Julian and I thought they generated a lot of chemistry! When I started reading the novel, I became very interested in Kate and then Julian... and, of course, their romance. It was all very sweet and I liked the element of mystery surrounding Julian. I had a feeling where the book was going, but I just wasn't sure how it was going to get  there.

Another aspect of the story that I liked were the flashback chapters to Amiens in France during World War I. I thought the author did a wonderful job of bringing this time period to life and it was apparent that she did a great deal of research on World War I and England. I wasn't aware of this while reading the novel, but Ms. Williams actually based some of the characters on real-life people.

I have to say that I thought the concept of OVERSEAS was pretty original and I did appreciate how the story combined the past and present. I thought it was a fresh approach to a love story and I enjoyed some of the messages about relationships including trust and sacrifice. However, I thought the book was way too long. OVERSEAS is over 450 pages and parts of the story (namely the middle half) just seemed to drag for me. I liked the beginning where Kate and Julian were getting to know each other and I thought the ending was pretty fast-faced and full of surprises, but I admit to getting bored in the middle. I think I would have enjoyed the story much more had the book been about one-third less in length.

If you are looking for a romance for your next book club pick, then I think OVERSEAS might be a great selection. There is a reading guide available on the author's website, and it includes ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, passion, war, sacrifice, destiny, cultural differences, and secrets. You also might want to talk about how the author juxtaposed war with the Wall Street financial crisis.

Despite feeling that OVERSEAS was a too long, I did enjoy the novel. Recommended for fans of romance and historical fiction.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Giveaway: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Summary: After 103 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and with four million copies of The Kite Runner shipped, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today.

Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love.

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love. -- Riverhead

I'm sure you've heard the buzz by now but Khaled Hosseini has a new book coming out in May called AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED. It's being billed as "an unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else." If it's anything like his first two novels, then I'm sure to love it!

Most of you have probably read THE KITE RUNNER and/or A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS so you know that Mr. Hosseini is an amazing writer. After reading THE KITE RUNNER, I admit I was a little concerned that A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS wouldn't live up to my expectations. I couldn't have been more wrong. I thought A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS was even better... and that makes me very excited to read AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED!

Giveaway alert: Just in case you haven't read A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS yet (or you just want one to share), I have one copy to share with a very lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before February 27th 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!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: The Last Runaway

Summary: In New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.

Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.

However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.

A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history. -- Dutton

I've been on a bit of a historical fiction kick lately, so THE LAST RUNAWAY by Tracy Chevalier really appealed to me. I also thought it was a good book to read and review during the month of February since it's Black History Month and this novel explores some aspects of the Underground Railroad.

THE LAST RUNAWAY tells the story of a Quaker girl named Honor who leaves her home and family in England to move to Ohio in 1850. Honor is basically running away from a personal embarrassment and heading to the United States to live with her sister and her future husband. When Honor's sister unexpectedly dies during their travels, Honor finds herself all alone and isn't quite sure what to do. She turns to a variety of strangers to help her including a woman who owns a hat shop, her sister's fiance, and others in the Quaker community.

It's definitely not an easy journey for Honor. She is desperately homesick and is mourning the loss of her sister; however, she turns to her faith and the Quaker community to help get by. On day, Honor discovers that there are certain members of her local town who assist runaway slaves, and she finds herself wanting to be part of the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, Honor learns that her new family doesn't share her personal beliefs that all humans are meant to be equal, and Honor must decide if helping these individuals is worth losing everything else in her life.

Overall, I enjoyed THE LAST RUNAWAY, but I'm not sure it was entirely what I expected. I knew from reading a few other reviews of this book that it wasn't focused on the Underground Railroad. Rather, it was more of Honor's story about adjusting to her new life in the States and the Quaker community that she lived in. However, I guess I still expected there to be more about Honor's role in the Underground Railroad.

That's not to say that I was disappointed with this novel because I definitely wasn't. I enjoyed THE LAST RUNAWAY a great deal and I was extremely impressed with how Ms. Chevalier blended fact with fiction in her story. It was apparent to me that the author did a tremendous amount of research not only on escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad, but also on Quakers and their role in this process. I found many aspects of this novel to be extremely interesting.

I really liked Honor and thought she was a realistic and well developed character. At the beginning of the novel, my heart broke for her (over and over again) as she lost her sister and was on her own in a strange land. However, I soon began to notice her strength and compassion. That's not to say that I didn't find her a bit odd at times and I certainly didn't always agree with her actions, but I respected her religious beliefs and her desire to help others.

In addition, I found it intriguing to see how much Honor's character evolved throughout the novel. I think much of her change had to do with two of her friends who were integral parts of the Underground Railroad. While these women were very different from Honor, they both showed Honor valuable life lessons about strength and courage. They also taught her about the power of standing up for what one believes in. Furthermore, I loved how this novel explored these unlikely friendships and the sacrifices these women made for others.

Even though at its heart, THE LAST RUNAWAY is Honor's story, there is still enough drama to make it a page-turner. As the suspense builds towards the end of the novel, I found myself caught up in Honor and her actions; and I was very interested in seeing how things would turn out for her.

THE LAST RUNAWAY would make an interesting book club pick. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I doubt one is necessary to generate discussion. There are many underlying themes which warrant more analysis including marriage, responsibility, faith, parent/child relationships, sacrifice, defiance, friendship, and love. I also think many of the characters are quite interesting as well.

Definitely recommended to fans of historical fiction and stories about strong women!

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Club Exchange: Emily Winslow & Giveaway

I am so glad to welcome author Emily Winslow to Book Club Exchange. Yesterday, I reviewed her latest novel THE START OF EVERYTHING which is a terrific psychological thriller set in Cambridge, England. I am very excited to share with you Ms. Winslow's post about her experiences with book clubs that discuss her novels.

I do write book club questions to go with my books, but there's an unwritten, obvious question that is usually asked first, and which I have found can fill at least half the meeting, or even all of it: Which narrator did you like best?

Both of my novels, The Whole World and The Start of Everything, are told through multiple first-person narrators. These characters are villains, victims, investigators and witnesses. None of them alone have the whole story, and each one misunderstands or mistrusts the others. These limited points of view bumping up against one another is much of what propels the plots, and also can inspire lively discussion.

I've had the privilege of attending several meetings with groups who have read my books, and a few patterns have emerged:

The first to speak will be consciously polite, because I'm there. They'll say who they liked, and why, and pass the question off to the next person, who does the same. By the third person, things get looser. Someone across the circle will respond by zinging back, “No! I hated him!” or “Yes, but when they did _____ I was really angry.” Someone else who hasn't yet spoken will interrupt to defend the character, “But they had to do that! Don't you remember when they...” And that's how a discussion is born.

I've noticed that American readers tend to look at my setting of Cambridge, England as a fictional fantasy world, while local Cambridge readers tell me that they recognise not just the city but the characters as utterly familiar types. I enjoy both points of view. As an American who lives here, I identify with both.

I've noticed that mothers of young children have generally judged my difficult mother characters harshly, while mothers of adult children have been more forgiving. As a mother myself, I see both sides of this too. 

I strive to be compassionate towards all my characters, even those who do terrible things. I strive to be honest about my characters, even when honesty doesn't flatter them. I can understand anyone saying they love any one of my characters, because I love them. I can understand anyone expressing frustration with them, or other negative feelings, because I don't have illusions about them. 

Visiting with book clubs has been a huge treat for me (and not just because so many of them serve amazing food!). So, thank you, book clubs! And, thank you Booking Mama, for this chance to talk about it, and for providing a place for book lovers to find more books to love. 

I'm curious to hear from book club members how the presence of the author affects what you're willing to say. Do you hold back or let it all hang out? Any tips to help authors to put readers at ease?

Emily Winslow writes psychological suspense set in Cambridge, England, where she lives with her husband and sons in a house full of books. The Washington Post says of her new novel, The Start of Everything (Delacorte Press): “[Winslow is] brilliant at portraying the ragged fragments of these lives. What emerges isn’t a single killer with motive and means, but a tangle of stories crossing and colliding, stray intersections of incidents and accidents, misunderstandings, and misreadings, all thanks to the myopia of individual perspectives and the self-centeredness of individual desires.” Emily is delighted to interact with book clubs via various technologies and can be contacted via her website.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE START OF EVERYTHING to share with one lucky reader courtesy of Tandem Literary. To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, February 19th 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 in the U.S. only. Good luck!

A huge thanks to Ms. Winslow for participating in Book Club Exchange!

If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.    

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: The Start of Everything

Summary: In this stunning psychological thriller for readers of Tana French, Kate Atkinson, and Donna Tartt, Emily Winslow has crafted a literary prism told through the eyes of her many intricately drawn characters. Masterly and mesmerizing, The Start of Everything will captivate until the very last page.

“If you don’t want to see me again, say so. But it’s not right to say nothing. It’s not right to go silent. You know what to do.”

Cambridge, England: Outside the city, the badly decomposed body of a teenage girl has washed up in the flooded fens. Detective Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Morris Keene, must work quickly to identify the victim before the press takes off with the salacious story.

Across the hallowed paths and storied squares of Cambridge University, the detectives follow scant clues toward the identity of the dead girl. Eventually, their search leads them to Deeping House, an imposing country manor where, over the course of one Christmas holiday, three families, two nannies, and one young writer were snowed in together. Chloe Frohmann begins to unravel a tangled web of passions and secrets, of long-buried crimes and freshly committed horrors. But in order to reveal the truth—about misaddressed letters, a devastating affair, and a murdered teenager—she may have to betray her partner. -- Delacorte Press

A few years ago, I reviewed THE WHOLE WORLD by Emily Winslow. I was extremely impressed with the mystery aspect of the story and how well she brought the setting to life; however, it was her ability to tell the story from various characters' points of view that really made the book special to me. So when her latest novel THE START OF EVERYTHING was recently published, I most definitely wanted to read it. I am thrilled to say that I enjoyed this novel even more than her first one.

THE START OF EVERYTHING begins when a teenage girl is found dead in the flooded fens. Detectives Chloe Frohmann and her partner Morris Keene are back together working the case after Keene returns from a job-related injury, and they are feeling pressure to solve the case. The case takes them from Cambridge University to a country manor where they learn that some suspicious events took place on a Christmas holiday. As they struggle to figure out the murder, Frohmann and Keene discover many secrets, including ones that could ultimately destroy families and even lives.

It's funny, but when I went back and read my review for THE WHOLE WORLD, I found that much of what I appreciated about that novel still held true for this one. Once again, Ms. Winslow wove a wonderfully complex psychological thriller with interesting characters. In addition, she again brought the setting of Cambridge, England to life; and she even told the story through the viewpoints of various characters. All in all, it was an outstanding psychological thriller that managed to provide a few surprises for me along the way.

There were a few aspects of this story that really stood out for me. First of all, I found the characters of Frohmann and Keene to be incredibly interesting and I loved the dynamics of their relationship. I hesitate to go into too much detail for fear of giving away some spoilers; however, suffice it to say that they were well-developed characters who were both dealing with their fair share of baggage. I enjoyed seeing how they related to each other after Keene's accident and I thought the author did a great job of showing how Keene was dealing (and not dealing) with his injuries.

Another really quality aspect of THE START OF EVERYTHING was how Ms. Winslow decided to tell the story. Like she did in THE WHOLE WORLD, she chose to give many viewpoints of the story as well as bouncing back and forth between the present and the past. All of her transitions were extremely smooth and I thought the story moved along at a very brisk pace. However, what really impressed me was how well she captured the individual voices of the characters. And I'm not talking two or even three different characters' voices. She managed to create voices for the detectives, the suspects, and even the victims, and all of them were distinct. I imagine that must have been a difficult task to undertake and to pull it off really says something about Ms. Winslow's writing skills.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the murder mystery in this story. I thought it was very well done and I wasn't entirely sure which direction the story was going to take. Needless to say, I couldn't put together the entire mystery and motives; however, I did pick up on a few things. I absolutely loved how the book seemed almost disjointed to me some of the time since there were so many characters' voices, but the way everything eventually came together was brilliant!

I think THE START OF EVERYTHING would work well for book clubs since it is a thought-provoking thriller. There is a reading guide available six questions and Ms. Winslow is available to meet with groups. I found so many of the characters and their actions to be interesting so you could definitely find plenty to discuss there. However, there are also some themes in the story including loss, grief, change, fear, betrayal, lies, parent/child relationships, forgiveness, and redemption that are ripe for analysis.

I enjoyed THE START OF EVERYTHING a great deal and found it to be an extremely well written literary mystery. Highly recommended.

Make sure you stop by tomorrow because Ms. Winslow has written a fantastic essay for Book Club Exchange... plus there will also be a giveaway for THE START OF EVERYTHING.

Thanks to Tandem Literary 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, February 10, 2013

Audio Books & the Grammys + Giveaway

Today, I am happy to welcome Meghan Walker from Tandem Literary to Booking Mama. She has written a fantastic guest post about tonight's 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards® and why, as book lovers, we should be interested! Make sure you also check out the great giveaway for this year's Best Spoken Word Album nominees!

And the GRAMMY® Goes To… 
by Meghan Walker

So the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards® are tonight. As lovers of the written word and great storytelling, what is the book lover’s role on “Music’s Biggest Night?” To groan as we listen to the pop idol du jour butcher the English language? No! Why, it is to root for your favorite audiobook, of course!

Each year The Recording Academy gives out an award for Best Spoken Word Album. Thankfully, this does not mean recognizing an aging TV star for his dramatic reading of a Beatles song. It means books, people!

This year the five nominated titles in this category are: American Grown by Michelle Obama; Back To Work by Bill Clinton, Drift by Rachel Maddow, Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres, and Society's Child by Janis Ian.

In each case, the nominee is the “label,” which means the publisher. The odds are stacked in favor of Random House Audio/Books on Tape as three out of the five nominees (Obama, Clinton, Maddow) are theirs. But the big prize could just as easily go to Hachette Audio for the DeGeneres title or to Audible for the Ian autobiography.

Dan Zitt is the Director of Master Recording at Random House Audio. He declares this year’s race too tough to call.

“There are thousands of great audiobooks released each year, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for The Recording Academy to narrow it down to five nominees,” Dan says. “This year it is such a strong category, it really is a toss up.”

Political books have fared well in past years—titles by Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and Hillary Rodham Clinton have all taken top honors. However, comedy is also a perennial favorite. Last year’s winning audiobook was Betty White’s memoir, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't) and the 2010 GRAMMY® went to The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents Earth. But Society’s Child could run away with it. The Recording Academy has shown the love to celebrity memoirs from Michael J. Fox, Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, and Quincy Jones over the past decade.

The GRAMMY Awards® ceremony at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles (and even the pre-telecast where the Spoken Word award is doled out) is a far cry from your typical east coast publishing trade show or wine and cheese author party. But this year’s GRAMMY Awards® will not be Dan’s first time at the big dance.

“I have worked on eight books that have been nominated over the years,” Dan said. “I have been to the GRAMMY®s more than five times, but not quite eight.”

He checked in with me on Thursday night just after landing in LA to prep for this year’s big event. In response to everyone’s favorite red carpet question, Dan reports that he will be wearing a classic black Hugo Boss suit, with some Nike Air Force 1s on his feet “to give it a little flavor.”

So what is it like for the publishing folks who get to partake in the GRAMMY® glitz and glamour, rubbing elbows with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Adele, Paul McCartney, and Beyonce?

“It is strange to say the least,” Dan reports. “Here you are at a music event waiting to hear if you won the only award that goes to book people! I think it really first hit me, as to the gravity of where I was, when I was sitting next to Andy Garcia one year. Then in the lobby of the convention center I had Tony Bennett on one side of me, and the Wu Tang Clan on the other. Surreal in every way!”

Having won a GRAMMY® Award before (in 2005 for President Clinton’s My Life), Dan reports that he keeps it on a shelf at home next to some pictures of himself with some of the more interesting people he has had the opportunity to work with over the years. “None of my friends believe that the GRAMMY® or the pictures are real,” he says.

But, still. Dan is not quick to take credit. The Recording Academy sets the nominees for each nominated title based on strict guidelines.

“Since many people are part of the recording process, it is somewhat of a shared award,” Dan says. “The author, the producers, the narrator in some cases all can accept the award.”

So, is it an honor just to be nominated? Well, yes.

“It’s great to win, but just as great to be recognized for the work we all put in on these recordings,” says Dan. “I just hope the award brings more recognition to what so many authors, actors, publishers and producers have put their time into: great productions. And if the GRAMMY®s somehow help bring more consciousness to the audiobook format, now that is the true reward for all of us.”

So this Sunday, get your book lights in the air and raise those devil horns like you just don’t care as you tune in to root on these five deserving audiobooks. (The pre-telecast will be a web-streaming event. Visit for details.)

While books may not take center stage at the GRAMMY®s, at least they are invited to the party. Rock on for that.

Giveaway alert: To celebrate audio books and 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards®, I have a wonderful giveaway! One lucky winner will win a set of the five audio books nominated for the Best Spoken Word Album. This prize package includes: AMERICAN GROWN by Michelle Obama; BACK TO WORK by Bill Clinton, DRIFT by Rachel Maddow, SERIOUSLY... I'M KIDDING by Ellen DeGeneres, and SOCIETY'S CHILD by Janis Ian.

To enter, just fill out the form below before Sunday, February 16th 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!