Saturday, March 30, 2013

Kid Konnection: Spring Books Part 2

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 set of five cute picture books that bring back memories of my childhood.

Summary: This beautiful boxed set of five Little Golden Books includes a springy mix of titles featuring bunnies, baby animals, two gardening children, and more, at the value Golden Books is known for: Home for a Bunny, Where Do Giggles Come From?, The Little Red Hen, Two Little Gardeners, and Baby Farm Animals.  -- Golden Books

FAVORITE LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS FOR SPRINGTIME is a boxed set of five Golden Books that celebrate Spring, and I admit that I got nostalgic when I read them. When I was a little girl, my mom would let me pick one Golden Book each time we visited the grocery store -- I think they were a quarter or something like that. I can't remember if any of these springtime books were part of my childhood collection, but I have a feeling that at least one of them was!

Summary: Generations of children have followed this furry, lovable bunny on his springtime journey to find a home. A family favorite since 1956, Margaret Wise Brown's simple yet playful tale is perfectly complemented by Garth Williams's exquisite artwork—and is now back in print as a Little Golden Book Classic. -- Golden Books

HOME FOR A BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Garth Williams is an adorable picture book that tells the story of a bunny looking for a home. After meeting a variety of animals and seeing their homes, he realizes that none of these will work for him. It isn't until he meets another little bunny, that he finally finds a home.

HOME FOR A BUNNY is perfect for preschoolers who are interested in seasons and animals. The story is simple and entertaining, but what makes this book extra-special are the illustrations. They are just gorgeous!

Summary: This playful rhyming Little Golden Book asks, "Where do giggles come from?" It's a celebration of families and laughter and children will delight in watching piglets, bear cubs, bunnies, and more baby animals frolicking joyfully with their families. Charming pastel illustrations show little ones laughing and giggling while playing peek-a-boo, hula-hoop, hide-n-seek, and other games. -- Golden Books

WHERE DO GIGGLES COME FROM? by Diane E. Muldrow and illustrated by Anne Kennedy is another precious picture book for little ones. This book looks at a variety of giggling animals and eventually answers the question, "Where do giggles come from?"

The text is perfect for toddlers since it rhymes, and the cute illustrations are the perfect complement!

Summary: Beloved illustrator J. P. Miller’s graphic, colorful farm animals seem to jump right off the page—but they aren’t jumping to help the Little Red Hen plant her wheat! Young children will learn a valuable lesson about teamwork from this funny, favorite folktale. -- Golden Books

THE LITTLE RED HEN edited by Diane E. Muldrow and illustrated by J.P. Miller is a book that I'm pretty sure I had a kid and one that I definitely read to my kids a few times. This classic folktale tells the story the poor Little Red Hen. Every time she asks for help from her barnyard friends to plant the wheat, reap the wheat, mill the wheat, etc., she's rejected. That is... until she has warm bread ready to eat!

I enjoyed this Golden Book mainly because it brought back memories from my past; however, I also enjoyed the message about friendship, teamwork, and sharing!

Summary: Children will enjoy this story of a young brother and sister who plant seeds that will result, after much hard work and patience, in a bountiful garden! It teaches that good things come to those who wait, and features a little song at the end of the book: “What We Plant in the Spring We Eat in the Fall.” -- Golden Books

TWO LITTLE GARDENERS by Margaret Wise Brown and Edith Thacher Hurd and illustrated by Gertrude Elliot in another classic Golden Book in this springtime collection. It tells the story of two gardeners who work ever so hard on their garden, and eventually get the benefits of delicious (and healthy) vegetables.

This book is sure to be a favorite with kids and families who have gardens!

Summary: No one has illustrated animals with as much warmth, humor, and realism as Garth Williams. This classic–full of piglets, kittens, calves, and bunnies–is one of his best. Simple, humorous text identifies each fuzzy, furry, or feathery farm animal capering about the farm. This longtime favorite has been reissued for a new generation of kids, who will “pet” the animals on each page over and over again! -- Golden Books

BABY FARM ANIMALS written and illustrated by Garth Williams is so sweet with some fantastic illustrations of baby animals. Each page identifies a baby farm animal and describes a few things about them, like the sound they make or the food they like to eat.

Highly recommended for young children who enjoy learning about animals!

Thanks to the publisher 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, March 29, 2013

Guest Review: Trading Bases

Summary: An ex–Wall Street trader improved on Moneyball’s famed sabermetrics to place bets that would beat the Vegas odds on Major League Baseball games—with a 41 percent return in his first year. Trading Bases explains how he did it.

After the fall of Lehman Brothers, Joe Peta was out of a job. He found a new one but lost that, too, when an ambulance mowed him down. In search of a way to cheer himself up while he recuperated in a wheelchair, Peta started watching baseball again, as he had growing up. That’s when inspiration hit: Why not apply his outstanding risk-analysis skills to improve on sabermetrics, the method made famous by Moneyball—and beat the only market in town, the Vegas betting line? Why not treat MLB like the S&P 500?

In Trading Bases, Peta shows how to subtract luck—in particular “cluster luck,” as he puts it—from a team’s statistics to best predict how it will perform in the next game and over the whole season. His baseball “hedge fund” returned an astounding 41 percent in 2011—and has never been down more than 5 percent. Peta takes readers to the ballpark in San Francisco, trading floors and baseball bars in New York, and sports books in Vegas, all while tracing the progress of his wagers. Often humorous, occasionally touching, and with a wink toward the sheer implausibility of the whole project, Trading Bases is all about the love of critical reasoning, trading cultures, risk management, and baseball. And not necessarily in that order. -- Dutton

Since my father is a huge baseball fan, I thought he might enjoy TRADING BASES: A STORY ABOUT WALL STREET, GAMBLING, AND BASEBALL (NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER) by Joe Peta. I was pretty surprised to learn that he thought the statistical parts of the book were pretty complicated because he spent many years working in corporate finance. While I do have a finance degree and also enjoy baseball, I'm doubting this book is for me. If mydad had a hard time with parts of it, then I'm sure I wouldn't be able to grasp even the simplest concepts.

Here what Booking Pap Pap thought about TRADING BASES:

Since baseball is one of my passions, I was anxious to read TRADING BASES: A STORY ABOUT WALL STREET, GAMBLING, AND BASEBALL (NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER) by Joe Peta.  Peta was a fifteen year veteran of Wall Street who, while recovering from a job layoff and a serious injury after being hit by an ambulance, devised a system to bet on baseball.  He tested the system during the 2011 baseball season and managed to generate a 41% profit.

Peta continuously transitions from stories about baseball, Wall Street and his model for betting on games.  His stories about baseball, sometimes humorous, reflect his love and knowledge of the game.  He talks about his favorite teams, going to games with his father and taking his own daughter to her first baseball game.

The author’s accounts of Wall Street focus on his own career as well as his opinion that a “bet your company” attitude at places like Lehman Brothers caused the 2008 investment banking crisis.  Although interesting, I was sometimes lost trying to follow the “Wall Street lingo”. 

The development of his baseball betting model takes up a majority of the book.  Starting with sabermetrics, a statistical study of baseball developed by Bill James, Peta walks the reader through the development of a system to bet on individual games utilizing tools such as regression analysis, Pythagoras’ theory, skill-based performance analysis and “clusterluck”, an analysis of a team’s luck.  He focused on applying his model to determine the reasons for the success of the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays and whether it was repeatable.  During the 2011 season Peta continually evaluated his model’s success against the performance of the Minnesota Twins.  I found that I was sometimes confused in trying to follow the development of the betting model and in trying to understand the multitude of tables displayed in the book.

Peta makes a case that baseball, Wall Street and Las Vegas can learn from each other.  For example, he utilizes his Wall Street skills to take baseball’s sabermetrics to a new level, he contends that Wall Street could benefit from applying some of the analytical techniques utilized my major league baseball and he makes the point that Las Vegas could benefit from Wall Street’s methods to increase customer interest in sports betting.

TRADING BASES is an interesting book that combines baseball, Wall Street and sports betting.  It’s an easy read when Peta is telling his stories but becomes more complicated when he discusses Wall Street methods and his baseball betting model.  I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in sports betting.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Summary: His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world’s pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation—and exceeds it. The astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hope it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change. -- Riverhead

Quite honestly, I'm not entirely sure why I read HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA by Mohsin Hamid. I didn't find the cover or the title all that appealing, and it's definitely not the type of book that I normally read. The book's description didn't really resonate with me either. I think I must have read a review or two that made the book sound interesting, but I'm not even entirely sure about that.

Having said all that, I am quite happy that I picked up HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA because it's unlike any book I've ever read. And I mean that in the best possible way! I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say I loved this book because I don't know that I am intelligent enough to fully understand everything the author was trying to accomplish. However, I can say that I found the book very entertaining and I really appreciated the story and the author's writing style.

At it's simplest, HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA tells the story of a poor young boy who eventually becomes "filthy rich" is rising Asia. He gains his wealth through a fairly interesting, and increasingly scarce, commodity -- water. As he builds his fortune, his mind (and heart) are always on a "pretty girl" whom he met and fell in love with as a young boy. Throughout the course of their lives, their paths continue to cross and they each find small moments of happiness.

I purposely gave very little details about HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA because I do think it's best for each reader to experience this novel on their own. That might seem to like an easy way out, but I promise you it's not. What made HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA so darn special is the way the author presented these characters' stories. The novel is written in the form of a self-help book (which I guess are extremely popular among young people in Asia right now), and the presentation style is rather tongue-in-cheek. And get this, the entire book is written in second person with the main character being "you."

I mentioned earlier that I'm pretty sure I didn't "get' everything about this novel. On one level, I enjoyed the life long love story between the two main characters, and I liked how the author showed how their ambition played a huge role in their success. The story was intriguing and poignant, and it was a unique twist on a rags to riches story.

However, it was that "next" level of the book where I think I might have missed a few things. In addition to telling these characters' stories, this novel addressed some major issues that are occurring in "rising Asia" right now. And this is where my ignorance of world politics and economics came into play because I didn't get all of the references. On the plus side, I do think I learned a thing or two about all of the change going on over there.

I really can't express just how smart the writing in HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA is. Ms. Hamid is an outstanding writer and I was truly blown away by this novel in so many ways. He managed to accomplish so much with this story, and frankly, I'm a little amazed by how he even came up with the premise for it.

There is no doubt that HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA would make an interesting book club selection. There is so much to discuss about the characters as well as the changes currently taking place in "rising Asia." The reading guide has eleven questions that will most definitely challenge you. Some of the themes you might want to explore include ambition, morality, love, passion, redemption, forgiveness, politics, religion, and mortality.

Overall, I am very glad that I read HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA despite feeling as if I weren't quite smart enough for it!

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: The Little Russian

Summary: The Little Russian spotlights an exciting new voice in historical fiction, an assured debut that should appeal to readers of Away by Amy Bloom or Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The novel tells the story of Berta Alshonsky, who revels in childhood memories of her time spent with a wealthy family in Moscow––a life filled with salons, balls, and all the trappings of the Upper Class––very different from her current life as a grocer’s daughter in the Jewish townlet of Mosny. So when a mysterious and cultured wheat merchant walks into the grocery, Berta’s life is forever altered. She falls in love, unaware that he is a member of the Bund, The Jewish Worker’s League, smuggling arms to the shtetls to defend them against the pogroms sweeping the Little Russian countryside.

Married and established in the wheat center of Cherkast, Berta has recaptured the life she once had in Moscow. So when a smuggling operation goes awry and her husband must flee the country, Berta makes the vain and foolish choice to stay behind with her children and her finery. As Russia plunges into war, Berta eventually loses everything and must find a new way to sustain the lives and safety of her children. Filled with heart-stopping action, richly drawn characters, and a world seeped in war and violence; The Little Russian is poised to capture readers as one of the hand-selling gems of the season. -- Counterpoint Press

I have had THE LITTLE RUSSIAN by Susan Sherman sitting on my bookshelves for months. And that's a real shame! When I accepted the pitch for this novel, I thought it sounded like a book I'd like. I enjoy historical fiction set around wars and I haven't read a lot about Russia. Plus, the idea that the main character was based on the author's own grandmother had some appeal. Unfortunately, I didn't read this novel right away and now I'm kicking myself.

THE LITTLE RUSSIAN tells the story of Berta Alshonsky, a woman who grew up with a wealthy family in Moscow. When she is forced to return back to her humble home as a grocer's daughter, she is less than thrilled and feels that she doesn't belong in such a simple Jewish village. Things begin to change for Berta when a wheat merchant comes to town and the two fall in love. Little does Berta know that this man is part of the Bund, The Jewish Worker's League; and he helps provide weapons to them so they can defend themselves against the pogroms that are becoming more frequent in Little Russia.

Berta is happily married to this this man and once again living a glamorous life; however, when one of his missions goes wrong, he has no choice but to flee the country. Foolishly, Berta decides to stay behind with her children and her comfortable lifestyle. As Russia becomes more involved in the civil war, Berta gradually loses all of her material belongings and even her friends. She is left with almost nothing and is forced to use her wits to protect herself and her children. This woman who was once vain and materialistic learns many valuable lessons about life, love, and happiness.

Based on the description, THE LITTLE RUSSIAN sounded fantastic; and I had seen some very positive reviews for it including starred reviews in Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. To this day, I still don't know why I hesitated to read it because once I started this novel, I couldn't put it down. I was so caught up in Berta's story and I thought the author did a remarkable job of bringing both the characters and the setting to life. I honestly had no idea what was going to happen to Berta and her family, and I couldn't wait to see if things would work out for her.

What's so interesting to me is how much I ended up caring about Berta. Initially, Berta was a little hard to take. She was extremely selfish and materialistic, and she even turned up her nose to her family and their simple existence. She definitely thought she was destined for a "better" life. And she eventually got that when she met her future husband. While I was intrigued by Berta, I can definitely say that I didn't like her.

And then, Berta's world came crashing down. Naturally, I didn't find pleasure in Berta's misery; however, it did soften my view of her. I also think Berta herself became a much more likable character because she put her selfishness behind her. Berta became incredibly strong and resourceful, and she put the needs of her children before her own. In so many ways, she was a war hero and demonstrated the extent women will go to to protect their families. As a mother, I respected how much she evolved and I eventually found her character to be inspiring.

I found it interesting that THE LITTLE RUSSIAN is Ms. Sherman's debut novel because it's very polished. I was extremely  impressed with her writing style. I loved how well she brought the Russian countryside and cities to life, and I thought her descriptions throughout the novel were very vivid. Needless to say, I look forward to Ms. Sherman's next novel. (Just a little background information on the author: She was the co-creator of "That's So Raven," a Disney channel show that my daughter used to watch back in the day!)

THE LITTLE RUSSIAN would make an outstanding book club selection. The story is epic and encompasses so much about individuals and society. I was excited to find a very in-depth reading guide in the back of my copy. And when I say in-depth, I mean in-depth! There are 29 intriguing discussion questions and some recommendations for further reading. Some of the topics you might want to explore include war, poverty, sacrifice, secrets, alienation, religion, success, freedom, love and marriage, grief, duty, dreams, and redemption.

I highly recommend THE LITTLE RUSSIAN to fans of historical fiction!

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: Angelopolis

Summary: A New York Times bestseller and global sensation, Angelology unfurled a brilliant tapestry of myth and biblical lore on our present-day world and plunged two star-crossed heroes into an ancient battle against mankind’s greatest enemy: the fatally attractive angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim. With Angelopolis, the conflict deepens into an inferno of danger and passion unbound.

A decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her new wings a betrayal that haunts him still. Now an elite angel hunter for the Society of Angelology, he pursues his mission with single-minded devotion: to capture, imprison, and eliminate her kind.

But when Evangeline suddenly appears on a twilit Paris street, Verlaine finds her nature to be unlike any of the other creatures he so mercilessly pursues, casting him into a spiral of doubt and confusion that only grows when she is abducted before his eyes by a creature who has topped the society’s most-wanted list for more than a century. The ensuing chase drives Verlaine and his fellow angelologists from the shadows of the Eiffel Tower to the palaces of St. Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast, where the truth of Evangeline’s origins—as well as forces that could restore or annihilate them all—lie in wait.

Conceived against an astonishing fresh tableau of history and science, Angelopolis plumbs Russia’s imperial past, modern genetics, and ancient depictions of that most potent angelic appearance—the Annunciation of Gabriel—in a high-octane tale of abduction, treasure seeking, and divine warfare as the fate of humanity once again hangs in the balance. -- Viking

Just last week, I finally got around to reading ANGELOLOGY by Danielle Trussoni, and I absolutely loved it. You can read my review here! I waited a few days and started the second book in the series ANGELOPOLIS, and I admit that my expectations were pretty high. Overall, I do think ANGELOPOLIS lived up to what I wanted from this novel -- I was still fascinated by the story; but I still don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as ANGELOLOGY.

ANGELOPOLIS picks up where ANGELOLOGY left off -- only ten years later. I hesitate to go into too much detail about what happens in this novel because I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who haven't started this series yet. Having said that, the publisher's description that I used at the beginning of this review definitely has a few spoilers! So read it at your own risk!

Let me just say that ANGELOPOLIS is once again a fantastic thriller that merges fantasy and biblical lore as it examines the state of angels in today's world. While ANGELOLOGY introduced many of the concepts of angel lore and actually raised many questions for me, this novel does a great job of explaining some of the history of angels and angelologists. In addition, like the first book, this one contains a few shockers that really threw me for a loop (or two!)

There is no doubt that ANGELOLOGY ended with a twist of sorts that definitely made me want to read this next novel. Well, it's probably no surprise that ANGELOPOLIS ended in a somewhat similar way. I was a bit surprised by something that occurs near the end of the novel, and the author set up an ending that ensures that there will be at least one more book in this series. I can't wait to see what happens with the battle between the angelologists and the angels. However, unlike last time when I just waited a few days to learn more, this time I suspect I will be waiting for many months (or even a year or so!)

I had many of the same reactions to ANGELOPOLIS as I did ANGELOLOGY, and that probably won't come as a big surprise to those of you who have read both novels. As a result, this review might sound somewhat repetitive to the one I wrote last week. Once again, I am extremely impressed with Ms. Trussoni's storytelling abilities, as well as her creativity. I can't not get over how unique this story is and I love how she managed to blend mythology with real life history and biblical lore. It truly is impressive just how well this novel comes together.

In addition, I loved the thriller aspects of the story. The intrigue and mystery, along with surprise,s are so entertaining, and I honestly had a hard time putting this book down. While I couldn't read it in one or two sittings because "real life" got in the way, I did find that I read it in pretty big chunks. The story moves extremely fast between the various story lines, and I was extremely curious to see what happened to (and between) the characters. I also loved how well the various secrets that were revealed and how they played such an essential role in the story. Truly, this novel is very smart; and the author certainly has conducted a tremendous amount of research as background for her books.

I do think ANGELOPOLIS would make an interesting book club pick, and it probably does work as a standalone book; however, I recommend reading the books in order to appreciate them more. There are some pretty heavy themes surrounding faith and good vs. evil that might be fun to discuss. In addition, I think the characters' actions and motivations are fascinating -- especially as they relate to ethics and honestly. Some additional themes you might want to talk about include love, obligation, secrets,parent/child relationships, and betrayal.

I enjoyed ANGEOLOPOLIS a great deal and I highly recommend this series to fans of myths and thrillers.

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

Make sure you check out my great giveaway for copies of ANGELOLOGY and ANGELOPOLIS!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved

Summary: The death of an Indian immigrant leads Maisie Dobbs into a dangerous yet fascinating world and takes her in an unexpected direction in this latest chapter of the New York Times bestselling series "that seems to get better with each entry" (Wall Street Journal). 

London, 1933. Two months after the body of an Indian woman named Usha Pramal is found in the brackish water of a South London canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs to find out the truth about her death. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, evidence indicates that they failed to conduct a full and thorough investigation. 

Before her death, Usha was staying at an ayah's hostel alongside Indian women whose British employers turned them out into the street—penniless and far from their homeland—when their services were no longer needed. As Maisie soon learns, Usha was different from the hostel's other lodgers. But with this discovery comes new danger: another Indian woman who had information about Usha is found murdered before she can talk to Maisie. 

As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case as well as a growing desire to see more of the world, following in the footsteps of her former mentor, Maurice Blanche. And there is her lover, James Compton, who gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore. 

Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series.  -- Harper

If there is one mystery series out there that I won't miss, it's the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear. I have read every single one of these books and I have loved each one of them for a different reason. What's so amazing about these books is that I think they just keep getting better and better. And that's no mean feat considering that the latest novel LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED is the tenth in this series.

LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED takes place in 1933 London and begins with the death of an Indian immigrant named Usha. Usha's brother arrives in London two months following her death to discover that the police have made little, if any, progress in the case; and he begins to question of his sister's death was ever a priority for Scotland Yard. He calls on Maisie to help in the investigation.

As Maisie looks into Usha's death, she discovers that Usha was living at a hostel for Indian women who have been turned out on the streets by their English employers. However, Usha seemed different from the other women who lived there. Maisie learns that one of Usha's friends has some valuable information about her death, but before they have a chance to talk, the friend ends up murdered too.

While Maisie is focused on learning more about the Indian culture in London and solving the murders, she is also concerned about one of her employees. In addition, she has some personal issues that need addressed including her relationship with her boyfriend and her desire to travel like her mentor Maurice. Of course, Maisie manages to find a balance in her life and she does solve the murders by the end of the novel. But she also makes a decision that could take her into an unknown world.

I absolutely couldn't wait to read LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED and I have to say I wasn't disappointed. It's no secret that I love Maisie and am a huge fan of Ms. Winspear's, and this novel definitely reinforced that. I am continually amazed that the books in this series continue to be fresh, and I appreciated the direction that Maisie's character went in at the end of the novel. Naturally, I can't wait to see where Maisie's adventure takes her!

One of my absolutely favorite things about LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED was that the story explored the Indian subculture in London in the early 1930s. I am the first to admit that I know almost nothing about London in this time period, but if pressed, I'd probably assume that there were some prejudices against Indians. I loved how this novel explored those tensions, and Maisie's insights into these issues was very astute. But I just love all things Maisie!

It should almost go without saying by now that the mystery aspects of these books are wonderful. I questioned who was the culprit and why, and I was definitely kept guessing until the end. However, what made this novel is more special was how it addressed Maisie's personal issues. In the past, Maisie has had some horrible things happen to her and it's been interesting to see how she's coped with everything. Once again, my heart went out to Maisie for the pain she's experienced, and I sincerely hoped that she could find some contentment and even happiness.

Poor Maisie! Since the death of Maisie's long time mentor Maurice, she's definitely been battling some inner demons. In this novel, her call to see the world (like Maurice) has really started affecting Maisie and the relationships in her life. The question exists through the course of this novel, "Will Maisie sacrifice everything because of her restlessness?" There were times when I understood Maisie's plight, and then there were times that I thought she might just be running away from her life. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about Maisie's decisions.

It's hard to put into words just how intelligent these novels are. Ms. Winspear had an amazing ability to create an intriguing mystery and then tie what's occurring in Maisie's personal life to it. In the case of this novel, the title is absolutely perfect and reflects not only Maisie's feelings, but also Usha's as well. For all ten books, I've enjoyed how Maisie solves a crime and also learns about herself in the process.

My thoughts about Maisie's actions lead me to believe that LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED would be a fantastic book club pick. There is a reading guide available with ten interesting discussion questions. Some of the topics you might want to explore include Maisie's relationship with her lover and the effects of Maurice's death on her. In addition, it might be interesting to discuss Maisie's restlessness and what Maisie's future holds.

LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED is another wonderful addition to the Maisie Dobbs series. I highly recommend this novel... and every single other one in this series, too.

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, March 23, 2013

Kid Konnection: Spring 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 four cute picture books that are perfect for this time of year!

Summary: What do the animals do when the snow falls to the ground and all the trees are bare? Some fly long distances, while some swim to warmer waters. Some take a long, warm sleep where they live, while others have a thick, cozy coat and can stay in the snow!

Filled with rich illustrations, charming animals, and a simple, lyrical text, Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit is now available in a board edition for the smallest hands and youngest readers. It's a gentle introduction to the ideas of adaptation, hibernation, and migration, and an exuberant celebration of changing seasons. -- Knopf Books

Supposedly it's springtime, but you could fool me here in Central Pennsylvania. We were teased a few weeks ago with some gorgeous weather, but it's extremely cold again. I have seen a few signs that spring is coming, and SNOW RABBIT, SPRING RABBIT: A BOOK OF CHANGING SEASONS by Il Sung Na
is the perfect way to explain to little ones the change from winter to spring.

I really enjoyed SNOW RABBIT, SPRING RABBIT, and I wasn't surprised to find that it received a starred review from School Library Journal. This book explains what animals do during the winter. For instance, some birds fly south, some animals swim to warmer water, and some even hibernate. However, when the snow melts, they all know it's springtime!

SNOW RABBIT, SPRING RABBIT is an adorable book. It is available in two forms -- a board book for younger readers and a picture book for those children who are less rough on books. Both are equally gorgeous with their ink and oil drawings that are digitally enhanced with layers and textures. I loved the variety of bright colors and thought the illustrations were appropriately fun and cheery!

Recommended to preschoolers who are interested in animals and nature.

Summary: An adorable little duckling is trying to befriend another "duck." However, he is oblivious to the fact that his potential pal is, in fact, a cat. Though resistant and stubborn at first, the cat soon realizes labels don't matter in the least—and before you know it, meowing and quacking are one and the same. -- Random House

HEY, DUCK! by Carin Bramsen is positively precious! I can't even begin to tell you how cute this picture book is. It begins with a very special little luck who wants to play with a cat. The problem is that the duck thinks that the cat is another duck. The cat is frustrated by the "annoying" little duck's mistake and just wants to be left alone. However, the cat realizes that he wants to be friends with the duck and labels don't matter one bit.

Naturally HEY, DUCK! is a cute story that is guaranteed to make little ones laugh. I also like the overall messages about friendship, acceptance, and labeling.  However, my absolute favorite parts of this book were the illustrations. They are so stinkin' cute. That little duck is precious and the cat's expressions are terrific too. I could look at these two characters all day!

HEY, DUCK! is a perfect read-along book and ideal for preschool classrooms!

Summary: When a sheep on her family's farm starts acting strangely, Miriam is worried. Spring lambing season is over, so what could be wrong with Snowball? Then—surprise—the sheep gives birth to triplets! When she realizes that the mother has enough milk for only two of her newborns, Miriam knows that the third baby will have to be bottle-fed every four hours. But it's almost Passover, and the family is about to leave for her grandparents' Seder. And it's Miriam's turn this year to ask the Four Questions, which she's been practicing for weeks! When Miriam's father decides that they must stay home to care for the lamb, it's up to Miriam to think of a clever and—hilariously fitting—way to rescue both the baby lamb and her family's holiday.

Author Linda Marshall based this out-of-the-ordinary Passover tale on a true event that took place on her own farm, weaving in details about sheep farming and infusing it with the warmth shared by a loving family. Readers will root for Miriam and her Passover lamb! -- Random House

THE PASSOVER LAMB by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss is a wonderful book for children from all faiths. Miriam is excited about going to her grandparent's house to celebrate Passover; however, one of their sheep is acting a little strange. When the sheep has three babies, but only enough milk to feed two of them, Miriam's family decides that they will have to miss the Seder and stay home feeding the newborn lamb.

As Miriam is thinking about asking the Four Questions -- it's finally her turn, she reflects on the story of Moses. Fortunately, this gives Miriam a great idea that will allow her family to celebrate this special holiday with their loved ones.

I enjoyed THE PASSOVER LAMB and loved that it was based on a real story. Miriam is a great character and I couldn't help but love her. She's excited about celebrating Passover, but at the same time, she is concerned about the welfare of the baby lamb. In addition, she's extremely creative and resourceful; and I think kids will appreciate her ingenuity!

THE PASSOVER LAMB is a great way to introduce Passover to kids or even reinforce the concepts to those children who are familiar with the holiday. I especially enjoyed the author's note at the end of the book which explains the true story and also gives a brief summary of what occurs at a Seder.

Summary: Here's a picture book for all Jewish families to read while celebrating Passover. Unlike other Passover picture books that focus on the contemporary celebration of the holiday, or are children's haggadahs, this gorgeous picture book in verse follows the actual story of the Exodus. Told through the eyes of a young slave girl, author Laurel Snyder and illustrator Catia Chien skillfully and gently depict the story of Pharaoh, Moses, the 10 plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea in a remarkably accessible way.

"Evocative and beautiful... flawlessly evokes the spirit of the Old Testament story," raves Publishers Weekly in a starred review. This dramatic adventure, set over 3,500 years ago, of a family that endures hardships and ultimately finds freedom is the perfect tool to help young children make sense of the origins of the Passover traditions. -- Schwartz & Wade

THE LONGEST NIGHT: A PASSOVER STORY by Laural Snyder and Catia Chien is absolutely perfect for children celebrating Passover. This beautiful picture book depicts the events in Exodus and includes the story of the Pharaoh, Moses, the plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea in ways that they can understand. The story is told through the eyes of a young slave girl whose family perseveres many tests but eventually is rewarded with freedom. It really is quite an amazing picture book!
THE LONGEST NIGHT is written in verse and presents a pretty amazing story, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the gorgeous illustrations. For the most part, these drawings have a simple look to them with a small amount of color added in just the right places and are the perfect complement to the story.

I can't help but recommend THE LONGEST NIGHT. It truly is a very special picture book!

Thanks to the publisher 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, March 22, 2013

Review: The Pretty One

Summary: Perfect. Pretty. Political. For nearly forty years, The Hellinger sisters of Hastings-on-Hudson-namely, Imperia (Perri), Olympia (Pia), and Augusta (Gus)--have played the roles set down by their loving but domineering mother Carol. Perri, a mother of three, rules her four-bedroom palace in Westchester with a velvet fist, managing to fold even fitted sheets into immaculate rectangles. Pia, a gorgeous and fashionable Chelsea art gallery worker, still turns heads after becoming a single mother via sperm donation. And Gus, a fiercely independent lawyer and activist, doesn't let her break-up from her girlfriend stop her from attending New Year's Day protests on her way to family brunch.

But the Hellinger women aren't pulling off their roles the way they once did. Perri, increasingly filled with rage over the lack of appreciation from her recently unemployed husband Mike, is engaging in a steamy text flirtation with a college fling. Meanwhile Pia, desperate to find someone to share in the pain and joy of raising her three-year-old daughter Lola, can't stop fantasizing about Donor #6103. And Gus, heartbroken over the loss of her girlfriend, finds herself magnetically drawn to Jeff, Mike's frat boy of a little brother. Each woman is unable to believe that anyone, especially her sisters, could understand what it's like to be her. But when a freak accident lands their mother to the hospital, a chain of events is set in motion that will send each Hellinger sister rocketing out of her comfort zone, leaving her to wonder: was this the role she was truly born to play?

With The Pretty One, author Lucinda Rosenfeld does for siblings what she did for female friendship in I'm So Happy for You, turning her wickedly funny and sharply observant eye on the pleasures and punishments of lifelong sisterhood. -- Little Brown

I can't remember where I saw the raving review for THE PRETTY ONE by Lucinda Rosenfeld (I think it might have been in People Magazine), but I knew I wanted to read it. A witty novel about sibling rivalry? Sounded right up my alley. I decided to pack this book for my trip to Disney last month -- the trip I was taking with my sister. Coincidence? I think not!

All joking aside, my sister and I are close and I don't think we have much jealousy between us. Of course, we are women and there is always some pettiness, but we are nothing like the women in THE PRETTY ONE! These three sisters have not only an uncanny ability to provoke each other, but they also seem to spend much of their time resenting each other.

THE PRETTY ONE tells the story of the three Hellinger girls -- Perri, Pia and Gus. Pia has a young daughter, works at an art gallery, and is the pretty one; however, she is still reeling from the breakup of her true love. Perri is the eldest and seemingly the most together. She is married with children and has a successful business; however, she feels that something is missing in her life and she starts a "text affair" with an old college boyfriend. And then there's Gus, an activist and an attorney who is upset about her breakup with her girlfriend.

When the girls' father is housebound after a surgery and their mother ends up in the hospital after a pretty freak accident, the sisters find that they have to pull together and help out their parents. Maybe it's the stress of the situation, but each sister finds that their lives start spinning out of control. Pia can't stop thinking about her anonymous sperm donor, Perri leaves her family to meet up with her ex, and Gus finds that she is attracted to a man. Through all of this hardship, each sister is forced to acknowledge that the roles they've spent their entire lives playing just might not be who they truly are.

I was expecting to really enjoy THE PRETTY ONE and, for the most part, I did like it. I just didn't love it. I think I might have picked up the book with my expectations a little high. I thought the story was cute and it was definitely funny at times, but I wanted a little more substance. While the sisters were horrible to each other for a great deal of the book, and there is no doubt that their behavior was appalling (and therefore funny!); I kept waiting for the story to take on a more serious tone. And I wanted to be affected in some way by the lessons they learned. Those things never happened. I just don't think THE PRETTY ONE was that type of story.

What I do think THE PRETTY ONE set out to do, and ultimately accomplished, was offer a satirical look at sibling relationships. I certainly hope that there aren't many sisters who are as competitive or resentful of each other as the Hellinger girls were; however, there were certain things that did ring true. I am pretty sure that female readers, and especially ones with sisters, will recognize some of the characters' feelings and actions to be honest; and I appreciated that I could laugh at them.

As far as comical books go, THE PRETTY ONE was funny. In fact, I initially thought it was extremely funny. However,the more I read, the more the humor started sounding the same. Eventually, the tension and snarky comments weren't as funny and some of the humor got a little old. Don't get me wrong, THE PRETTY ONE had plenty of funny scenes and the dysfunctional relationships between the characters were entertaining. I think I just needed a little more substance thrown in to juxtapose all of the funny scenes.

Despite my few issues with THE PRETTY ONE, I still think it would make for a lively book club discussion. I have a feeling that these characters will drive many women mad, but I also think others will relate to them. And if nothing else, rehashing their actions would be a lot of fun. There is a reading guide available with eight questions that will also help stimulate your discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include jealousy, adultery, self acceptance, guilt, secrets, dysfunctional families, responsibility and love.

Overall, THE PRETTY ONE was an entertaining novel and sure to entertain those women who have ever felt that they are at odds with their sister.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Heart Like Mine

Summary: Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be? 

At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again. But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover that there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew. Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant, hopeful portrait of womanhood, love, and the challenges and joys of family life. -- Washington Square Press

In the past few years, I've read quite a few books by Amy Hatvany -- I think it's four in a little over a year and a half. In fact, I can't think of another author that I've read this much! I always seem to enjoy her novels because they are so honest, and her most recent one HEART LIKE MINE is no different.

HEART LIKE MINE explores some very complex family relationships and is told from alternating characters' views. It begins with Grace, a successful 36 year old woman who has chosen to focus on her career and never have children. When she falls in love with Victor, a divorced man and father to Max and Ava, she figures that she can "do" the part-time step mom-thing because she truly believes he's the one. However, Grace's entire world is turned upside-down when Kelli, Victor's ex, is discovered dead. Knowing that she never wanted to be a mother, she isn't entirely sure she's ready to take on two kids who have just lost their mother.

In addition to Grace, the story is also told through the eyes of the young teen daughter Ava. Naturally, Ava is distraught over the loss of her mother while also trying to navigate the already difficult world of divorced parents and schools. She isn't about to make things easy for Grace and she's definitely causing some tension Grace and Victor's relationship. In addition, she feels like she didn't really have the chance to get to know her mother and she's determined to learn about her secretive past.

Finally, there are some chapters from Kelli's perspective. Since the book begins with Kelli already dead, these chapters are, of course, flashbacks into Kelli's past; and they explain a great deal about Kelli's state of mind as well as her estranged relationship with her family. While I appreciated getting to know this character and liked how these chapters worked to reveal the mystery surrounding her death and her past, I felt that something was a little strange in having chapters from a dead character's point-of-view. I'm not sure how else Kelli's story could have been told differently, but I found it a little jolting at times to go back and forth between present day and a dead character's past.

Overall, I did enjoy HEART LIKE MINE, but I have to say that much of the story was very predictable to me. I still felt as if the story was a good one and the characters were definitely interesting. I especially appreciated how the novel explored some tough themes about the complexities of families. However, HEART LIKE MINE definitely wasn't my favorite of Ms. Hatvany's books -- that honor goes to the first one I read BEST KEPT SECRET. You can read my review here.

Having said that, there are still quite a few things that made HEART LIKE MINE stand out to me including the character development, the different viewpoints, and Ms. Hatvany's writing style. However, I think what I most appreciated about this book was how honest it was. I appreciated how the author juxtaposed Grace's ideas about being a mother with Kelli's, and I think she did a very fair job of presenting both sides in
this motherhood argument. In addition, I thought her portrayal of Ava and her treatment of Grace was extremely real. While parts of this story were almost difficult for me to read because of the characters' pain, I still liked that I could imagine them as being "real" people.

I do think fans of Ms. Hatvany's will appreciate HEART LIKE MINE. This novel still encompasses what I've come to love at her novels -- intriguing characters dealing with some very complex (and very real) situations. In addition, I think many women will be able to relate to these characters and their problems. While most women (hopefully) won't experience the the levels of loss and grief that these three did, the difficulties that stepmothers and stepchildren face will undoubtedly seem familiar to some readers. In addition, I imagine that the themes of divorce, remarriage, and family troubles will resonate with many readers. 

Because HEART LIKE MINE does explore so many relevant issues in today's society, I think it would make a great book club pick. As is the case with all of Ms. Hatvany's books, the characters and their actions are fascinating, and I think many different women will see them (and judge them) differently. Needless to say, these differences in opinion have the potential to provide some stimulating discussion. There is a reading guide available with thirteen discussion questions as well as some ideas to enhance your book club discussion. Some of the themes you might want to talk about include motherhood, divorce, family dynamics, loss, grief, guilt, forgiveness, acceptance, dishonesty, and secrets!

Overall, I did like HEART OF MINE but I didn't love it. I still would recommend it to fans of Ms. Hatvany's as well as readers who enjoy stories about complex family dynamics.

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: Angelology & Giveaway

Summary: A thrilling epic about an ancient clash reignited in our time--between a hidden society and heaven's darkest creatures 

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. --Genesis 6:

Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 letter from the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent plunges Evangeline into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim.

For the secrets these letters guard are desperately coveted by the once-powerful Nephilim, who aim to perpetuate war, subvert the good in humanity, and dominate mankind. Generations of angelologists have devoted their lives to stopping them, and their shared mission, which Evangeline has long been destined to join, reaches from her bucolic abbey on the Hudson to the apex of insular wealth in New York, to the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and the mountains of Bulgaria.

Rich in history, full of mesmerizing characters, and wondrously conceived, Angelology blends biblical lore, the myth of Orpheus and the Miltonic visions of Paradise Lost into a riveting tale of ordinary people engaged in a battle that will determine the fate of the world. -- Penguin

I remember when loads of bloggers were raving about ANGELOLOGY by Danielle Trussoni. Part of me wanted to read it because it was so popular, but another (and maybe bigger) part of me thought it sounded like a book that I wouldn't appreciate. As many of you already know, I love thrillers and enjoy the occasional historical fiction, but I am not a huge fan of fantasy and the supernatural. So I decided to pass on ANGELOLOGY.

Fast forward to March of this year when I learned that the sequel to ANGELOLOGY -- ANGELOPOLIS -- is ready to be released. I read a few blogger reviews of this new novel and saw that it was getting some great buzz too, and I decided that maybe I should re-think my initial impression of the books. So late last week, I picked up ANGELOLOGY and found that I couldn't put it down. Much to my surprise, I loved this novel! You could have knocked me over with a feather!

ANGELOLOGY is part mystery/thriller, part historical fiction and part love story. I will attempt to summarize the story; however, I warn you that the next few sentences only begin to scratch the surface of this compelling novel. You honestly need to read it for yourself!!!

The story begins with Evangeline, a young nun who is part of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and works in their library. When she receives a request from a man who wants access to their records to see if there is any correspondence between the late mother superior and Abigail Rockefeller, she pens their regular response that they don't allow outsiders access; however, something stops her from actually sending the letter. For some reason, Evangeline's interest in this stranger's letter is piqued. She begins looking around and, much to her surprise, finds a 1943 letter between the two women that offers more questions than answers.

Evangeline begins her own sort of investigation that throws her into a world of secrets. She discovers that there has been a long-time on-going conflict between a secret society of Angelogists and Nephilim, the descendants of angels and humans, that she is destined to join. As Evangeline learns more about the history of the convent as well as her own relatives and the parts they've played in this war, she finds that she must walk away from the security of the convent and venture out into this dangerous new world.

I admit that ANGELOLOGY really amazed me. Not only was I not really expecting to like it, but I actually thought the description made the book sound a little strange. As someone who doesn't read a lot of books with supernatural elements, I have to say this story was very believable. I immediately got caught up in Evangeline's story and everything was presented so well that I never even questioned the reality of what was happening. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the very complex story was so well thought out and everything just came together so smoothly. That's a huge testament to this author's storytelling abilities.

Another aspect of this novel that I really enjoyed was how well it went back and forth between the various characters' stories as well as how well it transitioned between the present and the past. I loved both the present day stories and the past ones, and I was extremely impressed with how effortlessly the story moved between them.

I also liked how much ground ANGELOLOGY covered. It was also very apparent to me that Ms. Trussoni did a huge amount of research prior to (or while) writing this novel. I appreciated the details about present day convent life, but I also enjoyed so much of the history of the Middle Ages and the Nazi regime as well all of the biblical references.

In addition, I loved the thriller aspects of the story -- and boy were there a lot of suspenseful moments. I read a fair amount of mysteries and thrillers each year, and I've found that ANGELOLOGY ranks right up there with my favorites of 2013. I don't want to give away too much about the story, but suffice it to say that Evangeline's (and her friend's) involvement in this long-time conflict was incredibly intriguing. The author did a fabulous job of making it suspenseful and keeping it suspenseful (which is much harder to do in my opinion.) In addition, I loved how I was managed to be surprised numerous times during this novel!

I seriously could go on and on about many more terrific things about ANGELOLOGY, but I won't! I feel as if my review has only scratched the surface about the depth of the story and I'm certain that I haven't done it justice. My hope is that I've at least given you enough to tempt you to read it. And if you've already read it, then you know what I'm talking about!

If you are looking for a very smart and entertaining book that's a little different than your typical book club fare, then you might want to consider selecting ANGELOLOGY. There is a reading guide available with ten interesting discussion questions that's included in the paperback version of the novel. Some of the themes you might want to explore include secrets, the role of angels, war, betrayal, sacrifice, salvation, vows/promises, obligation, and religion. In addition, I think it might be fun to delve into the characters' actions and motivations.

Needless to say, I adored ANGELOLOGY and I can't wait to read the sequel ANGELOPOLIS!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of ANGELOLOGY and the sequel ANGELOPOLIS to share with one lucky reader! To enter, just fill out the form below before April 2nd 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!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

Summary: Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn't make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows that Bonaventure's silence is filled with resonance—a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer. 

Bonaventure's remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mère Letice, plagued by grief and a long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed. -- Harper

I can pretty much assure you that I wouldn't ever have picked up THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW by Rita Leganski if I weren't a member of the She Reads network. I am usually not one for magical realism, but I decided to give it a try since I did commit to reading the She Reads monthly selection. At first, I was pretty certain that this book would be a chore for me to read since I had a hard time getting into the story; however, I relaxed and allowed myself to get caught up in Bonaventure's life. And I actually ended up enjoying this novel quite a bit.

THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW is definitely a unique novel. When Bonaventure Arrow was born, he was eerily quiet. In fact, Bonaventure was unable to make a peep as a baby or a youngster, but he was given a beautiful gift in return -- the ability to hear every single sound in the universe... and that includes the voice of his dead father.

Bonaventure's silence ends up being a gift to his loved ones. His mother, who continues to mourn the loss of her husband, and his grandmother, who can't reconcile a mysterious event from her past, find a sort of salvation through Bonaventure; and his dead father who roams the earth trying to come to terms with his own death also ends up finding grace because of his son's special gift. With the help of a Creole housekeeper who has her own set of special gifts, Bonaventure uncovers many secrets from the past and allows his family to begin the process of healing.

Because THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW was a little outside my comfort zone, I thought it started kind of slowly. Having said that, I'm sure readers more familiar with this genre will not feel this way. And while I did take me awhile to really enjoy this story, it didn't take me any time at all to appreciate Ms. Leganski's lyrical writing style. Her prose is gorgeous and she definitely brought the characters and the Louisiana setting to life.

I really feel that I could go on and on about these characters because I became very attached to them while reading this story. I absolutely adored little Bonaventure, and his immediate family members were well drawn and very complex characters too. I could almost feel the pain that Bonaventure's mom, grandmother, and father were experiencing, and it warmed my heart that Bonaventure was able to help them all heal.

It really is no wonder that THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW was selected as a March 2013 Indie Next List Selection and that it received a starred review from Library Journal. The story and the characters are quite intriguing, and I appreciated how the book explored voodoo, superstition, and various types of healing. But I suspect what made this book extra-special were the messages about love and listening. Through Bonaventure, the reader can examine the difference between hearing and listening and how wonderful a gift listening can be.

Naturally, THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW would make an interesting book club selection. There is a reading guide available with twelve thought-provoking questions. I've probably been over this already, but some of the themes you might want to discuss include hearing vs. listening, salvation, healing, redemption, forgiveness, acceptance, love, isolation, religion, and faith.

I think fans of magical realism are going to adore THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW. And I highly suspect that a few "non" fans of magical realism (ahem like me!) just might find that they think this is a pretty special book too.

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Cover of Snow (Audio)

Summary: Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora Hamilton instantly knows that something is wrong. When her fog of sleep clears, she finds her world is suddenly, irretrievably shattered: Her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide.

The first few hours following Nora’s devastating discovery pass for her in a blur of numbness and disbelief. Then, a disturbing awareness slowly settles in: Brendan left no note and gave no indication that he was contemplating taking his own life. Why would a rock-solid police officer with unwavering affection for his wife, job, and quaint hometown suddenly choose to end it all? Having spent a lifetime avoiding hard truths, Nora must now start facing them.

Unraveling her late husband’s final days, Nora searches for an explanation—but finds a bewildering resistance from Brendan’s best friend and partner, his fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. It quickly becomes clear to Nora that she is asking questions no one wants to answer. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies a powerful conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep its presence unknown . . . and its darkest secrets hidden. -- Random House Audio

I probably shouldn't have ever started to listen to COVER OF SNOW by Jenny Milchman. But that's easy to say in hindsight! After reading Jill's review of this novel, I admit that I had a few doubts; however, I also read three more blogger reviews that were much more positive. I thought it was worth a shot. Plus I enjoy listening to mysteries while I run. I figured, "How bad could it be?"

Well... let me just say that COVER OF SNOW wasn't my favorite read of 2013. In fact, most of it really didn't work for me at all. I honestly didn't "get" the characters or their motives, and I thought the mystery was a little too far-fetched. In a psychological novel like this one, I need to be able to get in the minds of the characters and/or the victims to truly appreciate the story, and I just wasn't able to do that with this book.

Furthermore, I didn't really like the main characters or care much about what happened to them. I even found it hard to believe that the main character was as clueless about her husband, his family, and his friends as she seemed to be. There were just too many things about COVER OF SNOW that I had a hard time accepting.

COVER OF SNOW tells the story of Nora Hamilton, a woman who finds that her husband Brendan has committed suicide. After the initial shock of his death wears off, Nora begins to wonder why her husband didn't show any signs of depression or leave a suicide note for that matter. As a way to find some peace, she begins her own investigation into her husband's death.

As Nora starts asking questions about Brendan's final days, she finds that his coworkers on the police force as well as his mother aren't exactly open with their answers. As she digs deeper, she finds that there is a huge conspiracy in this small town, and the co-conspirators will do whatever it takes to protect their interests.

For the most part, I really love blogging and sharing my thoughts about books I've read; however, every once in awhile, I dread writing a review. That has most definitely been the case with COVER OF SNOW. I have read that Ms. Milchman is a great person, and I don't want to trash her debut novel just because it didn't resonate with me. In fact, I do think she has some potential as a writer; and I thought some of her prose was very well-written. I just think the story needed some refining.

The COVER OF SNOW audio book was read by Cassandra Campbell and I think she did a good job. As someone who doesn't listen to a ton of audio books, I have a hard time separating the story from the reader, but I do think she became one with Nora's character. I also thought her pace and inflections were very much in keeping with the overall tone of the novel. You can listen for yourself below:

Rather than focus on what I didn't appreciate about this novel, I want to share that there are plenty of readers and reviewers out there who really liked this mystery. For instance, Booklist and Kirkus both gave it starred reviews, and S. Krishna's Books enjoyed it too -- you can read her review here. It's entirely possible that I just wasn't in the right mood for this book when I read it.

While it didn't work for me, I am certain that there are readers out there who will love COVER OF SNOW. If you appreciate psychological thrillers, then you just might want to give this one a shot!

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, March 16, 2013

Kid Konnection: I Funny

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 cute book that's perfect for middle grade readers!

Summary: Jamie Grimm is a middle schooler on a mission: he wants to become the world's greatest standup comedian--even if he doesn't have a lot to laugh about these days. He's new in town and stuck living with his aunt, uncle, and their evil son Stevie, a bully who doesn't let Jamie's wheelchair stop him from messing with Jamie as much as possible. But Jamie doesn't let his situation get him down. He practices the craft of stand-up every day on friends, family, and the willing customers at his Uncle Frankie's diner. When Uncle Frankie mentions a contest called The Planet's Funniest Kid Comic, Jamie knows he has to enter. But are the judges only rewarding him out of pity because of his wheelchair, like Stevie suggests? Will Jamie ever share the secret of his troubled past instead of hiding behind his comedy act?

Following the bestselling success of the hilarious Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life, James Patterson continues to dish out the funnies in another highly-illustrated, heartfelt middle school story. -- Little, Brown

I love discovering fun middle grade books that are geared towards boys. While Booking Son isn't quite ready for middle grade books yet, he's close... and he's not exactly the most eager reader. Unless it's a sports book, I'd almost call him a reluctant reader; and I want to available some books that entice him.

I think I FUNNY: A MIDDLE SCHOOL STORY by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein (with illustrations by Laura Park) might fit the bill. When he saw this novel sitting out on my desk, he immediately asked where I got it and then he read the back cover! He also said he saw one of his friends reading it on the bus. Hopefully (I'm keeping my fingers crossed), he'll start reading it shortly!

I FUNNY is a cute story about Jamie Grimm, a middle schooler who wants to be the world's greatest stand up comedian. Unfortunately for Jamie, he's had quite a few changes in his life recently. He's at a new school and living with a new family, and worst of all, he's living in a wheelchair. However, Jamie manages to put on a happy face and continues to practice his routines on anybody and everybody he meets.

When Jamie's uncle tells him about a contest called The Planet's Funniest Kid Comic, Jamie secretly enters and discovers that he really is funny. Or isn't he? Do the judges and audience just feel sorry for Jamie? As Jamie begins to gain more confidence in his stand up abilities, he also learns that he doesn't have to keep all of his sadness to himself.

I really liked I FUNNY and thought it was a fantastic book. Even more importantly, I think kids are going to love it! This book has a little bit of everything -- an interesting story, wonderful illustrations, a likable main character, hilarious jokes, history about famous stand up comics, and even some poignant moments. It is most definitely entertaining and a quick read to boot! I'm betting even reluctant readers are going to find something to like about I FUNNY!

As a mom, I'm just thrilled that there are books like I FUNNY out there. I loved that I FUNNY provided some valuable lessons to children. In addition to exploring some tough issues like bullying, grief, and self confidence, this novel also teaches children a lot about the history of stand up comedy. Jamie is a great student of the art and he's constantly giving background on comedians as well as some famous sayings from their acts.

In addition, I like that the book is pretty substantial (over 300 pages), yet there are plenty of great sketches thrown in. Not only are these illustrations really good and funny, but they also make the books less intimidating for some children. I actually found that the drawings were outstanding and definitely enhanced the overall story.

I FUNNY was terribly funny and I laughed quite a bit; however, I also found that this book had some touching moments. Naturally, my heart went out to Jamie for all of the heartache he'd faced in recent months; and even though I knew where the story was going, I still teared up for how he was attempting to handle his pain. Like many successful stand up comedians, Jamie channeled his insecurities and unhappy childhood events into his routine and managed to make people laugh. I especially appreciated that Jamie eventually was able to share his pain with others though. I have a feeling that this kid is going to be okay!

I really can't rave enough about I FUNNY! It's an adorable book with some great messages and I know kids are going to love Jamie and his jokes.

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!

Description: PR3519F_IFunny Contest_Email header.psd

Do You Know Any FUNNY Kids?

Now is the chance for them to strut their stuff for the chance to win BIG in Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’
I Funny.  You Funny?  Search for the Funniest Kids Comedy Contest, presented by #1  bestselling author James Patterson, in support of his newest New York Times bestseller!

How Does It Work?
·      Kids 8-15 can submit a 60-second clip via YouTube (through a parent/guardian) of an original stand-up routine via the  link below
·      One Grand Prize Winner will receive a VIP Tour of Universal Studios Florida themepark in Orlando (July 6-8, 2013!)
·      Contest runs January 28-April 15th

Visit for more information, link to enter, and a special message from James Patterson and Diary of a Wimpy Kid film star Zachary Gordon on the contest!