Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: 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

A few months ago, I reviewed OVERSEAS by Beatriz Williams, and much to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed the novel. The premise didn't exactly appeal to me, but I appreciated Ms. Williams' writing style and storytelling abilities. However, when I read the description for her latest novel A HUNDRED SUMMERS, I had a feeling that this book would be right up my alley. And I was so right!

A HUNDRED SUMMERS tells the story of Lily Dane when she returns with her family to Seaview, Rhode Island for a peaceful summer vacation. However, her plans are turned upside-down when Nick and Budgie Greenwald, friends from her past, also show up in Seaview. Budgie was Lily's one-time best friend and Nick was her former fiance, and Lily has a difficult time facing both of them given their recent marriage and her attraction to Nick. Unfortunately, Seaview is a small town and it's hard not to run into each other on a regular basis.

As the summer progresses, Lily and Nick discover that they can't control their passions and Budgie becomes even more desperate to hold onto her husband. As a major hurricane approaches Seaview (both figuratively and literally), things become even more desperate for this trio.

You might have noticed that I left my description of the book pretty vague. And that's because I think it's best just to experience without knowing too much -- like I did. The story has many flashbacks to the past, and I admit to being a little confused about what had happened between 1931 and the 1938 summer at Seaview. There were obviously some secrets and many dramatic twists during those seven years, and I think Ms. Williams did a great job of gradually revealing the characters' pasts.

One this I loved about this book was the setting. I am a sucker for books that take place at the beach, and Seaview (a fictitious town, by the way) was so glamorous. I loved the descriptions of the clothes, hair and makeup; and I also appreciated how women were portrayed in this time period. Additionally, I was impressed with how the author incorporated the devastating 1938 hurricane into the story. It was apparent to me that she did a great deal of research on both the time period, the setting, and the hurricane.

I'm usually not a big fan of romance and drama, so I'm not exactly sure why I enjoyed A HUNDRED SUMMERS so much. Maybe I need the occasional fix now that I no longer watch afternoon soaps. Trust me when I tell you that this book was filled with drama and much of it was pretty scandalous and juicy. While I liked Lily and Nick (for the most part), I couldn't stand Budgie and her actions. I think I enjoyed her over-the-top behavior and had fun rooting against a bad guy (or in this case, a bad girl!) Furthermore, I liked the love triangle (or square?) and I enjoyed trying to figure out everyone's secrets.

If I had one small issue with the book, it's probably the ending. It's not that I didn't like it. Rather, I thought it kind of wrapped everything up a little too nicely. Having said that, I wasn't too disappointed since things did work out how I wanted!

I do think A HUNDRED SUMMERS would be a great book for your book club to discuss this summer, especially is you want a book with a beach setting. The characters and their interactions are fascinating and there is certainly the potential to delve into their lives. There are also some interesting themes to explore including friendship, betrayal, prejudice, secrets, marriage, adultery, forgiveness, love, and redemption.

A HUNDRED SUMMERS is a juicy read and a wonderful book to throw in your beach bag this summer.

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: The Era of Not Quite

Summary: Douglas Watson's debut story collection is chock-a-block with deaths, births, sea and land voyages, excursions to the library, philosophical asides, and things like wolves. People fall in and out of love, walk in and out of buildings, take two steps forward and two steps back. Futility is a theme of the book, but so is the necessity of trying. -- BOA Editions

I should probably preface my review of THE ERA OF NOT QUITE by Douglas Watson by telling you that I "know" the author. He is a close friend of my brother-in-law's and I've met him a few times over the years, but I really wouldn't call him a friend -- more of an acquaintance. At a party a little over a year ago, he told me that his first book was being published, and (the book geek that I am) I mentioned that I'd love to read it.

A few months ago, Doug emailed me asking if I'd take a look at his book THE ERA OF NOT QUITE. He described it as "vaguely absurdist, death-haunted short stories." Of course, I jumped at the chance but I admit that I was a little concerned that this book was outside of my normal reading fare. I remember him telling me that this book isn't for everyone, and I was under no commitment to read it, review it, or even like it!

So it was with a little excitement and a little trepidation that I picked up THE ERA OF NOT QUITE. THE ERA OF NOT QUITE is a collection of truly original short stories that deal with a little bit of everything -- life, death, and love. But it's also about the living -- both the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. I realize this description sounds pretty vague, but it is difficult to summarize this book in just a few sentences. I will just say that this small book covers a lot... and packs a powerful punch.

THE ERA OF NOT QUITE also has some unique characters who experience some extremely unique situations. I'm not going to lie to you -- this book is a little bit weird! It is unlike any collection of short stories (or books for that matter) that I've ever read. But I absolutely adored THE ERA OF NOT QUITE -- and it has absolutely nothing to do with "knowing" the author. These stories were entertaining and often times surprising, and I actually found that I couldn't put the book down because I couldn't wait to see what was around the next corner.

Naturally, there were stories that I enjoyed more than others, but I can honestly say that there wasn't a dinger in the bunch. Even those stories that didn't exactly resonate with me provided me with a great deal of enjoyment. I found myself laughing constantly at the absurdity of the characters and their actions, but I also found myself blown away by just how smart this book is. I promise you that each story will at the very least surprise you and cause you to think. And I always say that if a book can make you think, then it's a winner. (I think Oprah says something similar but her words hold much more power than mine!)

There is no doubt that Doug Watson has some mad writing skills. THE ERA OF NOT QUITE has already won the BOA Short Fiction Prize and a few of the stories have appeared in Tin House (online), Sou'Wester, and Fifty-Two Stories. But he also has a slightly twisted mind and that's evident in the originality and brilliance of these stories. In fact, THE ERA OF NOT QUITE is so smart and witty that I actually scratched my head that one individual could create them.

However, I think what impressed me the most about this book is just how "different" each story felt. Of course, there are recurring themes throughout many of the stories gave the book a feeling of continuity, but each story almost seemed as if it could have been written by a different writer. Some were almost like fables, while others were dark and depressing, and others were almost whimsical. THE ERA OF NOT QUITE is truly a special and extremely well written book!

If you are looking for something a little different than what you ordinarily read, that's smart and funny and insightful, then I highly recommend reading THE ERA OF NOT QUITE.

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Giveaway: Shadow of Night

Summary: J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Anne Rice—only a few writers capture the imagination the way that Deborah Harkness has done with books one and two of her New York Times–bestselling All Souls trilogy. A Discovery of Witches introduced reluctant witch Diana Bishop, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and the battle for a lost, enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Harkness’s much-anticipated sequel, Shadow of Night, picks up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending. Diana and Matthew time-travel to Elizabethan London and are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana searches for a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey. -- Penguin

SHADOW OF NIGHT by Deborah Harkness, the #1 New York Times bestselling sequel to A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, is out in paperback today! I actually haven't gotten around to reading SHADOW OF NIGHT... yet, but I really enjoyed A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES (my review), and I'm sure the sequel will be equally entertaining!

And more exciting news: there is a virtual book event on BookTalk Nation on June 4th at 2:00 p.m. EST. Deborah Harkness and her editor Carole DeSanti, the author of THE UNRULY PASSIONS OF EUGENIE R, will be available for a chat. Fans can join by phone and buy personalized copies of the book by ordering online here.  

To celebrate the paperback release of SHADOWN OF NIGHT, I have a copy plus these alchemical symbol buttons to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 10th at 11:59 p.m. EST. 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!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: No Way Back (Audio)

Summary: Wendy Gould is an attractive, happy suburban mom, and an experienced ex-cop. A chance meeting with a stranger in a hotel ends when the man is murdered and she's the only witness, forcing her to run from rogue federal agents determined to keep her silent, even if it means killing her. Things only get worse when the authorities—the wrong ones—find their way to her door, giving her no recourse but to flee from her only safe haven. 

Lauritzia Velez, meanwhile, is a devoted nanny. She's also a woman with a deadly secret that has driven her into hiding until she can prove her innocence. 

Scared and alone, these two women with nothing in common will eventually join forces and embark on a dangerous odyssey to find the truth and save their lives. It's a desperate hunt that leads them into a nefarious web of treachery, lies, and corruption involving drug lords, arms dealers, and shadowy figures in the highest echelons of government. 

A breathtaking tale featuring two strong, sympathetic women who must rely on each other to take down powerful, lethal forces, No Way Back is a riveting tale full of twists and thrilling surprises from the bestselling author who is "coming up on the rails behind Harlan Coben and Lee Child" (Evening Standard, U.K.). -- Harper Audio

Some of you might recognize Andrew Gross's name as a co-writer on many best-selling James Patterson books; however, it seems like his solo efforts are proving to be quite successful too. His latest novel NO WAY BACK is getting some rave reviews, and I have to say that I enjoyed listening to this story a great deal.

NO WAY BACK begins with Wendy Gould, a woman who is reeling from a fight the previous evening with her husband. As she is waiting for a friend to join her at a bar, she strikes up a conversation with an attractive man and ends up following him to his hotel room. Just as things are heating up, she realizes that she loves her husband and children and she doesn't want to have an affair. While freshening up in the bathroom, a few men break into the room and murder the man. Wendy is identified as a witness and escapes the hotel room only to be followed by these men who just happen to be federal agents. These agents arrange things to that Wendy looks guilty, and she has no choice but to go on the run and try to prove her innocence.

In the meantime, Lauritzia Velez is working as a nanny and takes the children to the mall one day. Gunshots break up, but Lauritzia risks her own life to save the kids. Despite being considered a hero, Laurtizia decides that she has to leave town because she suspects that she was the actual target of the attack. She has many secrets from her family's past that she has spent her entire life trying to shed.

Both Wendy and Lauritzia are on a quest to save themselves; and they realize if they work together, they will have a better chance. Their quest for the truth leads them to some dangerous places as they encounter some devious individuals who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

I am definitely glad that I decided to listen to NO WAY BACK. It was an exciting read that definitely kept me guessing. In fact at the beginning of the novel, I was even a little confused about how Wendy and Lauritzia's stories were even related. But I know that was the author's intent. As the story progressed and became more complex, I had absolutely no idea about motives; and I have to say that the twists and turns were rather startling. I wish I could say that I guessed correctly a few times, but that would be a lie. Rather, I was amazed that Wendy was able to make so many conclusions given the information at hand.

One thing I appreciated that this novel was that it had two strong women as the main characters. It's not unheard of, but it is rare, to read a thriller like NO WAY BACK with two female leads. I liked that the author gave enough information about these characters' pasts to make them resonate with the reader; and for the most part, their behavior was pretty believable. I won't go so far as to say that these characters were fully developed, but who really expects that in an action-packed thriller?

There is no doubt that Andrew Gross has come into his own as a best-selling thriller writer. In NO WAY BACK, he wrote a finely tuned mystery that managed to hold my attention the entire time. The premise of the story was extremely intriguing and his ability to take the reader on such an exciting ride says a great deal. Needless to say, I look forward to reading more novels by Mr. Gross.

The audio book version of NO WAY BACK was narrated by Lorelei King. I loved listening to Ms. King read the latest Janet Evanovich novel a few months ago, and I thought she did an outstanding job with this one too. Her range of characters and her variety of accents was pretty impressive. Additionally, I think both her male and female voices were believable. I think I will actually seek out more of her work!

NO WAY BACK was an action-packed novel with twists at every turn. Recommended for fans of suspense novels and thrillers.

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, May 25, 2013

Kid Konnection: Matilda

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 classic Roald Dahl book that's celebrating it's 25 year anniversary!

Summary: “The Trunchbull” is no match for Matilda!

Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she's just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It'll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it! -- Puffin

I finally got around the reading the childhood classic MATILDA by Roald Dahl! It wasn't around when I was a kid, and somehow, I missed it when Booking Daughter read it a few years ago. I am so glad I did! MATILDA was so much fun and I couldn't help but fall a little in love with the title character.

MATILDA tells the story of an amazing little girl named Matilda. Matilda is brilliant, but her parents don't appreciate her remarkable talents. She teaches herself to read and tackles Dickens classics before she's five! Matilda can't wait to begin school and learn even more. When she meets Miss Trunchbull, the mean headmistress, she quickly realizes that things at school aren't much better than they are on the home front. One day when Miss Trunchbull is picking on Matilda, Matilda realizes that she has a superpower that might come in handy against bullies. She hones her skill and uses it to her advantage to save the day!

I can certainly see why MATILDA is such a childhood classic. It's a great story with a wonderful main character, and it's entertaining enough to keep the attention of even the most reluctant readers. The story is beyond silly and it even has a bit of the supernatural, but it also has some terrific messages. And the ending is absolutely perfect!

I was fortunate enough to read the 25th anniversary edition of MATILDA which is illustrated by Quentin Blake. His pictures are adorable and the perfect complement to this whimsical story. As mother to an eight year old, I liked that there were loads of drawings included in the book because it breaks up the text... and makes it less intimidating to younger children.

Make sure you check out the fantastic giveaway I'm hosting for a copy of the Matilda the Musical soundtrack, a Matilda the Musical poster, and a paperback copy of Matilda!

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

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: Looking for Me & Giveaway

Summary: Beth Hoffman’s bestselling debut, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, won admirers and acclaim with its heartwarming story and cast of unforgettable characters. Now her unique flair for evocative settings and richly drawn Southern personalities shines in her compelling new novel, Looking for Me.

Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last.  But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.

Looking for Me brilliantly melds together themes of family, hope, loss, and a mature once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. The result is a tremendously moving story that is destined to make bestselling author Beth Hoffman a novelist to whom readers will return again and again as they have with Adriana Trigiani, Fannie Flagg, and Joshilyn Jackson. -- Pamela Dorman

I feel obligated to begin this review for LOOKING FOR ME by Beth Hoffman by saying that I adore Beth. She is truly one of the nicest women that I've ever met in my entire life, and she's a talented writer too! I absolutely loved SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that I've been dying to read her new novel.

LOOKING FOR ME is a wonderful novel and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it a great deal -- and that's not because I happen to love the author. This novel is beautifully written and sure to remain in your thoughts long after you finish the last page. The characters and their stories are so complex; and as a result, it touched my heart like few books do.

LOOKING FOR ME tells the story of Teddi Overman, a woman who left her family's farm in Kentucky to follow her dream of owning an antique store. She arrives in Charleston and through sheer determination (along with a little luck and kindness) works her way up to having her own store. She even manages to find some special friends. However, Teddi is still haunted by her brother Josh's mysterious disappearance and the effect it had on her family.

Teddi has never given up the hope that Josh is still alive despite all the evidence against proves otherwise, and it has wreaked some havoc on her life. She has a strained relationship with her mother and she hasn't been very successful with romantic relationships. When Teddi receives an indication that Josh is alive, she returns home to Kentucky. There she not only learns more about the secrets her family has been keeping, but she also begins to discover herself.

LOOKING FOR ME is truly a beautiful book for so many reasons. Any one who has read CEECEE knows that Beth has a knack for storytelling and creating memorable characters, but I think she's outdone herself with LOOKING FOR ME. I absolutely loved Teddi and I loved being along on her journey to self-discovery. Teddi wasn't perfect and had made some mistakes in her past, but her heart was so big... and her actions were so generous. I was just thrilled that she was able to come to terms with her past and eventually find some sort of peace and happiness.

In many ways, LOOKING FOR ME was Teddi's coming-of-age story. And this girl loves a good coming-of-age tale. I think the way Beth chose to tell this story added to my enjoyment. The book took place when Teddi was an adult but it also had flashbacks to her childhood. I loved that I was able to see Teddi as a child, and especially her relationship with Josh, because it gave me additional insight into the adult that Teddi became. I appreciated seeing just how much she grew as a person and how her family and friends shaped her life.

Rather than go on and on about how special LOOKING FOR ME is, I thought I'd mention how this book affected me personally. When I picked up this novel, I certainly expected to be entertained and even touched by the story, but I didn't expect it to make me think and feel quite as much as it did. I think (no, I know!) that's a testament to Beth's writing. There were just so many quality characters in this story whose actions made a difference in the lives of others. I definitely walked away from reading this novel holding onto the idea that giving back to others is so important whether it be through friendship, support, kindness or even financial aid.

I don't claim to know Beth well, but I have spent some time with her; and I can honestly say that she has a heart of gold. From the little I do know about Beth, I have a feeling that LOOKING FOR ME is a book that's very near and dear to her. So much of this story just seemed to have Beth written all over it -- from the characters' love of animals, to the setting of a Kentucky farm, to Teddi's passion for antiques and furniture, to the generosity of the characters. I actually felt as if I had a little glimpse into her mind!

Naturally, I'm going to recommend LOOKING FOR ME for book clubs! It really is the ideal book for your next meeting. There is a reading guide which delves into some of the major themes, but there is so much to discuss that I'm not even sure you need one -- maybe it will help keep your conversation on track! Some of the things you might want to explore include secrets, family dynamics, parent/child love, forgiveness, passion, kindness, charity, and hope.

LOOKING FOR ME is a well-written story and I promise that it will touch your heart! Highly recommended.

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

Giveaway alert: I have an audio copy of the LOOKING FOR ME, courtesy of the author, to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 6th at 11:59 p.m. EST. 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!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Matilda 25th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway

Summary: Matilda is a genius. Unfortunately, her family treats her like a dolt. Her crooked car-salesman father and loud, bingo-obsessed mother think Matilda's only talent is as a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in their miserable lives. But it's not long before the sweet and sensitive child decides to fight back. Faced with practical jokes of sheer brilliance, her parents don't stand a chance.

Matilda applies her untapped mental powers to rid the school of the evil, child-hating headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, and restore her nice teacher, Miss Honey, to financial security. -- Puffin

Matilda is turning 25 this year! Kind of unbelievable, right? How can it already be 25 years since this wonderfully witty, intelligent five-year-old sprang onto the literary scene, inspiring all of us to read more and fight the man with our powers of telekinesis (Er, or just wish we had powers of telekinesis)? We’re celebrating this milestone with an epic 25-stop blog tour! Follow along to find out how your favorite bloggers feel about Matilda, and for a chance to win a Matilda prize pack at each and every stop! 

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I never read MATILDA with either of my children, but when I learned that MATILDA is 25 years old, I figured it was high time to remedy that. Booking Daughter informed me that she read is when she was a kid, and everyone has read it. Obviously, everyone but me!

So just this week I sat down and dug into MATILDA. I will soon be sharing my views on this delightful (and classic) children's book.
We’re all jealous of Matilda’s amazing abilities to move objects with her mind, but where does it come from? Miss Honey wonders the same thing: 

“’A precocious child,’ Miss Honey said, ‘is one that shows amazing intelligence early on. You are an unbelievably precocious child.’

‘Am I really?’ Matilda asked.

‘Of course you are. You must be aware of that. Look at your reading. Look at your mathematics.’

‘I suppose you’re right.’ Matilda said.

Miss Honey marveled at the child’s lack of conceit and self-consciousness.

‘I can’t help wondering,’ she said, ‘whether this sudden ability that has come to you, of being able to move an object without touching it, whether it might have something to do with your brainpower.’

Even if the rest of us never achieve telekinesis, books can give everyone a kind of superpower. 

Every Thursday, bloggers participating in the Matilda 25th Anniversary tour will write about what kind of superpower they’ve gained from reading.

Here's my question: Matilda has superpowers that allow her to move objects with her mind. We can’t all be that lucky, but I think we all gain superpowers through reading, like an Anti-cynicism superpower or the superpower to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What superpower have you gained through reading? Did Matilda help you find that superpower?

I totally agree that reading allows us to gain "superpowers." While I have certainly wished to have Matilda's superpower at one time or another, I can't say that I've had any luck with moving objects with my mind (but I haven't given up hope!) 

What I do have in common with Matilda, though, is a passion for books and reading. The superpower that I've gained through reading isn't an obvious one, but it has made a big difference in my life. By reading all types of books for over 40 years, namely ones that center around other cultures, I've learned to have more compassion and empathy towards those less fortunate than I am. In addition, I have also learned to be more grateful for the blessings in my life!

Feel free to add your own superpower in the comments!
About Roald Dahl:
Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was born in Llandaff, South Wales, and went to Repton School in England. His parents were Norwegian, so holidays were spent in Norway. As he explains in Boy, he turned down the idea of university in favor of a job that would take him to "a wonderful faraway place.” In 1933 he joined the Shell Company, which sent him to Mombasa in East Africa. When World War II began in 1939 he became a fighter pilot and in 1942 was made assistant air attaché in Washington, where he started to write short stories. His first major success as a writer for children was in 1964. Thereafter his children's books brought him increasing popularity, and when he died children mourned the world over. Matilda was published just two years before he died. Quentin Blake, the first Children's Laureate of the United Kingdom, has illustrated most of Roald Dahl's children's books.

Be sure to visit the Official Matilda Facebook page to keep up with all things Matilda

To find out more about Matilda the Musical on Broadway, visit their Facebook page! You can buy tickets, see pictures, and listen to music from Matilda the Musical on their website:
For the next stop on the Matilda 25th Anniversary blog tour, head to I Am a Reader, Not a Writer tomorrow!

Giveaway alert: Did you know Matilda is now a Tony Award-nominated Broadway Musical? The show opened in April and has already been nominated for 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical! Since not everyone can go to New York City to see the show in person, Penguin Teen is bringing the show to you with a Matilda the Musical prize pack giveaway! Enter to win a copy of the Matilda the Musical soundtrack, a Matilda the Musical poster, and a paperback copy of Matilda by Roald Dahl! To enter, just fill out the form below before June 5th 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, May 22, 2013

Review: Porch Lights

Summary: When fireman Jimmy McMullen is killed in the line of duty, his wife, Jackie, and ten-year-old son, Charlie, are devastated. Trusting in the healing power of family, Jackie decides to return to her childhood home on Sullivans Island—a place of lush green grasslands, the heady pungency of Lowcountry Pluff mud, and palmetto fronds swaying in gentle ocean winds.

Thrilled to have her family back, matriarch Annie Britt promises to make their visit perfect. Over the years, Jackie and Annie, like all mothers and daughters, have had differences of opinion. But her estranged and wise husband, Buster, and her best friend, Deb, are sure to keep Annie in line. She's also got the flirtatious widowed physician next door to keep her distracted. Captivated by the island's natural charms, mother, daughter, and grandson will share a memorable, illuminating summer. -- William Morrow Paperbacks

It's almost summer and that means recommendations for beach (or pool) books! I think I have a good one to share with you! It's called PORCH LIGHTS by Dorothea Benton Frank, and I kind of wished I had saved it to read while I am at the Jersey Shore this weekend. This touching novel takes place in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and it both warmed my heart and made me hunger for a relaxing trip to the beach!

PORCH LIGHTS tells the story of Jackie and her mother Annie. Jackie is reeling from the recent loss of her husband in a firefighting accident as well as a few tours of Afghanistan. She decides that a visit to see her parents on Sullivan's Island might be just what she and her young son Charlie need to help the healing process. Naturally, Annie is excited to have her daughter and grandson come for a visit, and she wants everything to be perfect. However, Annie and Jackie haven't always seen eye-to-eye on many things and there is a bit of tension when they are together. To make things even more complex, Annie is attracted to a handsome (and younger) doctor who lives next door -- one who is obviously attracted to Jackie. And (and this is a big one!), Annie and her long-time husband Buster have been living apart for almost eleven years but still have feelings for each other!

Initially, I wasn't sure that PORCH LIGHTS was exactly the type of book that would appeal to me. I'm not a huge fan of this genre, and yet, I really enjoyed this heartwarming story. (Did I mention that it is perfect for the summer?) I quickly became absorbed in the characters and their problems, and I liked how the book played with my emotions. One minute I was laughing at Annie and the next I was tearing up for Jackie and Charlie!

I think credit has to go to Ms. Frank for being able to pull off a story like this one. It could have been so sappy! However, I was extremely impressed with her writing and storytelling abilities as well as her ability to bring the setting to life; and while I will admit that much of the book was predictable, I didn't mind that at all. In fact, I would have been disappointed had the book ended any differently. When I read a book like this, I want happy endings and ones that are wrapped up tightly with a big red bow. PORCH LIGHTS left me with a big smile on my face!

I especially appreciated how the story went back and forth between Jackie and Annie as narrators. I thought Ms. Frank captured both of their voices perfectly, and I liked how it allowed me to understand both characters. Had the story been written with just one of these characters' voices, I would have had an entirely different view of their actions and  motivations.

Another fun aspect of the novel was the Edgar Allen Poe connection. Poe lived in the South Carolina Low Country and there were many references to him throughout the novel. In fact, Annie was an amateur expert on his life! I also appreciated how each chapter began with a snippet from one of his books.

I also liked about PORCH LIGHTS was the character development. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of Jackie and Annie, and I loved their interactions with each other. They both were more similar than they initially thought (or what I initially thought!), and I loved their bantering as well as how they showed their love for each other. Similarly, I liked how this novel explored the dynamics between Annie and her long-time husband Buster. Their relationship was complicated to say the least, but I enjoyed seeing them try to work things out despite their bumpy past (and their strong-willed personalities.)

I also appreciated how much humor was in this novel. Needless to say there were some pretty heavy issues addressed in this story -- war, death, separation, loss, grief, and more -- but the book still had its fair share of light moments. Annie was absolutely hilarious, and while I'm sure she wasn't always easy to live with, I loved her!

In addition to being a great beach book, PORCH LIGHTS would also make a fun summer book club selection. There is a reading guide available with twelve interesting questions. It might also be fun to complement your discussion by making some of the food and beverages that were mentioned in the story. Some of the topics you might want to explore include mother/daughter relationships, forgiveness, healing, loss, grief, and new beginnings!

I really liked PORCH LIGHTS and definitely recommend it as a summer beach read!

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: And the Mountains Echoed

Summary: An unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else.

Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page. -- Riverside

I know I'm not alone when I say that I've been waiting what seems like forever for the release of AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED by Khaled Hosseini. (It's actually been six years!) I loved THE KITE RUNNER and then I loved A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS even more, and I admit that I was a little afraid that the new novel might not live up to my expectations. I couldn't be happier to tell you that I had no reason to even question Mr. Hosseini's writing abilities because, in my opinion, AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED is even better than his first two novels. It was nothing short of amazing and this author has definitely reached new heights with this epic story.

If you took the time to read the book's description at the beginning of this post, then you might have noticed that the summary for AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED is rather vague. Initially, I thought that the publisher was keeping the book's plot under wraps to entice more readers. And then after I finished reading the book, I figured it might be because the story encompasses so much that it might be hard to summarize it in just a few sentences -- I still feel that way! However, I've now decided that the best reason not to give a detailed description is because this novel is supposed to be experienced knowing little, if anything, about the characters or their lives. I absolutely adored discovering these characters' rich and complex lives as their stories beautifully unfolded.

Needless to say, I don't want to give too much away but I will tell you a little bit about the novel. The story begins when a poor Afghan man decides to give up his young daughter to a wealthy family in Kabul. The scene when the girl is separated from her older brother, who views himself as her caregiver, is gut-wrenching and memorable; and the fallout from their separation is reflected throughout the rest of the novel with various stories that span over 60 years and a variety of countries including France, Greece and the United States. All of these stories and the characters are intertwined, and they explore the complicated themes of love, loss and family.

I adored every story in this novel (I don't think I can pick favorites!), and I even had takeaways from each chapter. If you know me, then you know that that is truly saying a lot. Each story seemed more beautiful and moving than the next as the characters and their lives expanded through the years. However, as much as I adored all of these stories, I think what Mr. Hosseini was able to do with the ending of this novel is what made it absolutely outstanding in my opinion. He came back to that original story of separation and showed that it's possible for beauty and goodness to come out of difficult situations. I'm actually tearing up while typing this review because I loved the feeling of hope that this book allowed me to experience.

Words can't even express how much I loved AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED. Truly, I was blown away by every single page of this novel. My emotions were on a roller coaster ride the entire time and I appreciated being able to "feel" so much. Mr. Hosseini, who has already sold something like 38 million books, is no doubt a talented writer. However, in AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED, he's proven that he's one of the very best out there right now. He just keeps getting better and better! The grand scale of this book, not to mention how he brought everything back full circle with the ending, made waiting those six, long years well worth the wait.

It's no surprise that I am going to recommend AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED for book clubs. If you've read either of Mr. Hosseini's other novels, then you know how much there is to discuss. However, I think AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED just might be his most book club worthy novel to date. There are just so many universal themes about human nature in this novel that warrant further discussion. Fortunately, I was able to find a reading guide, not because you absolutely need one, but rather because it might help keep your discussion on track. There is just so much to discuss with this book! Some of the topics you might want to explore include family, sacrifice, love, loss, forgiveness, redemption, morals, and choices. You can also discuss some symbolism like the title and the old oak tree.

Trust me on this one -- you don't want to miss out on reading this amazing book. Highly recommend! (I'd give this one 5 Stars if I had a rating system!)

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Killer in Crinolines

Summary: It’s August in Savannah, Georgia—hardly the season for a traditional Southern wedding with hoopskirts and crinolines. One could die from the heat—or from a cake knife in the back...

Reagan Summerside should be devoting all her energy to her consignment shop the Prissy Fox. But when her dear friend Chantilly Parker is arrested for murder, Reagan vows to clear her name. The victim is Simon Ambrose, who’s found lying in his own wedding cake with a knife in his back.

Chantilly has motive (Simon broke her heart to marry wealthy Waynetta Waverly) and opportunity (crashing the wedding in her UPS delivery truck). And she has cake on her face, and the stolen bridesmaid dress the killer wore is in her truck. But Chantilly would never wear crinoline to kill a man!

With the help of her flamboyant auntie, KiKi, and vexing but attractive attorney Walker Boone, Reagan is determined to save her friend—before she’s forced to turn in her brown uniform for an orange jumpsuit… -- Berkley Prime

A few months ago, I reviewed the first book in a new cozy series called ICED CHIFFON by Duffy Brown. I thought the book was cute and the mystery was a good one, so when the second book was released in the Consignment Shop Mystery series, I knew I wanted to read it. The second book is titled KILLER IN CRINOLINES, and it picked up right where the first book left off. I enjoyed this light, fun mystery just as much as the first one!
KILLER IN CRINOLINES centers around a murder of the groom at a fancy Savannah wedding. Reagan, the owner of the Prissy Fix consignment store, finds herself (once again) involved in solving the murder. This time, it's her good friend Chantilly who seems like the most likely suspect; and Reagan is pretty sure she's innocent of the crime.

However, the police and everyone else think Chantilly stuck a cake knife in the groom's back. And for good reason... Chantilly used to date the groom prior to being dumped for the wealthy bride, and there's nothing like a woman scorned. Can Reagan, with the help of her crazy aunt KiKi and the sexy lawyer Walker Boone, help to prove Chantilly's innocence?

KILLER IN CRINOLINES was a fun read and exactly what I needed. Sometimes, I just like to curl up with a cozy and escape for a few hours, and this novel definitely provided that. Not only was the mystery interesting, but the book managed to entertain me for a variety of other reasons. I just love the setting and the characters in this series. Plus the book was pretty darn funny!

First, the setting of KILLER IN CRINOLINES is perfect for this series. The books take place in Savannah and I honestly can't think of a better place. The author does a good job of bringing Savannah to life, both through the characters and the various local businesses; and both times I've read these books, I've wanted to take a trip to this beautiful city.

I also love the characters in these books. Reagan is definitely a likable character and a great narrator, but it's the one-of-a-kind characters that surround her that make these books even more special. Reagan's spunky friend Chantilly, the local UPS driver, is featured in this book because she is the main suspect, but it's Reagan's wild Aunt KiKi that really steals the show. She is downright hilarious and, while she does help Reagan solve the murder mystery, neither Reagan nor the reader ever know what's she's going to say or do. And then there's Walker Boone, the attorney who left Reagan with almost nothing after her divorce. There is some definitely sexual tension  between Reagan and Walker, and he always seems to be one step ahead of Reagan in her crime solving capers.

Finally, I should mention the mystery storyline in KILLER CRINOLINES. I'm the first to admit that I don't spend a lot of time trying to solve the mysteries when I read cozies, but I did have a gut feeling as to who was responsible for the crime. Having said that, I totally flubbed up the motives as well as the other person (or persons) involved. So, I guess you could say that the author did manage to surprise me a bit!

I really enjoyed both books in the Consignment Shop mystery series and I look forward to the next installment. KILLER IN CRINOLINES is recommended for fans of cozies who appreciate a little humor thrown in with their murder mysteries!

Thanks to the author 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, May 18, 2013

Kid Konnection: Steam Train, Dream Train

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 terrific picture book that's perfect for bedtime!

Summary: The team behind the #1 New York Times bestseller Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site returns with another fabulous book for bedtime! The dream train pulls into the station, and one by one the train cars are loaded: polar bears pack the reefer car with ice cream, elephants fill the tanker cars with paints, tortoises stock the auto rack with race cars, kangaroos stuff the hopper car with balls (while zebras referee). Sweet and silly dreams are guaranteed for any budding train enthusiasts! -- Chronicle

I have been seeing lots of buzz the past month or so for the new picture book STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. There is a great deal of excitement that this pair had is back with a new book. They had much success with their last one GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE -- it was a New York Times Bestseller as well as an award winner.

I'm not familiar with GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE, but I can tell you that I adored STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN. This book is positively adorable for little ones because it features not only trains, but also cute animals. And it's an ideal bedtime book... for both parents and children.

STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN begins when the train pulls into the station and the animals have to load the various train cars. For example, monkeys load the boxcars with a variety of toys, while kangaroos fill the hopper cars with bouncing balls. Elephants fill the tankers with paint, and turtles stock the autorack with race cars. After all of the work is complete, the animals go to sleep and the train begins its travels. It's just cute on so many levels.

I am pretty sure that STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN will be a hit with preschool age children, especially those that love trains. The book has rhyming text and beautiful illustrations which should appeal to even the most active kids -- there is plenty to look at on each page. I also like that this book is educational in that it teaches children about the various types of train cars. However, it's the silly aspects of this story that will appeal to every reader!

Check out the book's trailer to see what I mean:

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!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: All You Could Ask For (Audio)

Summary: A tender and wonderfully insightful story of friendship, love, heartbreak, and renewal, played out in the lives of three unforgettable women, from an extraordinary and unexpected debut novelist—the host of the #1 sports talk show in America, ESPN's Mike Greenberg 

All You Could Ask For
Mike Greenberg 

Three women are about to find their lives intertwined in ways none of them could ever have imagined. . . .  

Brooke has been happily married to her college sweetheart for fifteen years. Even after the C-section, the dog poop, the stomach viruses, and the coffee breath, Scott still always winks at her at just the right moments. That is why, for her beloved, romantic, successful husband's fortieth birthday, she is giving him pictures. Of her. Naked. 

Samantha's newlywed bliss is steamrolled when she finds shocking evidence of infidelity on her husband's computer. She has been married for two days. She won't be for much longer. 

Katherine works eighteen hours a day for the man who irreparably shattered her heart fifteen years ago. She has a duplex on Park Avenue, a driver, a chef, and a stunning house in Southampton, and she bought it all herself. So what if she has to see Phillip every single workday for the rest of her natural life? Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine don't know one another, but all three are about to discover the conquering power of friendship—and that they have all they could ask for, as long as they have one another. -- Harper Audio

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Write what you know," but that certainly wasn't the case with Mike Greenberg when he wrote his latest book ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR. For those of you who aren't familiar with the radio show on ESPN called Mike & Mike in the Morning, Mike Greenberg is the co-host of this very popular sports talk with Mike Golic. I happen to really enjoy listening to these two guys talk sport while also occasionally bantering with each other.

So it wouldn't come as any surprise to me if Mike Greenberg wrote a sports-themed book or even a humorous one (in fact, he's already written two NY Times Bestsellers), but I admit to being a little caught off guard that he wrote ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR, a novel about a special bond between three women! Even more surprising is that he wrote this book in the voices of the three women. Overall, I think he did a decent job.

ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR tells the story of three women whose lives are brought together when they are diagnosed with cancer. The first half of the novel sets up the story of each women's life. Brooke is a stay-at-home mom of twins who is devoted to her husband and keeping her marriage fresh. Samantha is a woman who discovers that her husband has pictures of a naked co-worker on his computer... two days after their marriage. And Katherine is a successful business woman whose life is lacking in other ways. She has few friends and is still bitter over the loss of her boyfriend over 15 years ago.

The second half of the book begins when the women are diagnosed with different forms of breast cancer. Through an on-line support group, these women develop special friendships and they support each other through some very tough times and tough decisions.

I was pleasantly surprised by ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR as well as Mr. Greenberg's writing. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that I thought he captured the essence of these women perfectly -- there were a few times when I felt as if what they said (or did) wasn't exactly in keeping with a "typical woman" -- but, for the most part, he did a darn good job. I have to admit, though, that I was probably reading this novel with a more critical eye than I normally would. I seriously doubted that Mr. Greenberg could pull off sounding like a woman... or actually three women!

I found the second half of the book, when the story dealt with these women's cancer battles, to be much more enjoyable than the first half of the novel (if "enjoyable" is the proper word.) I thought their actions and even their dialogue seemed to be more realistic, and I especially appreciated how much their friendships developed. I actually began to understand each of these characters (notice I didn't say like!) and I was definitely rooting for all of them to beat the cancer.

I have to say that one of the characters Brooke bothered me a great deal. I was very uncomfortable with her decision regarding her treatment and I even got a little mad at how she handled everything. I actually wanted to shake her! I don't want to go into details because it will give away a major part of the novel, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone with this opinion. In fact, Mike Greenberg's wife even agrees with me. What I found interesting is that Mike Greenberg said in the author interview at the end of the novel that Brooke was actually his favorite character (if he had to pick one.) After listening to his reasoning, I began to respect Brooke's decision even though I'm still not sure I totally agreed with her!

What I liked the most about this novel is how it made me feel. I enjoyed that I laughed with these characters while also crying with them. (Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed with the humor in this novel. Mr. Greenberg's personality definitely came through!) I also loved how this book celebrate the strength and resilience of women and their friendships. ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR really was a feel good book despite dealing with a pretty depressing (and scary) issue.

ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR would make a great book club discussion. Since the book deals with so many women's issues, it's perfect for discussion. There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include career, family, infidelity, secrets, loss, love, illness, health care decisions, parenting, marriage, and of course friendship. You can also discuss whether you think Mr. Greenberg was effective in writing in the voices of three women!

I enjoyed ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR. It was a touching story but also one that made me smile more than just a few times! Recommended for fans of women's fiction and chick lit!

A final note and one more reason to buy ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR: Mike Greenberg and his wife Stacy created a foundation called Heidi's Angels in honor of one of their best friends who died of breast cancer. The author's profits from the sale of this book will be donated to The V Foundation for Cancer Research to combat breast cancer. 

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 2013 Book Club Meeting

Next month, we will be reading THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng.This novel was nominated for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and it looks fabulous. I can't wait to read it!

Summary: It's Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambridge and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery.

Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all? -- Weinstein Books

Last evening, my book club met to discuss THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng. My friend who selected this novel absolutely loved it, and I think it's safe to say that, while we probably weren't as enthusiastic as she was, we all appreciated this story. You can read more about my thoughts here.

I admit that it took us quite awhile to get around to discussing the book. We are all friends and some of us only see each other once a month at our book club meetings. Needless to say, we had a lot of catching up to do with our personal lives (and our kids' personal lives!) After about an hour or so of chit chat, we decided to get down to business. Our leader for the night wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but she did have a few questions prepared. We all had lots of thoughts about the novel, though, so I don't even think we needed questions to guide our discussion.

First of all, we thought the author's writing style was very impressive. His descriptions of the setting and especially the Japanese gardens were exquisite. However, he also wove a tale that was extremely complex. I mean this in both a good and not-so-good way. While it was almost amazing how the story (and the side stories) all came together, a few of us found ourselves getting lost at times (but I think the foreign terms and names added to our confusion.)

Another interesting discussion point was how this novel kept us guessing... and thinking. It is safe to say that that we were surprised quite a few times by the actions of the characters. We also discussed the ending and what could have happened to one of the main characters. The story ending was pretty ambiguous, but we agreed that it didn't bother us in this story like it does in some other ones. I'm still not sure we are all in agreement as to what happened!

While THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS was a pretty dark and depressing story, we all liked how there were a recurring theme of love woven into it. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I thought the novel was upbeat by any means, but I did appreciate the message that love helps us to survive even the most horrible of circumstances.

Next month, we will be reading TRUTH IN ADVERTISING by John Kenney. I'm pretty excited about this selection because so many of the reviews are outstanding. It's a little outside of our normal comfort zone but I'm sure it will generate a great deal of discussion.

Summary: Finbar Dolan is lost and lonely. Except he doesn’t know it. Despite escaping his blue-collar Boston upbringing to carve out a mildly successful career at a Madison Avenue ad agency, he’s a bit of a mess and closing in on forty. He’s recently called off his wedding. Now, a few days before Christmas, he’s forced to cancel a long-postponed vacation in order to write, produce, and edit a Superbowl commercial for his diaper account in record time.

Fortunately, it gets worse. He learns that his long-estranged and once-abusive father has fallen ill. And that neither his brothers nor his sister intend to visit. It’s a wake-up call for Fin to re-evaluate the choices he’s made, admit that he’s falling for his coworker Phoebe, question the importance of diapers in his life, and finally tell the truth about his life and his past.

In the spirit of Then We Came to the End and This Is Where I Leave You, novelist John Kenney, a regular New Yorker contributor, mines his own advertising background to creating this moving debut, nothing short of “a masterful blend of wit and seriousness, stunning in its honesty” (Booklist, starred review). -- Touchstone

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review: The Edge of the Earth

Summary: In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably.

Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart’s Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased, but she’s restless instead, yearning for something she lacks even the vocabulary to articulate. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her preordained life. 

But escape turns out to be more fraught than Trudy had imagined. Alienated from family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse at Point Lucia, California—an unnervingly isolated outcropping, trapped between the ocean and hundreds of miles of inaccessible wilderness. There they meet the light station’s only inhabitants—the formidable and guarded Crawleys. In this unfamiliar place, Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially after she discovers what hides among the rocks. 

Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the dramatic geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths. Christina Schwarz, celebrated for her rich evocation of place and vivid, unpredictable characters, has spun another haunting and unforgettable tale. -- Atria

THE EDGE OF THE EARTH by Christina Schwarz is the second book I've read in recent months that takes place on an isolated island with a lighthouse. The other novel was THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman which I absolutely loved -- you can read my review here. While both novels dealt with the theme of isolation and were beautifully written, they actually were quite different.

I remember reading and enjoying Ms. Schwarz's novel DROWNING RUTH when Oprah selected it many years ago for her book club, so I figured THE EDGE OF THE EARTH was definitely worth a peek. And you know what? I was absolutely right in deciding to pick up this novel. It was a lovely story filled with some memorable characters and even a little bit of mystery and intrigue!

THE EDGE OF THE EARTH tells the story of Trudy, a young woman who decides to give up her home and family to follow the man she loves to a remote island in California. It has always been assumed that Trudy will end up with her longtime family friend and live near her family in Milwaukee; however, Trudy has always wanted something more. So when the charismatic Oskar enters her life, Trudy falls in love with him and figures he's the answer to her all of her desires.

Trudy and Oskar move to Point Lucia, California for Oskar's job at a lighthouse. The island is extremely isolated except for the Crawleys. Life isn't what Trudy expected but she finds some pleasure in exploring the island and teaching the Crawley children. She throws herself into learning about the local marine life as well as investigating the children's rumors of seeing a mermaid. However, Oskar's unfulfilled dreams cause him to become morose and distant, and Trudy begins to question her decision to marry Oskar.

I found THE EDGE OF THE EARTH to be a beautifully written novel and I enjoyed it quite a bit. There is no doubt that Ms. Schwarz is an incredible writer. I especially appreciated how she brought the time period and the setting to life. Her detailed descriptions of the remote island were extremely vivid and I could picture the wonder and beauty of this area perfectly. However, I also liked how she captured just how isolated the characters were while living there. I like to say that I'm a loner but I don't know if I'd last more than a week or so without regular contact from my friends and family. The way the author brought to life Trudy's feelings of isolation, both from society on the island as well as her relationship with her husband, was just so well done and so very real to me.

Another aspect of this novel that I enjoyed was the "mystery" surrounding the mermaid. I don't know if mystery is actually the correct word, but I liked following Trudy as she discovered the truth behind the children's rumors. I've seen a review or two that mentioned this aspect took away from the novel and I'm not entirely sure I agree. I think Trudy's desire to learn the secrets behind this woman was one of the things that kept Trudy sane in an otherwise desperate situation. I also think this storyline and character were critical to the tragedy that occurs near the end of the novel.

THE EDGE OF THE EARTH would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide available with thirteen questions along with some ideas to enhance your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include isolation, love, dreams, hope, ambition, the role of women in the late 1800s, identity, materiality, and redemption. You also might want to discuss some of the major symbols in the story including the concept of light.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE EDGE OF THE EARTH and once again, I was very impressed with Ms. Schwarz's writing. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction.

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Lucky Bastard

Summary: Lucky O’Toole, the newly promoted vice president of Customer Relations for the Babylon, Las Vegas's primo Strip property, has never met a problem she couldn't handle. But when a young woman is found dead, sprawled across the hood of a new, bright red Ferrari California in the Babylon's on-site dealership, a Jimmy Choo stiletto stuck in her carotid, Lucky's skills are maxed out.

Of course, her life is already on overload. Her mother, Mona, is pregnant, hormonal, and bored—a triple threat. A song that Teddie, Lucky's former lover, wrote for her is getting national airplay as he hits the talk shows, pleading for her forgiveness. Lucky is less than amused by the high-powered "infotainment" spotlight on her personal life. She's having enough trouble fending off Chef Jean-Charles Bouclet, the Babylon's tasty new dish.  

All of this and The Smack-Down Poker tournament, the second-largest poker tournament in the world, is holding its final round at the Babylon. Hookers, thieves, players, cheaters, media, and hangers-on descend, looking to win or to score. When one of the players turns up dead, Lucky starts to make connections between the two murders, putting her in the crosshairs of the killer. 

Then, just when she's losing control... life deals another major complication to her personal life... and it's not going to be pretty.

Lucky struggles to keep her life in balance, and a murderer from killing again. -- Forge 
Each and every year I look forward to the latest release on the Lucky O'Toole Vegas Adventure series by Deborah Coonts. The fourth book in this very fun series is called LUCKY BASTARD and is available tomorrow. I have to say that, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed this Lucky O'Toole mystery; and I truly am a big fan of this series!

LUCKY BASTARD picks up right where the last book SO DAMN LUCKY ended. In fact, if I remember correctly SO DAMN LUCKY kind of left the reader hanging. I don't want to give away too much about what occurred in the last novel (or the prior two ones either) although I think the "official" book description kind of does that anyway. Suffice it to say that Lucky is still licking her wounds from the sudden departure of her boyfriend Teddie, while trying to decide if she wants to take things further with a French chef. Lucky thinks that she has bad luck in the romance department, but as far as I'm concerned, she is always surrounded by some pretty sexy guys!

However at its core, LUCKY BASTARD is a mystery; and in the case of this novel, it's a pretty good one -- one that I found confusing in a good way. (Translation: I kind of figured out aspects of who was responsible but I couldn't piece together the whys.) A woman is found stabbed with a Jimmy Choo stiletto on top of a Ferrari inside the Babylon Casino, and Lucky's "friend" is the prime suspect. Then, a recently fired employee is found dead. And there just might be some truth to the adage that bad things always happen in threes because a poker player arriving in town for a huge tournament at the Babylon dies. It's up to Lucky, with a little help from her friend on the police force, to make sense of these three possibly related deaths.

Overall, I thought LUCKY BASTARD was a very entertaining read. I just adore Lucky, even with all of her quirks. She's smart, sexy, and funny and I love that the stories are told in her voice. Naturally, she's extremely tough as she solves all of the murder mysteries that come her way, but she's also very sensitive and trying to find the right guy with whom she can settle down. Her life is full of ups and downs (and various adventures) -- you wouldn't believe all of the fires she fights in her customer relations job at the casino; and she handles them all in a way that cracks me up. I can't stress just how funny these novels are.

In case you're wondering LUCKY BASTARD would work as a stand-alone. I think Ms. Coonts does a terrific job of filling in the reader with enough details about events in the past books. However, why would you want to start with book four in this fun series? Lucky is a great character and I love how all of these books combine events from her personal life with big-time murder mysteries at the casino. I definitely think it's a winning combination of romance and intrigue!

Once again, Deborah Coonts ended her novel with a pretty big cliffhanger... one which I adored! Of course that means that I will have to read the fifth book in the series, not that there was ever really any doubt about that. 

LUCKY BASTARD and the entire Lucky O'Toole mysteries are a hoot. If you are a fan of Janet Evanovich's books, then I highly recommend checking out this series.

Thanks to JKS Communications 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.