Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kid Konnection: Clementine and the Spring Trip

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 fun book that definitely kept me entertained!

Summary: In this sixth entry in the thoroughly entertaining Clementine series, the third and fourth grades takes a field trip to Plimoth Plantation, where Clementine learns a few things about rules: who gets to make them, who has to live with them, and when it's high time to break them.-- Disney Hyperion

It's been quite awhile since I've picked on a Clementine book. So long, in fact, that I forgot just how adorable this series is. The sixth and latest book in this popular series is called CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP by Sara Pennypacker and illustrations by Marla Frazee; and it's a fantastic book for kids.

In CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, Clementine's third grade class in going to visit Plimoth Plantation. The thing is, the fourth graders are going too; and they have some pretty silly rules like "punishing" those third graders who make any noise at all when they eat! To make things even more complicated, Clementine isn't allowed to be buddies with her friend Margaret. Rather, she's been asked to stick with the new girl Olive.

Clementine learns quite a bit during this novel -- much more than just the history of Plimoth Plantation. She learns about "rules." For example, she learns who gets to make them and who has to follow them. But ultimately, she also learns when it's okay to break them!

I adored CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP! There are a lot of different story lines in this book, and Ms. Pennypacker is a master at pulling all of them together. What made this book even more special was how the theme of rules ran throughout all of the separate stories. I loved the lessons that Clementine learned and the different ways she learned them!

As a parent, there is no doubt that I thought CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP was a great book. However, I am almost positive that kids will love the book just as much as I did... albeit probably for different reasons. If you are familiar with the Clementine series, then you already know that Clementine gets herself into her fair share of interesting predicaments. She's also extremely funny and the humor in these books is perfect for an early elementary aged boy or girl. Furthermore, the illustrations by Marla Frazee are cute too and help break up the pages of words for early readers.

CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP is a great addition to the Clementine series. Highly recommended for fans -- both old and new!

And just in case you're interested, here's a photo I found of Plimoth Plantation:
 Looks like a pretty fun field trip, right?

Make sure you check out Ms. Pennypacker's fun guest post along with a giveaway for CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP.

Thanks to the publisher and Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this book.

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Guest Blogger: Sara Pennypacker & Giveaway

Summary: In this sixth entry in the thoroughly entertaining Clementine series, the third and fourth grades takes a field trip to Plimoth Plantation, where Clementine learns a few things about rules: who gets to make them, who has to live with them, and when it's high time to break them.-- Disney Hyperion

I am extremely excited to be participating in the blog tour for CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee. I read this book earlier in the week and thought it was adorable!

Today, the author behind the wonderful Clementine series, Sara Pennypacker, is stopping by with an equally fantastic guest post!

Hi Julie, and thanks for having me. I would have loved a resource like this when I was raising, and reading with, my kids, but I’ve already found plenty of good reading suggestions for me here, too. 

This is my final stop on the blog tour for my sixth Clementine book, and I have to say, it’s a whole lot easier than a physical book tour: I can do it in my pajamas, there’s no air travel torture, and no panicky awakenings in the middle of the night wondering where you are. In fact, there’s only one thing I miss: room service...I admit it, I adore room service. 

Still, I have to say I love travel. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I’ve been doing this travel-free tour for a book built around a trip. 

I think travel is especially important for authors. It’s our job to tell stories that reflect human experience, and unless we get out there and encounter a lot of different human experiences, we’re not drawing from the fullest material. Authors are naturally introverts, but it’s worth it for us to connect with lots of people who aren’t, well... other introvert authors. 

It’s also rejuvenating. Writing a book is like wringing the sponge – everything’s going out of you onto the paper, and there’s not much going in when you’re deep in the weeds with a manuscript. You spend all those months essentially living two lives: your own and your character’s. Since the latter’s is intensely colored and emotionally charged, the writer ends up drained afterward. So after I finish a book, I try to spend time in a colorful and exotic (well, to me, anyway) location, to fill up on new sights and sounds and smells and tastes. 

For some reason, the fifth Clementine book, CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING, was a push right up until the deadline. I had booked myself a trip to Mexico with a friend to recuperate afterward, and I believe I actually sent the manuscript in only hours before my flight. I am told that after landing in Oaxaca and checking into my casita, I slept for nearly two full days, with only a couple of staggers into the bathroom. But afterward...! I felt like I was swallowing the birds and flowers and street music, right along with the moles and the guava juice. 

But maybe the best reason for me to travel as a writer is that the ideas for books so often come from trips. Clementine is home-grown in Massachusetts, but many of my other books have had their seeds sown in trips away. I wrote the bones of my picture book SPARROW GIRL after a visit to California where I spoke to a man who was a child during Mao Tse-tung’s Sparrow War, and I’m currently writing a novel that was sparked by a conversation with a school librarian in Oklahoma about animals in wartime. There’s something about being in a strange place that wakes you to possibility, I guess. Or maybe it’s that you’re more vulnerable when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings – maybe without the safe cloak of the familiar, you simply feel things more. 

That’s how it was for Clementine on her Spring Field Trip, anyway. Clementine’s world is very safe – I’m writing about a delightful (but okay fine, challenging) girl here, who has the support of functional, caring adults in her family and school. In this sixth book, I decided to challenge her a little by taking her out of her safe environment and by testing her sense of fairness. While with her class at Plimoth Plantation, Clementine encounters a chicken, and can no longer hide from the unpleasant truth that people eat animals.

 Ack! This sounds so serious! Of course, mostly this book, like travel, is about fun. 

Thanks for having me! 

Sara Pennypacker was a painter before becoming a writer, and has two absolutely fabulous children who are now grown. She has written several books, including the Clementine series, all illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Amazing World of Stuart, Sparrow Girl, and Summer of the Gypsy Moths. She grew up in Massachusetts and splits her time between Cape Cod and Florida.

Be sure to check out Sara's other tour stops:

Mon, June 17: GreenBeanTeenQueen -
Tues, June 18: Once Upon a Story -
Wed, June 19: Mother Daughter Book Club -
Thurs, June 20: Media Darlings -
Fri, June 21: Sharpread -
Mon, June 24: Children's Book Review -
Tues, June 25: Kid Lit Frenzy -
Wed, June 26: There's a Book -
Thurs, June 27: As They Grow Up -

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, July 5th 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, June 27, 2013

Review: The Movement of Stars

Summary: It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different—and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.

And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. But when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.

Inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America, The Movement of Stars is a richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity. -- Riverhead

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a guest post from debut author Amy Brill. I loved her fun look at book clubs and immediately knew that I'd love to meet her. However, I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me quite a few months to actually pick up her novel THE MOVEMENT OF STARS. So when I discovered that she would be attending this year's Penguin Bash, I realized that the timing was perfect to finally get around to reading her book.

THE MOVEMENT OF STARS is perfect for fans of historical fiction.. and I don't mean the type that deals with kings and queens. This novel takes place in 1845 in Nantucket and follows the path of Hannah Price, a young Quaker woman who is fascinated by astronomy. She lives alone with her father ever since her twin brother left on a whaling ship, and her dad has always encouraged her to study the stars. Hannah's sets a goal for herself that she will discover a comet and win a medal awarded by the King of Denmark.

However, Hannah's father decides to get married and move to Philadelphia and he expects Hannah to follow. Despite his approval of her interest in astronomy, her father makes it clear that he wants her to come with him unless she is able to find a husband. Hannah quickly realizes that she has little say in her own future.

To make things even more complicated, Isaac a whaler from Azores, enters the picture when he asks her for some instruction in learning how to read his ship's chronometer. Hannah finds herself attracted to this man; and while the Quaker community claims to be against slavery, it's not exactly understanding of Hannah's dealings with a dark-skinned man.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE MOVEMENT OF STARS although I admit that it took me a little while to really get vested in Hannah's story. On one hand, I was fascinated by the idea of a female astronomer in the mid 1800s (the story was actually inspired by Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer); however, I had issues with Hannah. While I did respect her determination, I found her a bit hard to like. She was very matter of fact and judgmental at the same time; and I thought her feelings were secondary to her intellect.

Having said that, what I ended up liking so very much about THE MOVEMENT OF STARS was how much Hannah's character evolved throughout the story. Hannah was 24 years old when the novel began, which isn't typically the age for a coming-of-age story, but in so many ways that's what this story was. Through the hardships that Hannah faced, she became much more open and tolerant towards others; and she even learned to accept her feelings. By the end of the novel, I felt as if I understood Hannah and was even rooting for her.

I think THE MOVEMENT OF STARS would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide available with eight interesting questions. It also might be fun to request a Skype chat with the author! She is extremely sweet and funny and I'm sure it would be fascinating to hear about the research she conducted while writing this novel -- or her story about delivering a baby in a cab! Some of the book's themes that you might want to explore include religion, spirituality, love, family dynamics, the role of women in society, community, second chances, change, forgiveness, science, prejudice, and acceptance.

THE MOVEMENT OF STARS is an extremely well written story about a strong woman. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and women's literature.

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Review: The Boys in the Boat

Summary: For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics

Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled  by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together—a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys’ own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times—the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant. It will appeal to readers of Erik Larson, Timothy Egan, James Bradley, and David Halberstam's The Amateurs. -- Viking

Last week, I posted a guest essay and offered a giveaway for THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS by Daniel James Brown. I also promised that my dad's review would be coming shortly. I knew this book sounded like a winner and my dad totally agreed! Here are his thoughts:

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown is a thrilling story about nine young men who captivated millions of people in the United States at a time when good news was hard to come by. The United States was in a deep recession, the dust storms were exacting their onerous tolls on the mid-west and Adolf Hitler was gaining power in Germany.

The main character and heart of the story is Joe Rantz. Abandoned by his family as a teen ager, Joe only chance for a college education was working part time and earning a spot on the University of Washington eight-oar rowing team. His eight teammates were a strange lot consisting of farmers, fishermen, lumberjacks and miners, a stark contrast to the elite rowing teams at eastern schools such as Cornell, Harvard and Penn. In addition to the personal stories about Joe Reitz and the other crew members, Brown tells great stories about the coach, Al Ulbrickson and famous boat builder and mentor, George Pocock.

In 1936 Joe Rantz and his teammates defeated their biggest rival, the University of California, went on to win the national championship on the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, NY, qualified to represent the United States in the 1936 Olympics and against all odds went on to win the gold medal.

Author Daniel Brown does a great job of putting the narrative into a historical perspective. In addition to the stories about Seattle, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl he writes about the rise of Hitler in Germany, Germany’s prep for the 1936 Olympics, the success of the race horse Sea Biscuit, the famous Joe Louis-Max Schmeling championship fights and the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.

Brown's detailed descriptions of the races gives the reader a basic knowledge of rowing and helps the reader understand the strategy, teamwork and conditioning required in elite rowing. He also manages to impart to the reader the suspense and excitement of each race. Although Brown does a good job of explaining the sport of rowing, THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is much more than a sports story. It’s a human interest story, a suspense story and a pretty good work of history.

Anybody who enjoys a fast paced “feel good” book will enjoy THE BOYS IN THE BOAT.

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: The Lullaby of Polish Girls

Summary: Because of her father’s role in the Solidarity movement, Anna and her parents immigrate to the United States in the 1980s as political refugees from Poland. They settle in Brooklyn among immigrants of every stripe, yet Anna never quite feels that she belongs. But then, the summer she turns twelve, she is sent back to Poland to visit her grandmother, and suddenly she experiences the shock of recognition. In her family’s hometown of Kielce, Anna develops intense friendships with two local girls—brash and beautiful Justyna and desperately awkward Kamila—and their bond is renewed every summer when Anna returns. The Lullaby of Polish Girls follows these three best friends from their early teenage years on the lookout for boys in Kielce—a town so rough its citizens are called “the switchblades”—to the loss of innocence that wrecks them, and the stunning murder that reaches across oceans to bring them back together after they’ve grown and long since left home.

Dagmara Dominczyk’s assured narrative flashes from the wild summers of the girls’ youth to their years of self-discovery in New York and Europe. Her writing is full of grit and guts, and her descriptions of the emotional experiences of her characters resonate with honesty. The Lullaby of Polish Girls captures the passion and drama of friendship, the immigrant’s yearning to be known, and the exquisite and wistful transformation of young women coming of age. -- Spiegel & Grau

Recently, I was talking about books with one of my favorite people Adriana Trigiani, and she told me that I had to get my hands on a copy of THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS by Dagmara Dominczyk. So upon arriving back home, I discovered that our local library had a few copies and I reserved one right away. It wasn't long before I received the email telling me that my copy was ready!

THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS follows the lives of three women who have been friends since their teens. Anna, an actress living in New York whose parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s, has never quite felt like she belonged in this country. However, when she turned twelve, her parents allowed her to visit her grandmother in Poland; and Anna immediately felt like she belonged, especially when she became friends with Justyna and Kamila. Every summer, Anna returned to Poland; and the three girls picked up right where they left off.

The girls are now adults and their lives aren't exactly what they had hoped for. Anna is a struggling actress who is being told that she needs to lose weight to get a role and Kamila has left her husband and moved to Detroit to live with her parents. However, things are even worse for Justyna. Her husband has been brutally murdered and she's left to bring up their child alone. When Anna and Kamila learn about what has happened to Justyna, they decide that they need to head back to Poland to help support her.

THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS is a beautifully written novel and it's almost hard to believe that it's Ms. Dominczyk's first book. The story goes back and forth between the summers in Poland when the girls were teenagers to their present day lives. It explores the depths of their friendships as well as the difficulties they've faced as adults, and it seems to me to be a very honest portrayal of these three women's lives.

I admit that I wanted to read this book because Adriana suggested it to me, but there was also another reason -- I an a quarter Polish. My father's father is 100% Polish (my maiden name was Stasik) and he can even speak and read a little despite being born in the United States. I realized when I started reading THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS that I knew next to nothing about Poland, and I was intrigued by learning about these characters' immigration stories. Of course, my family came to the U.S. long before the characters in this novel and for entirely different reasons (or maybe not -- I'm not exactly sure); however, it was interesting to see what Poland was like in the 1980s including the country's political environment.

One thing that struck me about THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS was how intense and raw this story was. I mentioned earlier that this novel had strong friendship themes; however, it wasn't a feel good story like so many novels that deal with these themes. Rather, the characters and their actions were, at times, almost gritty; and their lives as immigrants definitely weren't easy. After finishing this novel, I learned that some of it was based on the author's actual experiences; and I think this gave the book an extra special feeling of authenticity.

THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS would make a wonderful book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide. Having said that, I'm almost positive that you won't need one. There are so many compelling issues to discuss including friendship, immigration, prejudice, love, forgiveness, and redemption. These three women are each fascinating in their own right and their behavior could be analyzed for hours!

I should have known that Adriana Trigiani wouldn't let me down with a book recommendation. Take her word for it (and mine!), and check out THE LULLABY OF POLISH GIRLS.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Until She Comes Home

Summary: In 1958 Detroit, on Alder Avenue, neighbors struggle to care for neighbors amid a city ripe with conflicts that threaten their peaceful street.

Grace, Alder’s only expectant mother, eagerly awaits her first born. Best friend Julia prepares to welcome twin nieces. And Malina sets the tone with her stylish dresses, tasteful home, and ironfisted stewardship of St. Alban’s bake sale.

Life erupts when childlike Elizabeth disappears while in the care of Grace and Julia. All the ladies fear the recent murder of a black woman at the factory on Willingham Avenue where their husbands work may warn of what has become of Elizabeth, and they worry what is yet to become of Julia—the last to see Elizabeth alive.

The men mount an around-the-clock search, leaving their families vulnerable to sinister elements hidden in plain sight. Only Grace knows what happened, but her mother warns her not to tell. “No man wants to know this about his wife.” Ashamed that her silence puts loved ones in harm’s way, Grace gravitates toward the women of Willingham Avenue, who recognize her suffering as their own. Through their acceptance, Grace conquers her fear and dares to act.

On Alder Avenue, vicious secrets bind friends, neighbors, and spouses. For the wicked among them, the walk home will be long. -- Dutton

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up a copy of UNTIL SHE COMES HOME by Lori Roy. I needed a book for Mystery Mondays and I knew that Ms. Roy's debut novel BENT ROAD won an Edgar Award, so I did have some pretty high expectations. I am happy to say that UNTIL SHE COMES HOME did not disappoint. I actually ended up reading this entire novel in less than 24 hours.

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME takes place in the late 1950s in the Alder Avenue neighborhood of Detroit. It is the heat of the summer and tensions are volatile due to race relations; however, when a black woman in found brutally murdered near the factory where the husbands all work, the citizens of the neighborhood really begin to worry. And then, Elizabeth a mentally challenged young woman goes missing after leaving Grace's home (and supposedly reaching her own house as seen by Grace's best friend Julia); and the citizens fear that their neighborhood is no longer safe.

My summary only begins to scratch the surface of the complex and thought-provoking novel. I hesitate to say much more than this because I think the book is best left to be experienced by each individual reader; however, you can read the publisher's summary for a few more details if you want them! I think it's enough to say that I started this book knowing virtually nothing about the story, and I was blown away by Ms. Roy's writing style. Days after finishing this novel, I'm still thinking about how well l she brought the setting and characters to life.

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is technically a mystery (and that's why I'm featuring it as part of Mystery Mondays); however, I think the strength of this novel is in the way the author writes about the characters and the relationships in their lives. This book will definitely appeal to fans of mysteries but even more so to fans of women's literature. This novel focuses primarily on three women -- Julia, a woman still trying to heal from the loss of her infant daughter; Grace, Julia's best friend and an expectant mom; and Malina, a battered wife who begins to suspect her husband might have a wandering eye.

While the story in UNTIL SHE COMES HOME centers around the missing Elizabeth and the neighborhood's intense search to find out what happened to her, I loved how this book explored the complexities behind these three women. All of them were dealing with some very serious issues and keeping secrets from those they love, and I thought Ms. Roy made their thoughts and actions extremely real. The pain these woman experienced came through the pages of this novel, and their growing desperation made me fear for each one of them.

Of course, the intensity of the story and the way it unfolded is a credit to Ms. Roy. There is no doubt that this woman can really write! However, I also was especially impressed with how well she brought 1950s Detroit to life. I could almost feel the heat of the pavement and the mounting tensions in the Alder Avenue neighborhood as its inhabitants began to become more desperate to eliminate the changes that were happening in their neighborhoods. In addition, I thought Ms. Roy managed to make the reader understand the racial tensions that were taking place during this time in Detroit. I have a feeling that the author did her fair share of research prior to writing UNTIL SHE COMES HOME.

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME would make a fantastic book club selection because it deals with so many compelling issues. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a reading guide; however, I can almost promise that you won't need a formal discussion guide to talk about this novel. Some of the themes you might want to explore include racism, discrimination, friendship, fear, community, marriage, parenthood, loss, grief, mental illness, secrets, and much more! Trust me when I say that UNTIL SHE COMES HOME is a very complex and its story lines are multi-dimensional.

I mentioned that I thought Ms. Roy did an amazing job of bringing 1950s Detroit to life, and I think this trailer which explains the inspiration behind the novel gives some insight into her thought process:

Overall, UNTIL SHE COMES HOME was a terrific read and I can't wait to go back and read Ms. Roy's award winning debut novel BENT ROAD!

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.

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kid Konnection: Creston Books Part 1

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 couple of picture books from the new imprint Creston Books.

Summary: Meet Lola, a little terrier with a big job. Children will identify with the feisty Lola as she struggles going to school, passing tests, and finally achieving her Big Dog dream. If Lola can make it in a world of Great Danes and Labradors, so can anybody who's feeling like a runt.-- Creston Books

A few weeks ago when I was at BEA, I was fortunate enough to meet Marissa Moss, founder of Creston Books. She had recently sent me a few of the picture books in her new imprint and I'm finally getting around to reviewing them. The first one I picked up was LOLA GOES TO WORK: A NINE-TO-FIVE THERAPY DOG by Marcia Goldman. Kathy (aka Bermuda Onion) just about died when she saw this adorable book on the showroom floor and she reviewed it immediately upon her return.

LOLA GOES TO WORK is just plain precious. It tells the story of Lola, a terrier who is training to become a therapy dog. After much hard work, she passes the test and is certified to help comfort people in hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. She loves her job and feels important when she helps make others happy!

Do I daresay that I'm not a huge dog fan? However, that didn't matter one bit when it came to my enjoyment of this book! I still managed to fall in love with Lola! Lola is just the cutest little dog and the photographs of her are nothing short of delightful. I challenge anyone (child or adult) who picks up this book not to fall head over heels for this sweet little dog.

I think LOLA GOES TO WORK is a terrific picture book for young children. Not only will the photos capture their interest, but the book actually has a great message too. I think kids will relate to Lola as the "underdog" -- she is small to be a therapy dog and has to work really hard to pass her test; and I think they will also see how everyone (including animals) has the ability to help others. I especially liked that the last page of the book provided some additional information about therapy dogs.

Recommended for dog lovers and anyone who appreciates books with photographs.

Summary: With powerful words and pictures Florida chronicles in her notebook her journey to figure out how to read facial expressions, how to make friends, how to juggle all the social cues that make school feel like a complicated maze. Diagnosed with autism as a three-year-old, Florida is now an articulate 15-year-old whose explorations into how kids make friends, what popularity means, how to handle peer pressure will resonate with any pre-teen. For those wondering what it's like inside an autistic child's head, Florida's book provides amazing insight and understanding. Reading how she learns how to be human makes us all feel a little less alien. -- Creston Books

And now for a picture book that is aimed at older children... HOW TO BE HUMAN: DIARY OF AN AUTISTIC GIRL by Florida Frenz. The book gives an inside look into the mind of an autistic girl and was actually written and illustrated by a girl with autism. It truly is unlike any picture book I've every seen. HOW TO BE HUMAN is part advice/self help, part journal, part notebook and part graphic novel.

HOW TO BE HUMAN begins with a foreword where the author explains autism and how it makes her feel. I found this section to be fascinating as well as extremely powerful! Then the book becomes a step-by-step guide for dealing with autism. There are so many positive suggestions including how to figure out faces and feelings as well how to avoid being a perfectionist. While the advice is geared towards children with autism, this picture book has so many wonderful messages for anyone who wants to improve themselves and the way they deal with others.

HOW TO BE HUMAN is so good on so many levels. First of all, I was struck by the insight I got into how a child with autism feels. I was somewhat familiar with a few of the references; however, I was blown away by just how many things affect an autistic child. The simplest things to my children can put a child with autism over the edge -- it's all so overwhelming.

Additionally, I liked that this book explored the themes of bullying and peer pressure. I've seen with my own eyes how cruel children can be to each other and I'm sure that children with autism face even more mean-spirited behavior. I loved how the author explains ways to cope with other children (both good and bad) as well as how to carefully select quality friends. She also talks about the different types of behavior and how to express yourself!

I can't rave enough about Florida's story. She truly is a special child who has worked extremely hard at communicating with others, and I know that her words will help parents and children better understand autism. However, I also think she has some wonderful messages about friendship, bullying, and peer pressure that are helpful to all children and tweens.

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, June 21, 2013

Guest Review: A Chance to Win

Summary: A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist follows an embattled Little League team in inner-city Newark, revealing the complex realities of life in one of America’s most dangerous cities

When Rodney Mason, an ex-con drug dealer from Newark’s rough South Ward, was shot and paralyzed, he vowed to turn his life around. A former high-school pitching ace with a 93 mph fastball, Mason decided to form a Little League team to help boys avoid the street life that had claimed his youth and mobility. Predictably, the players struggle—they endure poverty, unstable family lives with few positive male role models, failing schools, and dangerous neighborhoods—but through the fists and tears, lopsided losses and rare victories, this bunch of misfits becomes a team, and in doing so gives the community something to root for. With in-depth reporting, fascinating characters, and vivid prose, Jonathan Schuppe’s book is both a penetrating, true-to-life portrait of what’s at stake for kids growing up poor in America’s inner cities and a portrait of Newark itself, a struggling city that has recently known great hope as well as failure. -- Henry Holt
I've mentioned in the past that my dad is a huge baseball fan (I actually think my son might be following in his footsteps), so I decided to pass along the new book A CHANCE TO WIN by Jonathan Schuppe. Here are his thoughts:

Author Jonathan Schuppe, an award winning crime reporter for a Newark daily newspaper, first met Rodney Mason in 2005 when he interviewed him for an article about the physical and emotional toll of living in a violent city like Newark, New Jersey.  For some reason a kind of friendship occurred between this white reporter and this black paralyzed drug dealer.  In 2007 Rodney Mason sought to turn his life around by forming and coaching a baseball team made up of children from Elizabeth Street, one of the poorest, drug infested and most violent parts of Newark.  Schuppe stayed close to Rodney and in 2008 he wrote an article documenting the first season of Rodney’s team, the Elizabeth Street Eagles.  Realizing that his article only scratched the surface of what life was about in this neighborhood, he decided to write A CHANCE TO WIN: BOYHOOD, BASEBALL, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR REDEMPTION IN THE INNER CITY What began as a newspaper article about teaching baseball to inner-city poor black children resulted in a passionate story about a struggling city, failed schools, dysfunctional families and the difficulty in escaping the cycle of poverty, drugs and violence.

To tell his story, over the next several years Schuppe focused on four people to follow: Rodney, two players and one father.  The author was not an outside observer but immersed himself into the lives of these people.  He visited their homes, attended parties, sporting events, church services and court hearings and became their friend.  It’s obvious that these people trusted Schuppe to tell their stories and Schuppe tells the stories with a level of compassion that shows he personally cared about these people.  However, since the book only covers a small time period, it is difficult to determine whether Rodney Mason truly changed any of their lives.

A CHANCE TO WIN is a terrific read that takes the readers to places they probably haven’t been and makes us aware of the struggles that occur in places like Elizabeth Street.  It is at the same time sad and hopeful and unfortunately true.        

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: The Last Original Wife

Summary: Experience the sultry Southern atmosphere of Atlanta and the magic of the Carolina Lowcountry in this funny and poignant tale of one audacious woman’s quest to find the love she deserves, from New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank.
Leslie Anne Greene Carter is The Last Original Wife among her husband Wesley’s wildly successful Atlanta social set. His cronies have all traded in the mothers of their children they promised to love and cherish—’til death did them part—for tanned and toned young Barbie brides. 

If losing the social life and close friends she adored wasn’t painful enough, a series of setbacks shake Les’s world and push her to the edge. She’s had enough of playing the good wife to a husband who thinks he’s doing her a favor by keeping her around. She’s not going to waste another minute on people she doesn’t care to know. Now, she’s going to take some time for herself—in the familiar comforts and stunning beauty of Charleston, her beloved hometown. In her brother’s stately historic home, she’s going to reclaim the carefree girl who spent lazy summers sharing steamy kisses with her first love on Sullivans Island. Along Charleston’s live oak- and palmetto-lined cobblestone streets, under the Lowcountry’s dazzling blue sky, Les will indulge herself with icy cocktails, warm laughter, divine temptation and bittersweet memories. Daring to listen to her inner voice, she will realize what she wants . . . and find the life of which she’s always dreamed. 

Told in the alternating voices of Les and Wes, The Last Original Wife is classic Dorothea Benton Frank: an intoxicating tale of family, friendship, self-discovery, and love, that is as salty as a Lowcountry breeze and as invigorating as a dip in Carolina waters on a sizzling summer day. -- William Morrow

Prior to attending this year's BEA, I decided to participate in Hit the Beach with the Dorothea Benton Frank Read Along. If I agreed to review THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE and either LOW COUNTRY or PORCH LIGHTS, I could attend a cocktail party with Ms. Frank and fellow participants. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and reviewed PORCH LIGHTS which I liked quite a bit before BEA.

After spending a few hours with the absolutely delightful Ms. Frank, I couldn't wait to come home and read THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE. I adored Ms. Frank's sense of humor and my interest was definitely piqued with her descriptions of the new novel. Believe it or not, Ms. Frank based a few of the scenes in THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE on a friend's marriage. (Actually she admitted that she had to tone down a few of the stories because no reader would ever believe them!) I couldn't get over one of the stories about a manhole accident, and I'm still a little nervous about walking city streets even now!

THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE tells the story of Les and Wes (too cute right?), a couple whose marriage is on the brink of collapse. Les is just fed up with Wes and she doesn't feel as if she is appreciated at all. When she starts seeing Wes' friends trading in their longtime wives for younger ones, she realizes that she no longer belongs in their world, nor does she have any desire to change for him at this point in her life. She decides to leave Wes for Charleston to visit her gay brother (another bone of contention in their marriage!) While Les is away basking in the beauty of Charleston, she discovers an old flame and begins to realize what she wants out of life... and it doesn't include Wes.

I am so glad that I signed up to participate in this read along because I'm afraid that I wouldn't have read a Dorothea Benton Frank book otherwise. And that would have been very unfortunate because I really enjoyed both of the books I've read by her. They are just perfect for the summer or anytime you want to escape.

There are so many good things to say about THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE. Probably one of the best things I can say about the story is that it made me laugh. Ms. Frank has a wonderful sense of humor and it was apparent throughout this novel. While I found Wes' actions to be incredibly selfish, I still managed to laugh at him. And once Les started to realize how special she was, I found her reactions and insight into her husband's behavior to be very funny.

However, I also really appreciated the character development of Les and how much she evolved throughout the novel. In many ways, THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE was a coming-of-age tale albeit one that occurred when a woman was in her late 50s. I loved the heartwarming messages about self-esteem, acceptance, and second chances. Furthermore, I liked some of the social commentary on marriage, relationships, and family.

THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE would make a very fun book club selection. I have a feeling that this book will definitely resonate with middle-aged (and older) women. Since the book is extremely entertaining, it will be a popular selection; however, there are also some very real and serious issues discussed in the novel. I've already mentioned some of the themes you might want to explore in the last paragraph. You can also incorporate a Charleston or Atlanta theme to your meeting with fun recipes including various drinks and appetizers.

I am so glad that I finally discovered the sheer pleasure of Dorothea Benton Frank's novels. Summer is the perfect time for you to pick up a copy of THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: The Last Camellia

Summary: "Terrific … compelling … an intoxicating blend of mystery, history and romance, this book is hard to put down." --Real Simple 

On the eve of the Second World War, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes. 

More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couple’s shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener’s notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will Addison share her fate? -- Plume

I am proud to say that I've read every book that Sarah Jio has written... so far. I've enjoyed all of them for different reasons and I definitely consider myself a fan. Her fourth novel is called THE LAST CAMELLIA, and I read it while I was at the shore a few weeks ago in preparation for meeting her at this year's BEA.(In case you were wondering, I did meet her very briefly at the end of the Penguin Bash -- she's very pretty and sweet!)

THE LAST CAMELLIA tells the story of two women -- Flora and Addison; and jumps back and forth between the 1940s and the 2000s. Flora is an American botanist who agrees to go to England, infiltrate a house and acquire a secret specimen of camellia for an international ring of flower thieves. She does this by working as a nanny to the family's four children. Addison, on the other hand, is a garden designer married to Rex. She has a secret from her past that is coming back to haunt her so she convinces her husband to move to England and live in the very same estate where Flora used to reside. The author weaves both Flora's and Addison's stories together using an old notebook that Addison discovered along with the mysteries that have occurred over the years at this English country estate.

I admit that I was most intrigued by the description of THE LAST CAMELLIA; however, I didn't love it like I had hoped. This might sound odd, but I can't put my finger on the reason why. I liked the characters okay, but I didn't love -- them so maybe that was the issue for me. What I can say for sure is that I appreciated Ms. Jio's storytelling abilities and I ended up being surprised by how both stories eventually played out.

One thing that Ms. Jio did a very good job of in this novel was bringing both of these women's stories to life. Often times, when I read a book that goes back and forth between two related stories, I find that one interests me much more than the other. However, that wasn't the case with THE LAST CAMELLIA. I actually was interested in both women. I also appreciated how well the author moved back and forth between the two time periods. I thought she did a great job of tying the stories together and giving clues about how the stories were related.

Another thing I enjoyed about THE LAST CAMELLIA was the setting of the novel. Even though the stories took place almost sixty years apart, for the most part, the stories took place at the English estate. I loved how she described the house, the gardens, and the gorgeous flowers. It was apparent that Ms. Jio did some research not only on the time period and location but also on the history of flowers.

THE LAST CAMELLIA would make for an interesting book club pick. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide yet, but I have a feeling that one is in the works. (She has reading guides for all of her other novels.) There is much to discuss about the various characters, namely Flora and Addison, but it also might be fun to explore the differences in the time periods. Furthermore, you might want to explore some of the main themes in the novel including family dynamics, honesty, deception, fear, deceit, love, marriage, and secrets.

While THE LAST CAMELLIA wasn't my absolute favorite Sarah Jio novel, I do think it has a little something for everyone. Fans of mysteries and historical fiction will definitely want to get their hands on a copy.

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Truth in Advertising

Summary: “F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in American lives. I have no idea what that means but I believe that in quoting him I appear far more intelligent than I am. I don’t know about second acts, but I do think we get second chances, fifth chances, eighteenth chances. Every day we get a fresh chance to live the way we want.”

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 a wedding. Now, a few days before Christmas, he’s forced to cancel a long-postponed vacation in order to write, produce, and edit a Super Bowl commercial for his diaper account in record time.

Fortunately, it gets worse. Fin learns that his long-estranged and once-abusive father has fallen ill. And that neither of his brothers or his sister intend to visit. It’s a wake-up call for Fin to reevaluate 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 past.

Truth in Advertising is debut novelist John Kenney’s wickedly funny, honest, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving story about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family. -- Touchstone

When my friend selected TRUTH IN ADVERTISING by John Kenney for our June book club selection, I was pretty happy. It was a book that I hadn't yet read (which isn't always the case), and it was one that I knew had received some pretty good reviews. She selected it because we haven't read many (if any) books with a male protagonist, and she thought it might be fun to do something a little outside of our norm. I totally agreed with her.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING tells the story of Fin Dolan, an ad exec who is approaching his 40th birthday and isn't really in a good place. The holidays are fast approaching and Fin wants to take a vacation -- he actually wants to use the air tickets from his recently called off his wedding. However, Fin's bosses have given him a huge project, writing and making a Super Bowl commercial for diapers. The vacation will have to be postponed... once again.

And then, Fin's life is turned upside down when he receives a call that his estranged father is near death. Fin's dad was abusive and negligent and basically has no relationship with any of his children. For whatever reason, Fin believes he needs to see his father; and that decision causes Fin to reflect on many of his life choices.

Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure that I was going to enjoy TRUTH IN ADVERTISING. The first two chapters or so didn't exactly resonate with me, and I had a feeling that I wasn't going to like the character of Fin. Then, the book's tone changed... or maybe I did? I found that I cared about Fin a great deal and I actually enjoyed the novel quite a bit. It was both funny and touching, and I love books that can make me feel!

I think my favorite aspect of TRUTH IN ADVERTISING was how it explored a pretty dysfunctional family. I am always drawn to stories with mess-up families and TRUTH IN ADVERTISING didn't disappoint. I've read loads of books about mother/daughter relationships, but only a few about fathers and sons. I found it interesting to see how each of the children (and especially Fin) were affected by what happened to their mother and the fallout from her death; and I really enjoyed seeing how much Fin changed (or matured) in this novel.

Another thing that I liked about TRUTH IN ADVERTISING was how it explored the world of advertising. I am a big fan of Mad Men in part because I love the scenes that show the creative process of creating an ad. This novel seemed to do a great job of showing the ups and downs of a huge advertising agency, and I thought the author's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of that world was extremely entertaining.

My book club didn't spend a lot of time discussing TRUTH IN ADVERTISING -- sometimes that's the case with our group. That doesn't mean that this novel wasn't good for discussion, though. There is a reading group guide available with ten questions which delves into some interesting topics. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, father/son relationships, love, friendship, career, choices, anger, pain, and second chances.

I enjoyed TRUTH IN ADVERTISING and recommend it for fans of Jonathan Tropper and Nick Hornby.

I checked out a copy of this novel from my local library.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Game (Audio)

Summary: I Hunt Killers introduced the world to Jasper (Jazz) Dent, the son of the world's most infamous serial killer.

When a desperate New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz's door asking for help with a new case, Jazz can't say no. The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple--and its police force running scared with no leads. So Jazz and his girlfriend Connie hop on a plane to the big city and get swept up in a killer's murderous game. 

Meanwhile, Jazz's dad Billy is watching...and waiting. -- Hachette Audio

A little over a year ago, I reviewed a YA novel called I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga. I loved this thriller which was part Dexter/part CSI/part Criminal Minds, and I was very excited by the prospect that I HUNT KILLERS was the first book in a new series. The second novel GAME was recently released and I thought it might be fun to listen to the story this time around.

GAME picks up right where I HUNT KILLERS left off, and if I'm being entirely honest, I think you should read the books in order. Is it absolutely, positively necessary to appreciate GAME? Not really, but I do think the references to Jazz's family and his past might get confusing. And (this is the real reason)... GAME contains lots of spoilers about the previous book.

I HUNT KILLERS introduces you to the character of Jazz Dent, teenage son of the world's most infamous serial killer. In the first book, Jazz sets out to prove his innocence from some pretty horrible crimes in his hometown. In GAME, Jazz is asked to help the New York City Police Department track down the Hat-Dog Killer. He and his girlfriend Connie fly to New York and find themselves right smack dab in the middle of the murderer's "game."

I enjoyed GAME but I definitely didn't love it like I did I HUNT KILLERS. One of the reasons might be that the uniqueness of the story and the characters wasn't as refreshing as it was when I picked up the first book. I also had some issues with suspending reality in this story that I don't recall having with I HUNT KILLERS. However, I think the main reason I didn't appreciate this novel quite as much was because I listened to it rather than reading it. Because I had already "read" the first book, I had some preconceived notions about how the characters should sound; and the narrator didn't really match those.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy GAME because I did. Once again, I was extremely impressed with the originality of the story. The mystery was extremely clever -- especially since it it technically a YA book; and while I was able to piece together a few of the clues, I honestly had no idea where the story was going to go. The crimes in GAME were particularly gruesome (did I mention that this book is not for under 14 readers?), and I appreciate that the author didn't "write down" for teens.

Furthermore, I really liked how well Mr. Lyga develops his teen characters. Jazz is just fascinating and I love how his confusion about his own ties to this father (and therefore his homicidal tendencies) are a constant struggle for him. I also like how he attempts to use his killer instincts for the greater good of society -- not quite like Dexter though! Because Jazz's father basically trained him to be a serial killer, Jazz has an uncanny ability to get in the mind of murderers; and I liked how he was able to make conclusions about the crimes because of his second sense.

In GAME, the reader also gets to know Jazz's girlfriend Connie a little better, and she proves that she definitely has some smarts and guts. Jazz's friend Howie is also back keeping things together on the home front, and he definitely provides some lighter moments. And I don't think this is giving away too much, but Jazz's father, Billy Dent, also makes a return and he is as creepy as ever!

There is no doubt that I'm hooked on this series and will read pretty much anything Mr. Lyga writes. He really is a terrific storyteller and keeps me on the edge of my seat (or treadmill in this case!) However, in the case of GAME, I actually have no choice but to anxiously await the next installment. There are cliffhanger endings and then there are cliffhanger endings, and in GAME, there is the mother of all cliffhangers! I had a feeling that this novel would eventually address a recurring theme in both of the books, but the way the author introduced the subject... on the last page of the novel, nonetheless, was almost cruel and unusual punishment for his readers!

I mentioned earlier that I listened to GAME rather than physically reading it, and I'm not sure it was the best approach for me. The narrator was Charlie Thurston and I'm pretty sure he was new-to-me. I thought he did a fine job with most of the novel, namely Jazz's character, but a few of the voices and accents didn't sit quite right to me. Mr. Thurston has read loads of books so I'm sure it was just me -- I did have some ideas about how I thought the characters should sound. I'm guessing if I had listened to I HUNT KILLERS rather than reading it, I probably would have enjoyed this one more.

I definitely recommend GAME to fans of thrillers but I do suggest reading I HUNT KILLERS first!

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, June 15, 2013

Kid Konnection: Truck Stop

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 an adorable picture book that's perfect for the little guys in your life.

Summary: Early each morning,
before the sun is even up,
the Truck Stop opens for breakfast,
and the trucks start pulling in.
Eighteen wheeler,
milk tank,
moving van,
and flatbed!
Their drivers order eggs and bacon,
pancakes with syrup,
and a blueberry muffin.
For the boy who helps his parents at the counter, there is nothing better than seeing all the trucks roll in; he knows every single one . . . and can tell when one is missing!

Here is a story for very young truck lovers, worth stopping for again and again. -- Viking

TRUCK STOP by Anne Rockwell and illustrated by Melissa Iwai is very fun picture book! The story is told in the voice of a young boy who helps his mom and dad run the family business -- which just happens to be a truck stop. He begins each day by squeezing the oranges to make juice while his parents start the coffee and breakfast foods. His uncle even works in the service garage.

Then the boy begins describing the various vehicles (eighteen-wheeler, dump truck, milk tank, moving van, even an old green pickup) and their drivers that stop at the truck stop. As each regular enters the truck stop, the boy and his parents start preparing their special breakfasts. However, Green Gus hasn't arrived and no one has seen him!

When the boy's school bus arrives, he hops on and finds that Green Gus is stranded on the side of the road. The bus driver makes a call and Green Bus is towed to the truck stop where its driver receives his normal breakfast order. Now everything is back to normal and the boy anxiously awaits tomorrow when it all begins again!

I thought TRUCK STOP was a delightful story that is sure to be enjoyed by parents and kids alike. There are lots of references to breakfast foods along with descriptions of the various vehicles that stop by the truck stop in the course of the morning. In addition, the colorful illustrations are the perfect complement to the story. I especially liked that the end paper was filled with cute pictures of the different types of vehicles.

I know that my nephews (ages 4 and 3) will just adore this book and I can't wait to share it with them!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media 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!