Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kid Konnection: Stats!

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 book that is very near and dear to Booking Son's heart.

Summary: Count up the most fascinating numbers behind sports’greatest moments in STATS! The Greatest Numbers in Sports, a brand new book from TIME Home Entertainment and Sports Illustrated Kids. STATS! The Greatest Numbers in Sports (Sports Illustrated Kids books, $16.95 USD), which goes on sale July 23, 2013 at and wherever books are sold, is filled with need-to-know stats, engaging infographics,and cool trivia for every sports fan.

This 128-page book reveals loads of amazing facts behind the most astonishing records and numbers in all of sports. Facts such as 21—the number of seconds it took Chicago Blackhawks right wing Bill Mosienko to score a hatrick, 591/3—the number of consecutive scoreless innings thrown by pitching great Orel Hershiser, 27 - the approximate speed of Usian Bolt when he set the 100m world record, and 40 - the number of regular season records held or shared by Wayne Gretzky.

“Great sporting accomplishments are always told through amazing statistics,” said Bob Der, Managing Editor of Sports Illustrated Kids. “Sport is a game of numbers. But it’s the story behind these numbers that really sparks a child’s interest, and personal connection with sports, and the athletes that champion them.”

In addition, STATS! covers history’s great athletic accomplishments, including sport’s:

  • Unbreakable records: Late New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio compiled what is considered one of sport’s most untouchable records, the 56 game hit-streak.
  • Amazing Feats: Former Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki played 10 consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits. The only other player with 10 200-hit seasons in MLB history is Pete Rose, who accomplished the feat over a span of 15 years.
  • Champions: Celtic great Bill Russell led his Boston basketball team to a mind-boggling 8 consecutive NBA championships. He ended his career with 11 championships in his 13 year playing career—the most by any professional athlete in history.
  • Fast and Furious Benchmarks: 0.01, one one-hundredth of a second, was the margin of victory for Michael Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. His narrow win sealed his seventh of eight total gold medals at the games—the most won by any athlete in a single Olympiad.
  • Odd Numbers: The most expensive ticket price for Super Bowl I was $12 dollars. These days, that could only buy you a hot-dog and a soda at concessions!

Beyond the numbers, the colorful book features amazing Sports Illustrated photography and SI Kids' insider knowledge tailor-made for young sports fans. Stats, facts, and great action photos all add up to one thing: a fun book for sports fans of any age. -- Sports Illustrated Kids

To say that Booking Son is a sport fan is an understatement. He is pretty much obsessed with all-things sports. The very first thing he does in the morning is turn on Sports Center and then he scrambles to the computer to check out baseball scores from the prior night. And don't even get me started on Fantasy Football! He is participating in his first father/son fantasy league this year, and I dare say the dads better watch out! Booking Son knows his stuff!!!

So when I saw that Sports Illustrated Kids has a new book out called STATS! THE GREATEST NUMBERS IN SPORTS, I just knew it would be perfect for him. When it arrived, he immediately ran off with it and I don't know if he came up for air until he skimmed through the entire book. He was extremely excited about STATS! and I am pretty sure he had the entire book read within a day or two. (That's not too shabby for my sometimes reluctant reader!)

I am a pretty big sports fan myself, so I totally understand his enthusiasm for this book. It truly is so much fun and perfect for young sports enthusiasts. In fact, the entire look and feel of STATS! is geared towards kids. This book has lots of exciting color photographs of sports stars along with big, bold numbers for the "stats." The text is also fairly big so the specifics on the records is clear and concise.

STATS! is even divided into fun chapter headings. There are sections for "Unbreakable Records" like Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game, along with "Amazing Feats," "Champions," "Fast and Furious," and "Odd Numbers." There is also an index with names, teams, etc. listed which will definitely come in handy when Booking Son is trying to quote a record to one of his friends.

STATS! is a who's who of sports. There are records and statistics for many athletes in a wide variety of sports. I appreciated that many of the statistics were recent and Booking Son was able to remember when they occurred. However, I liked it even more that some of the records have been around for a long-time and give readers a perspective on the history of sports. For example, STATS! shows that Cy Young has 511 career wins and how it would be almost impossible for that record to ever be broken.

In addition to stats about famous athletes, STATS! has some other fun facts and figures. One page shows all of the major sports' trophies and gives the weight for each one! And another fun fact is that there are 147,500,000,000,000,000,000 possible ways to fill out a 68-team NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket. That's 147.5 quintillion in case you were wondering!

STATS! is a terrific book for the young sports enthusiast! Highly recommended!

Thanks to Goodman 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, August 30, 2013

Review: The Widow Waltz

Summary: Georgia Waltz has things many people only dream of: a plush Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park, a Hamptons beach house, valuable jewels and art, two bright daughters, and a husband she adores, even after decades of marriage. It’s only when Ben suddenly drops dead from a massive coronary while training for the New York City Marathon that Georgia discovers her husband—a successful lawyer—has left them nearly penniless. Their wonderland was built on lies.

As the family attorney scours emptied bank accounts, Georgia must not only look for a way to support her family, she needs to face the revelation that Ben was not the perfect husband he appeared to be, just as her daughters—now ensconced back at home with secrets of their own—have to accept that they may not be returning to their lives in Paris and at Stanford subsidized by the Bank of Mom and Dad. As she uncovers hidden resilience, Georgia’s sudden midlife shift forces her to consider who she is and what she truly values. That Georgia may also find new love in the land of Spanx and stretch marks surprises everyone—most of all, her. 

 Sally Koslow’s fourth novel is deftly told through the alternating viewpoints of her remarkable female protagonists as they plumb for the grit required to reinvent their lives. Inspiring, funny, and deeply satisfying,The Widow Waltz explores in a profound way the bonds between mothers and daughters, belligerent siblings, skittish lovers, and bitter rivals as they discover the power of forgiveness, and healing, all while asking, “What isfamily, really?” -- Viking

In the past, I have enjoyed reading novels by Sally Koslow. I always feel like she "gets" women's fiction. She creates some memorable characters that women can relate to, but she also has the right blend of wit and wisdom in her novels. Her latest book THE WIDOW WALTZ is no exception.

THE WIDOW WALTZ tells the story of what happens to a family after Ben, the husband/father, drops dead of a heart attack while training for a marathon. The Waltz family seemingly had it all -- a father who was a successful attorney, a wife who adored her husband, two daughters, a beautiful Manhattan apartment, and a beach house in the Hamptons. However, when Ben dies unexpectedly, his widow Georgia and his two daughters quickly learn that their life wasn't at all what they thought.

The women are left almost penniless and Georgia is forced to not only try to support herself and her two daughters but accept that Ben wasn't the man she knew and loved. Her two daughters also have to accept that their lives are drastically changing as well since they can no longer afford they lifestyles to which they were accustomed. Through it all, Georgia learns that she has more strength than she ever realized and she also realizes the importance of family and love!

I admit when I first picked up THE WIDOW WALTZ, I wasn't so sure that I would appreciate this novel. It's not that the description didn't sound good, but I felt as if I had already read books with a similar story at least once or twice in the past. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. THE WIDOW WALTZ did provide an original look at this story; and once again, Ms. Koslow created some very memorable characters.

One thing I appreciated about this novel is that it was told through alternating viewpoints. For some reason, I was expecting it to be just the widow's story; and even though it primarily was, I liked that I got some additional insight into the various characters' lives and how the death of their father affected them. While I wasn't quite sure I was going to like Georgia or her daughters at the beginning of the novel, I eventually came to understand them and even learn to like them despite their "issues." I think my feelings changed because all three of these women evolved and showed how much strength they had. Furthermore, I liked seeing how they eventually came around to support each other!

Another thing I really enjoyed about THE WIDOW WALTZ is how the novel looked at love, loss and starting over. There is no doubt that what happened to Georgia and her daughters was extreme, but there was a lot of truth to their actions and feelings as well as how they coped with Ben's death. In addition, there were so many powerful messages in these women's stories like how to forgive and realizing what's truly important in our lives (hint: it isn't the Hampton's house!)

THE WIDOW WALTZ would definitely make a good book club selection for women's book clubs. While the story is very entertaining and even has a few surprising twists, it also has a lot of depth and will give readers some food for thought. There is a reading guide available with thirteen questions that will help keep your discussion on track. Some of the themes you will probably want to discuss include loss, anger, grief, forgiveness, family, honestly, sacrifices, acceptance, sibling rivalry, and new beginnings.

Overall, I enjoyed THE WIDOW WALTZ and thought the novel was a unique blend of wit and substance. Recommended for fans of women's fiction and books about dysfunctional families.

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Giveaway: Moonrise by Cassandra King

Summary: Helen Honeycutt is just getting her life back on track after a bitter divorce when she meets Emmet Justice, an attractive widower still grieving for his late wife, Rosalyn. Their sudden marriage sets off a maelstrom of resentment and ill-will among Rosalyn’s family and friends. Hoping to mend fences, the newlyweds plan a summer at Moonrise, Rosalyn’s historic estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Moonrise is known far and wide for its unique nocturnal gardens, which have fallen into ruin since the death of its mistress.

Like the heroine of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic romance, Rebecca, Helen becomes obsessed by her predecessor, who lives on in her house and gardens and the hearts of those who loved her. Not only does Helen fail to measure up to the beautiful and accomplished Rosalyn, she doesn’t fit into her world, either, an elite enclave of well-to-do summer people. Even the gardens exclude her, since their secrets, passed down by generations of gardeners, died out with Rosalyn. When it becomes clear that someone in Rosalyn’s close-knit circle of friends is determined to drive her away, Helen wonders if she can trust anyone, even her husband. As the sweltering summer draws to an end, Helen must uncover the secrets of the past in order to establish her own identity apart from the woman she replaced. -- Maiden Lane Press

I was hoping to have finished MOONRISE by Cassandra King and have a review for you today, but this week has been crazy with the start of school. The good news is that I have started this novel and I'm enjoying it so far! My review should follow shortly.

MOONRISE is already getting rave reviews from some pretty well-respected authors including Anne River Siddons and Meg Waite Clayton. While I admit I'm not very far in the book, I can already tell that the story has a wonderful setting that Ms. King has vividly brought to life.

I am so honored to welcome Ms. King to Booking Mama. She has graciously answered a few questions about families and settings -- two crucial ingredients of her new book.

Q: Family homes that pass from generation to generation carry the history of the all the lives that have been lived within their walls. Do you believe there are such things as haunted places and ghosts?

A: I should hope so, since my grandfather’s house, where I spent much of my childhood, was haunted (and still is, as far as I know. Although it’s no longer in the family, the present owners have reported strange happenings). I’m a strong believer in the past as a vital part of the present, however one interprets that. For me, our passage from one realm of existence to the other is fluid, transient, outside of time, rather than something that occurs at one particular moment in our life. I believe we exist in a spiritual world. 

Q: The beautiful and lush Blue Ridge Mountains and the Highlands area of summer homes in particular play a large role in shaping the story. How important is place in your writing? When did you first discover Highlands, and what drew you to describe that place when you sat down to tell this story?

A: Place is always important in my writing--almost a central character in some stories. In this particular book, I needed the mountain setting in order to create a particular mood. The story called for not only the majesty and beauty of the mountains, but also their remote loneliness: the way that mountains can feel so unattainable, forever out of one’s reach. In the case of this novel, the setting came first, and the characters evolved from there. Highlands is a place of such incredible beauty that I’ve always been attracted to the area, drawn to the peacefulness of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Only in the past decade have we started spending a lot of time in the Highlands area, and I’ve been itching to incorporate the setting into a book.

MOONRISE is available on September 3rd from Maiden Lane Press.

Photo Credit: Tamara Reynolds
Cassandra King is the bestselling author of four previous novels, Making WavesThe Sunday WifeThe Same Sweet Girls and Queen of Broken Hearts, as well as numerous short stories, essays and articles. Moonrise, her fifth novel, is set in Highlands, North Carolina. A native of Lower Alabama, Cassandra resides in Beaufort, South Carolina, with her husband, Pat Conroy.

Giveaway: I have a copy of MOONRISE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 11th 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!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: The Life List

Summary: In this utterly charming debut—perfect for fans of Cecelia Ahern’s P.S., I Love You and Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life—one woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.

1. Go to Paris
2. Have a baby, maybe two
3. Fall in love

Brett Bohlinger seems to have it all: a plum job, a spacious loft, an irresistibly handsome boyfriend. All in all, a charmed life. That is, until her beloved mother passes away, leaving behind a will with one big stipulation: In order to receive her inheritance, Brett must first complete the life list of goals she’d written when she was a na├»ve girl of fourteen. Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mother’s decision—her childhood dreams don’t resemble her ambitions at age thirty-four in the slightest. Some seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other goals (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. As Brett reluctantly embarks on a perplexing journey in search of her adolescent dreams, one thing becomes clear. Sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places. -- Bantam Books

I packed a ton of books for my vacation to the beach a few weeks back including THE LIFE LIST by Lori Nelson Spielman. It actually ended up being the first book I decided to read. Maybe it was the cover -- it definitely looks like a girly read; however, I think it had more to do with the description. THE LIFE LIST had the possibility to be one of those feel-good books that is perfect for a summer read.

And I have to say that I really enjoyed THE LIFE LIST -- probably even more than I was expecting. THE LIFE LIST is about Brett Bohlinger, a 34 year-old woman who has a "perfect" life. She has a great job at her mother's cosmetic company, a terrific boyfriend, and a great apartment; however, when her mother dies, everything in her life changes in a second. Instead of taking over for her mother at the cosmetic company, Brett discovers that her mother has left some unusual requests in her will. Brett must complete the life list that she created when she was fourteen!

Brett is extremely confused by her mother's request -- she is nothing like the girl she was at fourteen; and some of the requests make absolutely no sense like having a relationship with her father... who passed away years ago. However, she decides to do her best to fulfill her mother's wishes. As she crosses off each item on the list, Brett manages to learn some very important things about herself; and she just might find the happiness that has eluded her along the way!

THE LIFE LIST is a delightful coming-of-age story about a woman who doesn't even know what she's been missing. She seemingly has it all; however, she learns that she hasn't been living the "right" life and she got lost somewhere in the last twenty years. Evidently, Brett's mother did know best (and maybe even knew Brett better than Brett knew herself) because she wanted her daughter to revisit her old, teenage dreams; and she was wise enough to leave her daughter with this one last demand.

I am pretty sure that one of the main reasons I enjoyed THE LIFE LIST so much was the character of Brett. Of course, my heart went out to her because she lost her mom way too early, but I also felt horrible that she had to jump through what seemed like some pretty crazy hoops to get her inheritance. Some of the requests I understood like "fall in love" or "have a child." However, some were pretty out there like "get a horse!" Now, that's a 14 year old's dream is I've ever heard one.. or is it?

I really enjoyed following Brett along on her journey and seeing how much she changed. Brett's story was both funny and heartbreaking, and I loved how this novel had so many wonderful messages about living and happiness. In addition, I think this novel really resonated with me because I am a mother. Not only did I love how wise Brett's mother was, but I also appreciated seeing Brett's life list at 14 because I now have a 14 year old daughter. THE LIFE LIST made me really examine my old desires as well as my current ones, and it also made me wonder what direction my daughter's life will take!

Needless to say, I am going to recommend THE LIFE LIST for book clubs... and especially mother/daughter ones. There truly is a lot to discuss about Brett's life, but I also loved that this book made me think about my own life... and my own life list. There is a reading guide available with twelve terrific questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, heredity, forgiveness, acceptance, second chances, parent/child relationships, love, courage, strength, and happiness. You might even want to have your members create their own life lists and discuss!

I really enjoyed THE LIFE LIST and I think it's a wonderful book for women of all ages. Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School & Giveaway

Summary: Something strange is happening to the sixth grade—and it’s up to student scientist Wilmer Dooley to crack the case in this fast-paced novel full of humor and mystery.

If there’s one important thing Wilmer Dooley’s dad always says, it’s this: “Where are my car keys?”
Okay, maybe not that. He also says: “Observe!”

Wilmer has always known that the greatest science comes from the keenest observations. So when he observes his classmates looking a little green…and orange...and chartreuse-fuchsia polka-dotted...he knows that it’s up to him to find the cause of this mysterious illness—and the cure.

But with his arch nemesis, Claudius Dill, hot on his heels; the eagle-eyed biology teacher, Mrs. Padgett, determined to thwart his plans; and a host of fluorescent classmates bouncing off the walls at increasingly dangerous speeds, can Wilmer prove he has what it takes to save the sixth grade from a colorful demise before it’s too late? -- Atheneum Books for Young Readers

THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL by Fowler DeWitt and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo is a very cute middle grade novel that will appeal to all sorts of readers... including reluctant ones! It is an entertaining (and very funny!) story with a geeky, but lovable main character; and it also has elements of a mystery. There truly is something for everyone!

THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL is sixth grader Wilmer Dooley's story about how he solved a crisis at his middle school. Like his father, Wilmer is a scientist and knows the importance of "Observation." When Wilmer's classmates begin changing colors -- and even patterns, Wilmer is determined to get all of the facts and find a cure.

However, Claudius Dill, Wilmer's rival, has the same idea; and he actually offers a "cure" to the students before Wilmer can figure out what's going on. Wilmer suspects that Claudius is up to no good and he's pretty sure that Claudius's "cure" isn't doing what he promised. Can Wilmer overcome Claudius's behavior and figure out what's causing all of his classmates to change colors before it's too late?

THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL is just a fun book. The novel is geared towards kids 7 - 10, and I can see how children in this age range will just love this silly story. I think one of the main reasons this book will appeal to children is because it's downright funny. I have a nine year old, so I understand how "odd" his humor can be; and this book feeds right into it!

Wilmer is a funny character in his own right because he is truly a nerd, but his family is certainly special as well. I can't say I didn't understand why Wilmer is the way he is! His father is kind of scatterbrained and clueless-- to put it mildly, while his mother concocts meals from her toddler's seemingly random suggestions. I guarantee you will be disgusted by some of her creations!

I also appreciated that this book had a mystery at its core -- why were Wilmer's classmates changing colors? I liked that Wilmer used his classroom lessons to methodically research the case including taking samples, conducting experiments, and making hypotheses; and I was even impressed with how he compared this "disease" to the Black Plague.

Another aspect of THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL that I enjoyed was that it touched upon some friendship and compassion issues. Wilmer has some problems with his best friend during the story based on a misunderstanding. Fortunately, they were able to work through their problems and learn from them. In addition, Wilmer had to deal with a not-so-nice person in the form of Claudius. While Claudius was most definitely Wilmer's nemesis, Wilmer still found it in his heart to try to understand why Claudius was the way he was.

THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL has a lot to offer young readers. I recommend it to fans of mysteries and humor!

Check out the adorable book trailer:

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

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Simon & Schuster, I have a copy of THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL and Custom-made Contagious Colors Band-Aids to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 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 US addresses only. Good luck.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling (Audio)

Summary: A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide.

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.

Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. -- Hachette Audio 

By now, you'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard that THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by Robert Galbraith was actually written by none other than J.K. Rowling. While I'd like to say that this novel caught my eye before learning that Rowling was the author, I'd be telling a total lie. Of course, once I heard all of the buzz surrounding it,I had to get my hands on a copy. Fortunately, I received an audio version within the day!

THE CUCKOO'S CALLING was an extremely entertaining murder mystery -- and I'm 100% sure I would have felt the same way even before I knew who the author really was! Cormoran Strike is a private investigator who is most definitely down on his luck. He recently lost his leg while serving in Afghanistan, his girl friend just dumped him, and he's living in his office. Even worse, he's flat out broke and down to his last customer. However one day, John Bristow enters his office and asks him to look into the death of his sister, the supermodel Lula Landry. The police have ruled it a suicide, but John believes there was foul play.

Cormoran and his temporary assistant Robin begin looking into Lula's death and find themselves recreating the final days of Lula's life. Their investigation introduces them to a wide variety of characters.. and suspects; and they get a glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Together, they uncover the clues which allow Cormoran to put together all of the pieces and reveal the unlikely events surrounding Lula's death.

I honestly loved THE CUCKOO'S CALLING! I thought the story was intriguing and I was kept guessing until the very end (although I admit I had my suspicions about the culprit but no idea about the motive.) Furthermore, I was extremely impressed with the variety of characters that were introduced in this novel. Lula has some very unique associates and family and friends, but the witnesses were also interesting... and often times mysterious.

However, it was the characters of Cormoran and Robin that I absolutely adored -- their teamwork and chemistry is just fantastic! Cormoran is one of the most interesting detective characters that I've recently encountered in fiction, and I loved how his background story unfolded throughout the course of the novel. I also liked how Robin supported him, and I have a feeling that we'll be seeing this dynamic duo together in future cases.

Another wonderful thing about THE CUCKOO'S CALLING was how the murdered was eventually revealed. The case was quite complex with lots of twists and turns, and I liked how Cormoran summed everything up at the end of the novel. For some reason, it reminded me a bit of those detective shows that I watched on television as a kid; and I think this method of reveal worked well for this novel.

The audio version of THE CUCKOO'S CALLING was read by Robert Glenister, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I'm beginning to realize that I'm a sucker for British accents, but I loved how he did the various voices (both male and female) as well as the accents. Since I am pretty sure that THE CUCKOO'S CALLING in the first in a series, I look forward to hearing Mr. Glenister again, sooner rather than later.

Overall, I thought THE CUCKOO'S CALLING was a very high quality detective novel. Highly recommended!

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

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Kid Konnection: The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a cute middle grade book about a very memorable character!

Summary: Dini is back from India—with Bollywood star Dolly in tow! But life in the States isn’t all rose petal milk shakes… 

Dini and Maddie, very best friends, are back in the same country at the same time! Better still, Dolly Singh, the starriest star in all of Bollywood, is in America too. Dini’s only just returned from India, and already life is shaping up to be as delicious as a rose petal milk shake. Perfect. Then why can’t she untie the knot in her stomach? Because so much can go wrong when a big star like Dolly is in town. All Dini has to do is make sure Dolly has everything she needs, from a rose petal milk shake to her lost passport to…a parade? And an elephant?

Uh-oh… It’s time to think. What Would Dolly Do? If Dini can’t figure it out, Dolly might take matters into her own hands—and that will surely lead to the biggest mess of all! -- Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Yesterday, I reviewed THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Abigail Halpin; and I mentioned that I would be featuring the sequel called THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC today. I am so happy to say that the second book in this series lived up to the first. There is no sophomore slump here!

THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC picks up right where the first novel left off. Dini is now back in the Nation's capital and able to see her best friend Maddie. But even better, Dolly Singh, the famous Bollywood actress (and now a friend of Dini's) is visiting the U.S. too. Dini thinks her life is just about perfect, but things quickly begin to go wrong. First, Maddie has a new friend and Dini isn't quite sure what to think of her. And then, Dolly loses her passport and has some pretty hefty requests for her premiere. Can the always resourceful Dini save the day for herself and Dolly?

I really enjoyed THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC. It's no surprise since I liked the first book in the series, and this novel has the same look and feel as the first one. All of the major characters are back and as crazy as ever. There book is quick paced with lots of action; and once again, I think it has the makings of a fun Bollywood movie!

There were many things I liked about THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC -- and much of them are exactly the same as the first book. Dini is a strong female character who is smart and determined and willing to go the extra mile for her new friend Dolly. The supporting characters are hilarious and definitely add lightness and whimsy to the story. However, it was a more serious issue that made this book so special to me.

In THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC, Dini arrives back home to discover that her best friend Maddie has made friends with a new girl. Even though Dini has made a friend in India in the first novel, she isn't so sure that she likes Maddie's friend; and jealous seems to rear its ugly head. As a mom, I appreciated that this novel explored this friendship problem because I think it's one that will resonate with many young readers. I also liked the way Dini eventually worked through her issues and I think there are some good messages in the story.

Check out the book trailer for THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC. You can see just how adorable the illustrations are!

Follow all of the unforgettable characters from The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic on Uma Krishnaswami’s blog tour!

Aug 19 GreenBeanTeenQueen  Dini
Aug 20 There's a Book  Maddie
Aug 21 Once Upon a Story  Soli Dustup
Aug 22 The Compulsive Reader  Dini's father
Aug 23 Sharpread  Chickoo Uncle

Aug 26 Read Now, Sleep later  Mini
Aug 27 I Read Banned Books  Dolly
Aug 28 Through the Wardrobe  Chef Armend Latifi
Aug 29 The Book Monsters  Ollie
Aug 30 The Brain Lair  Alana
Overall, I am definitely a fan of Dini and her adventures. I highly recommend these books for elementary age girls!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this novel.

I have a copy of THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 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!

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, August 23, 2013

Review: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Summary: Rose petal milk shakes and a world of surprises awaits Dini when her family moves to India in this spirited novel with Bollywood flair.

Eleven-year old Dini loves movies—watching them, reading about them, trying to write her own—especially those oh-so-fabulous Bollywood movies where you don’t need to know the language to get what’s going on. But when her mother reveals some big news, it does not at all jibe with the script Dini had in mind. Her family is moving to India. And not even to Bombay, which is the “center of the filmi universe” (and home to Dini’s all-time most favorite star, Dolly Singh). No, they’re moving to a teeny, tiny town that she can’t even find on a map: Swapnagiri. It means Dream Mountain, a sleepy little place where nothing interesting can happen....

But wait a movie minute! Swapnagiri is full of surprises like rose petal milk shakes, mischievous monkeys, a girl who chirps like a bird, and...could it be…Dolly herself? -- Atheneum Books for Young Readers

THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Abigail Halpin is a wonderful middle grade book that I'm pretty sure I would have adored as a young girl... especially since I thought it was pretty darn cute as a middle aged mom! It's a sweet story about a very determined girl and it also gives a glimpse at life in India. It's no wonder that this novel received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING is about eleven year old Dini who adores all things Bollywood. She and her best friend Maddie are obsessed with watching Bollywood movies, despite not always understanding the language; and they both love the famous actress Dolly Singh. When Dini learns that her family is moving to the mountains of India for her mom's job, she's less than thrilled to leave her home and Maddie. What makes things even worse is that she's not even going to live in Bombay which is the hub for Bollywood movies.

Fortunately for Dini, her new life in Swapnagiri is much more exciting that she ever expected. The question is, "Can Dini handle all of this excitement and fix everything for everyone?"

I thought THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING was a terrific example of everything I love about middle grade fiction. It has an interesting main character who faces her fair share of challenges (and some that were probably outside her area of influence) while learning about herself and becoming a better person. It didn't hurt that it introduced what is probably a new culture to a lot of readers, and it also had a happy ending. Overall, I'd say it was an entertaining, feel-good book!

What I really liked about THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING was the character of Dini. She was a very strong and smart young girl who was determined to do whatever it took to meet Dolly... and then "fix everything" for her. As a young girl who moved quite a bit, I appreciated seeing how Dini dealt with not only the move to India, but also how she coped with making a new friend while missing her old one.

While I admit to having never seen a Bollywood movie, I imagine that the plot of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING was very similar to one. The book was fast-faced with lots of memorable characters (including monkeys!), and there was both sadness and humor. The ending was even a big party scene that I'm sure would play well in a Bollywood movie.

THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING is a delightful book that is sure to keep young girls entertained! It's a good thing that it's the first in a series! I can't wait to see what happens to Dini next.

Make sure you come back tomorrow to see my review of the sequel to THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING!

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: Imperfect Spiral

Summary: Danielle Snyder's summer of babysitting turns into one of overwhelming guilt and sadness when Humphrey, her five-year-old charge is killed suddenly. Danielle gets caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and, when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien, a politically charged immigration debate. Wanting only to mourn the sweet little boy she grew to love, Danielle tries to avoid the world around her, until a new and unexpected friendship with Justin, a boy she meets at the park, helps her find a way to preserve Humphrey's memory, stand up for what she believes in, and find her own path to forgiveness. Readers will be swept away by this heart-wrenching, but uplifting story. -- Walker Books

After reading the description for the new Young Adult novel IMPERFECT SPIRAL by Debbie Levy, I had a feeling that it was going to be a pretty powerful story. It seemed like this book touched upon so many important, and yet relevant, issues including grief, guilt, friendship, immigration, and self-discovery. Little did I realize just how complex this novel would be.

IMPERFECT SPIRAL tells the story of Danielle, a teenage girl who is babysitting five year old Humphrey when he is run down by a car and killed. It really is a babysitter's worst nightmare to have a child under her care die, but it's even more difficult for Danielle because of the controversy that follows the accident. The driver of the car was an undocumented alien and many of the neighborhood's inhabitants were outraged. Danielle tries to deal with the loss the best she can; however, she ends up staying away from everyone... including her best friends.

When Danielle meets Justin at the park, she finally feels like she has someone who understands what she's been through. This new-found friendship is just what Danielle needs to deal with her grief and guilt as well as help her to stand up for what she believes in.

I was quite impressed with IMPERFECT SPIRAL and think it's a terrific young adult book. In fact, I immediately handed it to my 14 year old daughter and recommended that she read it. Not only is it an interesting story, but it is one that causes the reader to truly think about a lot of things. (And I always think that if a book can make you think, it's a special one.) However, I also wanted her to read it for a more selfish reason -- I thought it was a terrific book for discussion and I wanted to hear her views on a few of the issues!

There is no doubt that IMPERFECT SPIRAL covers a lot of ground.  Honestly, a book about a teenage girl who is dealing with guilt and grief after the death of a child under her care would be more than enough to make an intriguing story. However, Ms. Levy also chose to deal with friendship problems as well as the very controversial topic of undocumented (or illegal) immigration. And that wasn't all, the character of Danielle also learned a heck of a lot about herself; so in many ways, IMPERFECT SPIRAL was also a coming-of-age story. I commend her effort to tackle some very serious issues, and for the most part, I think she did an excellent job especially when it pertained to showing both sides of some difficult issues.

I'm not sure this is a complaint about IMPERFECT SPIRAL, but there were times when I thought Ms. Levy tried to accomplish too much with this story. There were just so many issues that caused me to think. I felt a few times as if my brain might explode. However, the more I've let this story percolate in my brain, the more I've realized just how well she pulled everything together. All of the issues belonged in this story and were definitely related to each other.

I've already mentioned that IMPERFECT SPIRAL brings up a lot of issues about immigration. I actually don't know how many teens know much (if anything) about this subject matter. Ms. Levy might have wondered the same thing because she has listed some great resources on her website about this very issue. Furthermore, she has included a playlist for the book that some readers will enjoy.

I loved that IMPERFECT SPIRAL made me think and that it will make teen readers think about some very important issues. This book is a terrific example of what I love about YA books and I look forward to Ms. Levy's next book.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: Beautiful Day

Summary: The Carmichaels and the Grahams have gathered on Nantucket for a wedding. Plans are being made according to the wishes of the bride's late mother, who left behind The Notebook: specific instructions for every detail of her youngest daughter's future nuptials. Everything should be falling into place for the beautiful event--but in reality, things are far from perfect.

While the couple-to-be are quite happy, their loved ones find their own lives crumbling. In the days leading up to the wedding, love will be questioned, scandals will arise, and hearts will be broken and healed. Elin Hilderbrand takes readers on a touching journey in BEAUTIFUL DAY--into the heart of marriage, what it means to be faithful, and how we choose to honor our commitments. -- Reagan Arthur Books 

Summer wouldn't seem like summer to me without reading a book by Elin Hilderbrand. Her latest novel, which of course takes place at a beach, is called BEAUTIFUL DAY; and I have to admit that I packed this one in my beach bag last week when our family visited the Outer Banks. BEAUTIFUL DAY is a great beach read, and I really enjoyed reading albeit under cloudy skies!

BEAUTIFUL DAY tells the story of the Carmichael and Graham families who are visiting Nantucket for the wedding of their daughter Jenna and their son Stuart. Jenna has prepared every last detail of her dream day according to The Notebook which was written by her mother in the months leading up to her death from cancer. However, even the best laid plans can go awry when family is involved. And that's exactly what happens in this novel!

Even though the couple is perfect for each other, the various family members' lives seem to be a mess. For example, the father of the bride is doubting his second marriage, the mother of the groom is trying to cope with her husband's ex-wife, and the bride's brother is hooking up with her best friend... who just happens to be married to someone else. Margot, the maid of honor and sister of the bride, is doing her best to just get through the weekend and make this day special for Jenna and Stuart.

BEAUTIFUL DAY is just sheer fun, but I'm happy to say that it also has some substance. The characters are interesting, as are their stories; and I quickly got caught up in their lives. In many ways, this book was like a juicy daytime drama -- and I mean that in the best way! While many parts of this book were fairly predictable, I didn't mind one bit because the story was so entertaining. Plus, I am a sucker for books about love and weddings!

Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised by how well BEAUTIFUL DAY explored family dynamics and especially the institution of marriage. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say I thought the story or the characters were as "deep" as the ones in THE ENGAGEMENTS (which I just happened to review yesterday), but this novel did show many different aspects of love and commitment. And while I did find some of the messages about marriage to be a bit sad, I know in my heart that many of these themes are very real and will resonate with readers.

As is always the case with an Elin Hilderbrand novel, I love how well she brought the setting to life. In the case of BEAUTIFUL DAY, it was Nantucket; and can I just say that I'm dying to visit this place? I love how she described the houses, the beachfront, and even the restaurants.

BEAUTIFUL DAY would make a fun selection for a female book club... especially during the summer months. The book is a very quick read (which is definitely a plus for my friends during this time of year) and it's also entertaining. However, it's the themes of love, marriage, commitment, trust, and family which will generate the most discussion.

If you are looking for a beach book now or any time of the year, I highly recommend BEAUTIFUL DAY!

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: The Engagements

Summary: From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love. -- Knopf

Two summers ago, I read MAINE by J. Courtney Sullivan and thought it was terrific. You can read my full review here. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to learn that Ms. Sullivan had a new book coming out this summer called THE ENGAGEMENTS; and even better, it was generating a lot of positive reviews. Even my go-to source for book recommendations, Entertainment Weekly, gave it an A-! I have to say that I positively adored this novel, and it's quite possibly one of my favorite reads of the year.

Simply put, THE ENGAGEMENTS is an encompassing story about love and marriage -- and by that, I mean all types of marriages. For those of you who are married, you probably know that marriage can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be quite complex. THE ENGAGEMENTS explores all the ups and downs, as well as the highs and lows, and even the intricacies of the institution of marriage.

What I loved so much about THE ENGAGEMENTS is how this book actually portrayed at marriage. Ms. Sullivan chose to tell this story to the reader by telling five very different stories over the course of 50+ years. All of the characters in these tales were equally compelling to me, and that's really saying something! I adored how the book went back and forth between the various stories as well as the way it moved through the years. I loved seeing how marriage is not only different for each couple, but also how it has evolved/changed through the years.

I hesitate to go into too much detail about the characters because I picked up this book knowing almost nothing about it, and I loved how the story and the characters' lives unfolded. One character that really stood out to me was Frances Gerety, the woman who was responsible for coining the phrase, "A Diamond is Forever." Ms. Gerety is an actual person and I was extremely impressed with how Ms. Sullivan incorporated the facts in her life with the rest of the story. I have a feeling that the author did a fair amount of research on advertising companies and the role of women, and I found it fascinating.

The book also looked at four other couples' stories; and through the various chapters, the reader gets to see their different experiences with matrimony. By featuring these different couples in different settings, I thought the author really explored marriage and what it can mean to different people. However, I admit I was a bit confused about how (or if) these stories would come together. I honestly couldn't figure out how they were related. Shame on me... I shouldn't have doubted Ms. Sullivan. By the end of the novel, I was shaking my head and smiling with how everything came together -- it was just perfect!

Naturally, I'm going to suggest that your book club consider THE ENGAGEMENTS for its next selection! There is a reading guide available with eighteen questions, but I'm sure you'll have plenty to discuss on your own. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage (duh!), love (duh again!), feminism and the role of women, "unmarriage," parent/child relationships, and trust to name just a few. 

There truly are so many wonderful things about THE ENGAGEMENTS -- the characters, the history, the writing, and the way it made me think about the institution of marriage. Once again, I was extremely impressed with how well Ms. Sullivan brings her characters to life and makes me care about them. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Guest Review: Pray for Us Sinners

Summary: A British Army bomb-disposal expert goes undercover to try to identify the source of the bombs being used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Pray for Us Sinners, a thrilling novel by New York Times bestseller Patrick Taylor

In Belfast in 1973 the Troubles are raging. Two Ulstermen. Two sides. On one, British Army bomb-disposal officer Marcus Richardson; on the other, Davy MacCutcheon, Provisional IRA armourer who has been constructing bombs since his teens. Both men are committed to their causes until events shatter their beliefs, leaving each with a crisis of faith and an overpowering need to get out—but with honour.

When he is nearly killed by an exploding car bomb, Marcus welcomes the offer of a transfer to the elite SAS—provided that he first accept an undercover mission to infiltrate the Falls Road ghetto, join the Provisional IRA, identify their upper echelon, and expose their bomb-maker.

When Davy’s devices are used for civilian disruption rather than military targets, the bomb-maker begins to question what he’s doing. His work is being used to maim and kill innocent people. His request to be discharged is countered by an order that he go on one last mission. Success will bring Davy redemption and permission to leave Ireland with Fiona Kavanagh, the woman he loves.

When the paths of the two men cross, Davy realizes that he can use Marcus’s expertise in plastic explosives. A runaway series of events leaves both men in an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of a plot to kill the British Prime Minster. Can Marcus find a way to thwart the plan and escape with his life? -- Forge Books

Booking Pap Pap is back and this time it's with a review for PRAY FOR US SINNERS by Patrick Taylor. Here are his thoughts:

PRAY FOR US SINNERS is a story about the conflict between the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and the British.   Set in 1976 around British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s visit to Ulster, the story focuses on two individuals: Davy MacCutcheon, an aging die-hard member of the PIRA who supplied bombs since his youth and Marcus Richardson, a British military bomb disposal expert who reappears as undercover agent Mike Roberts with the charge to infiltrate the PIRA.

Even though MacCutcheon and Richardson are on opposite sides of the struggle, each is conflicted between questions about their mission and their sworn duty to the cause.  McCutcheon waivers after his longtime lover, Fiona, leaves him because of the civilian casualties caused by his work and then an innocent little girl is killed by one of his bombs.  He plans one last important mission that he believes will end the conflict and then he will retire and leave Ireland with Fiona.  Richardson, an Irish-Protestant serving in the British military, begins to see both sides of the conflict after living in the Belfast slums and falling in love with an Irish-Catholic girl.  He wishes to quickly complete his mission and earn a transfer to the elite British SAS force.  Eventually MacCutcheon’s and Richardson’s paths cross, which leads to an exciting series of events centered on the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Wilson.

Author Patrick Taylor adds other elements to the story that makes PRAY FOR US SINNERS a real political thriller.  For example: there are turncoats in each camp reporting information to the other camp; there are love affairs that complicate matters; there is a one critical event that will decide the outcome of the story; and there are the typical government power grabs, manipulations and cover-up issues.

Taylor does a good job of presenting the reader with the complex political issues that exist in the British-IRA conflict and gives the reader a view of violence and poverty that existed in Ulster in the mid-sixties.  Placing his characters in an accurate historic setting and using the local language adds a realistic touch to the novel.  
PRAY FOR US SINNERS is a well-paced political thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed reading

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel and to Booking Pap Pap for his fine review.
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, August 17, 2013

Kid Konnection: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp & Giveaway

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  delightful new middle grade book.

Summary: Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this tale from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

Newbery Honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt presents a story of care and conservation, funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud. -- Atheneum Books for Young Readers

When I read the description for THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt , I honestly wasn't quite sure what to expect. The story sounded interesting, but also a little "out there." I'm not a big fan of fantasy and I wasn't sure I could buy raccoons being "scouts" or even a Sugar Man Swamp who hasn't been seen in many, many years. However, I was willing to give it a shot since the author is a Newbery Honoree.

Despite my reluctance, I have to say that I really enjoyed THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP (TTBSOSMS.) It's now obvious to me why this middle grade novel has already received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, and Booklist! That's quite a list of accomplishments already! I don't claim to read a ton of middle grade books, but TTBSOSMS is unlike any book I've ever read -- and I mean that in the very best of ways!

TTBSOSMS is a delightful tale that takes place in an alligator swamp in Texas. The novel alternates between a variety of stories including the Sugar Man and a snake, the raccoon brothers who are scouts for the Sugar Man, a twelve year old Chap who is not only trying to save his family's restaurant but also the entire swamp, and a greedy pack of wild hogs! I have absolutely no idea how Ms. Appelt came up with this assortment of characters, or really the entire story for that matter, but it all came together in a highly entertaining (and very funny) book!

It's hard for me to describe this action-packed story in just a few sentences, but I'll do my best. Basically, a famous alligator wrestler named Jaeger wants to turn Sugar Man Swamp into a theme park; and at the same time, a family of wild hogs is closing in on the swamp. Chap is determined to honor his grandfather's memory by finding a lost DeSoto along with the ivory billed woodpecker, and he's also trying to save his failing family business. However, he realizes that he first has to save the swamp that he dearly loves to accomplish any of those missions. Meanwhile, the raccoon scouts are trying to find a way to wake up the mythical Sugar Man and warn him about the feral hogs without incurring his wrath.

Have I totally confused you? I think that's because there is so much going on this story and the basic plot is kind of silly. However, it all works -- it really does! The chapters are very short (in some cases, just a few sentences) and alternate between all of these characters' stories. As the book progresses, the stories start coming together and eventually culminate in a very exciting event!

There are quite a few things that I appreciated about TTBSOSMS. First of all, the story is so darn unique from the plot, to the characters, to the prose. Since the story takes place in a Texas swamp, the characters are kind of down-home/folksy. I love their accents and dialogue, and I was dying to read this story out loud because I think it would be so much fun to do all of the voices for a group of kids.

And that brings me to my next point... I'm pretty sure that kids are going to love this imaginative story. It's extremely entertaining and fast-paced, but it's also hilarious. The viewpoints of both the human characters as well as the animal ones were a riot and I think kids will even appreciate the humor in this book more than I did (and that's really saying something because I thought it was a hoot!)

And finally, I liked that this story had some wonderful messages about conservation, friendship and family, and hope. Naturally, the "good" guys defeated the "bad" ones, but in the process the characters demonstrate that doing the "right" thing is rewarding!

Overall, I loved TTBSOSMS and I highly recommend it for kids ages eight and up as well as their parents!

Be sure to visit Kathi’s other stops on her blog tour!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this novel.

I have a copy of TTBSOSMS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 25th 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!

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, August 16, 2013

Review: The Wonder Bread Summer

Summary: It's 1983 in Berkeley, California. Twenty-year-old Allie Dodgson is a straitlaced college student working part-time at a dress shop to make ends meet. But when the shop turns out to be a front for a dangerous drug-dealing business, Allie finds herself on the lam, speeding toward Los Angeles in her best friend's Prelude with a Wonder Bread bag full of cocaine riding shotgun and a hit man named Vice Versa on her tail. You can't find a more thrilling summer read! -- Harper Perennial

After enjoying DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME (my review) by Jessica Anya Blau a few years ago, I was excited to read her latest novel THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER. I thought the title was hilarious and it definitely piqued my interest. Plus, I think Ms. Blau is hilarious and I couldn't wait to see what "interesting" scenarios the characters in this book would encounter.

Unfortunately, my feelings for THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER weren't quite as positive as they were for DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME. I definitely didn't love it, and I actually felt as if the book read like a movie (which can be okay, but in this case, it wasn't.) If I'm being entirely honest, I'm not sure that there is anything necessarily "wrong" with this novel. Rather, it's just a case where I don't think I was the "right" audience for this story -- I actually felt really old while reading it.

THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER takes place in the early 1980s in Berkeley, California. Allie is a college student who works part-time at a dress shop; however, she discovers that the store might be more than just a dress shop. It's actually a front for drugs! Allie decides to get out, but first, she needs the money she is owed. When her boss refuses, Allie takes a Wonder Bread bag full of cocaine and runs. She heads to L.A. with a hit man chasing her the entire way, and her trip proves to be one huge adventure!

I really don't know what to say about THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER. It's a fast-moving, action-packed story that is larger than life. There is definitely some unique characters who do some very unusual things; and I guess I'd say that there is a lot of humor in the story too. In many ways, it reminded me a bit of a Tarentino movie, but maybe I just got that idea from the blurb on the front cover.

One thing I found special about this novel was Allie's memories of her grandmother's sayings. Allie's grandmother was Chinese and she lived by (and shared) a variety of proverbs. I loved her sage advice and I especially appreciated that the author included a listing of some of these Chinese proverbs in the back of the book!

Despite all of the craziness, I did appreciate that this story explored some real issues too. In many ways, THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER is a coming-of-age story for Allie. She goes from being pretty much a goodie two shoes to someone who is on the run from some pretty nasty characters. Her adventure not only forces her to do some growing up, but it also allows her to work through some issues pertaining to both of her parents as well as her racial identity.

THE WONDER BREAD OF SUMMER is a fast-paced coming-of-age story that is both funny and entertaining. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but I do think there are readers out there who will love it!

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: The Silver Star

Summary: The Silver Star, Jeannette Walls has written a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about an intrepid girl who challenges the injustice of the adult world—a triumph of imagination and storytelling.

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister—inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.

Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices. -- Scribner

I consider myself a pretty big fan of Jeannette Walls, and I'll basically read anything and everything she writes. So it was with much excitement that I sat down to her latest novel THE SILVER STAR. THE SILVER STAR tells the story of twelve year old Bean and her fifteen year old sister Liz. Their mother Charlotte has just abandoned them for a month or so to "find herself," and the girls do their best to survive on their own. However one day, the police arrive at their door so Bean and Liz head to Virginia to find their mom's family.

While in Virginia, Bean discovers who her father was and learns more details about her mother's past. Bean seems to be thriving in her new home, while Liz becomes more withdrawn. Because the girls need some money to buy new clothes for school, Bean and Liz start doing odd jobs for Jerry Maddox, the foreman of the mill and a really bad guy. When Jerry's actions become downright inappropriate towards Liz, Bean is determined to get revenge and help her sister to heal.

I enjoyed THE SILVER STAR but I wasn't blown away by it -- like I was with THE GLASS CASTLE. I realize it's not quite fair to compare everything Ms. Walls writes to her first book, but I just can't help myself. I loved that book and her other two didn't really equal it in my mind. Now, if I'm judging THE SILVER STAR on its own merit, I'd say that it was a pretty good story but not really anything "new"... if that makes sense. Maybe I was just expecting too much?

Having said all of that, there were some quality things about THE SILVER STAR that stood out to me. First and foremost was the character of Bean. I absolutely adored that girl. Maybe it was because she reminded me a bit of Scout from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but this girl had so much courage and gumption that I couldn't help but root for her. I also liked the character of Liz whom I found to be more complex and flawed and therefore more interesting.

Another aspect of this novel that I appreciated was the setting. I love books that take place in the South and especially during the late 1960s and early 1970s when times were definitely changing. The town's high school was being integrated and I liked that THE SILVER STAR explored some of the issues associated with this.

And finally, I appreciated that this novel explored mental illness and abuse. Naturally, these subject matters aren't always easy to read; however, Ms. Walls has a way of writing about them which just draws me in. I sensed that Ms. Walls wrote this story using some of her personal experiences, but I also think she took the liberty to create a character in Bean that was able to stand up for herself and go against what was expected of her.

THE SILVER STAR would make an interesting book club selection. There is a reading guide with twelve discussion questions along with some ideas to enhance your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family dynamics, mental illness, abuse, justice, race, power, change, and mother/child relationships. You also might want to explore some of the major themes in the story like the emus (yes... emus!)

I recommend THE SILVER STAR to fans of Jeannette Walls as well as readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories and books about dysfunctional families.

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