Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: The Wedding Gift

Summary: When prestigious plantation owner Cornelius Allen gives his daughter Clarissa’s hand in marriage, she takes with her a gift: Sarah—her slave and her half-sister. Raised by an educated mother, Clarissa is not a proper southern belle she appears to be with ambitions of loving who she chooses and Sarah equally hides behind the façade of being a docile house slave as she plots to escape. Both women bring these tumultuous secrets and desires with them to their new home, igniting events that spiral into a tale beyond what you ever imagined possible and it will leave you enraptured until the very end. 

Told through alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora Allen, Cornelius’ wife, Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait that will leave readers breathless. -- St. Martin's Press

At this year's BEA, I attended a "speed-dating" type of event for book clubs. Basically, representatives from major publishing houses presented their top picks for book clubs. As a book lover (and especially a lover of all things book club-related), I could barely contain myself with so many wonderful sounding books. I swear my list of "must-reads" grew by at least twenty books that day.

One of the books that the Macmillan rep discussed was THE WEDDING GIFT by Marlen Suyapa Bodden. This slave narrative was originally self-published and even landed on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List. I was happy to see that a major publishing house decided to re-release the book in the hopes that it would be attractive to more readers.

THE WEDDING GIFT tells the story of a young girl Clarissa and her slave Sarah-- who just happen to be half-sisters. It is told in alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora, the plantation owner's wife and mother of Clarissa. Despite coming from entirely different backgrounds, Clarissa and Sarah were childhood friends and even studied together.

When Clarissa leaves home to marry, her father gives her Sarah as a wedding gift. As these two women move to their new home, they discover that the secrets in their past remain with them and have a major effect on both of their lives.

I not sure I loved THE WEDDING GIFT, but overall, I'd say that I enjoyed it. I liked the setting of the story, but I'm always drawn to books that take place around the Civil War and feature life on Southern plantations. I thought the author did an outstanding job of bringing not only this time period, but also the reality of slavery, to life for the reader.

I most definitely appreciated the author's writing abilities as well as the way she decided to tell this story. I liked getting both Sarah and Theodora's insight into the story, and I felt as if Ms. Bodden did a good job in capturing their individual voices. In addition, I thought the authors created a compelling story with a powerful ending. While I did begin to suspect something was amiss, I honestly was caught off guard with the surprise ending... which is a good thing.

Furthermore, I really liked how the author explored the complex relationship between slaves and their owners. She did a remarkable job of showing the love/hate aspects of this type of relationship as well as the passions that individuals possess. In addition, I liked how she showed just how oppressed women in this time were regardless of whether they were white or black. As a result, I do think THE WEDDING GIFT would make an interesting book to discuss.

I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to find a discussion guide for THE WEDDING GIFT. I don't think it's necessary to have one to fully discuss this novel, but I think it might be more attractive to many book clubs if there was one available. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include racism, slavery, the role of women, love, marriage, secrets, greed, and violence.

If you enjoy books about slavery and complex relationships, then I recommend checking out THE WEDDING GIFT.

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest Review: The Last Word

Summary: The sixth installment of the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Edgar- and Macavity-nominated and Alex Award-winning series by Lisa Lutz, finds our intrepid heroine of the series, Isabel Spellman, PI, at a crossroads. Izzy is used to being followed, extorted, and questioned—all occupational hazards of working at her family’s firm, Spellman Investigations. Her little sister, Rae, once tailed Izzy for weeks on end to discover the identity of Izzy’s boyfriend. Her mother, Olivia, once blackmailed Izzy with photo­graphic evidence of Prom Night 1994. It seemed that Spellman vigilance would dis­sipate after Izzy was fired for breaching client confidentiality, but then Izzy avenged her dismissal by staging a hostile takeover of the company. She should have known better than to think she could put such she­nanigans behind her. 

In The Last Word, Izzy’s troubles are just beginning. After her takeover of Spellman Investigations, her employees are the fur­thest thing from collegial...and Izzy finds herself struggling to pay the bills. But when she is accused of embezzling from a former client, the ridiculously wealthy Mr. Slayter, the stakes become immense. If Izzy gets indicted, she could lose her PI license and the Spellman family’s livelihood, not to mention her own freedom. Is this the end of Izzy Spellman, PI? 

The Last Word is, hands down, the most powerful book in the bestselling, award-nominated Spellman series. -- Simon & Schuster

I passed along my copy of THE LAST WORD by Lisa Lutz to my dad, not because I didn't want to read this novel. but I knew he'd get to it faster than I ever could. I still have it on my shelves because I just know I'd love it -- along with the other five books in the series. I'm not exactly sure it's my dad's typical read, but he seemed to enjoy it anyway. Here are his thoughts:

THE LAST WORD by Lisa Lutz is the sixth novel in the best-selling Spellman series. In this latest edition, Isabel Spellman has taken control of the Spellman family private investigation firm through a hostile takeover. It hasn’t been well received by the family members working in the company which include her mother Olivia, her father Albert and her sister Rae. An ex-con Demetrius and college co-ed Vivian complete the list of employees except for Grandmother Spellman who occasionally acts as a receptionist for the business. Isabel appears to be over her head with the firm’s paperwork and finance issues and she is getting no support or cooperation from her family. Her life is further complicated because the business operates out of Albert’s and Olivia’s home.

It might be worth mentioning that the Spellman family is extremely dysfunctional and as your reading about the amusing interactions among the family members, you can easily forget your reading a mystery novel. Isabel rents a basement apartment from her brother David, a stay at home dad and his wife Maggie, an attorney. David and Maggie and their unusual parenting method practiced on their young daughter Sydney add a comical aspect to Isabel’s life. There is also a serious family issue that distracts Isabel from the business. Other characters who contribute to bizarre situations in the novel include San Francisco police detective and ex-boyfriend Henry Stone and top client and CEO of a successful private equity firm, Edward Slayter. Slayter financed Isabel’s hostile takeover of the company. This, of course, makes Isabel beholden to Slayter which in turn causes further friction within the company.

At about the two-thirds point in the novel several ongoing investigations that were in the background while the reader enjoyed the family antics now move to the forefront. Demetrius is helping Maggie in a pro-bono case to help free a man who was apparently wrongfully convicted. Rae, who refers to herself as a Conflict Resolution Specialist, is working with Vivian to settle a dispute with a moving company and Isabel is investigating a company for Ed Slayter. Isabel’s life becomes even more complicated when she is accused of embezzling funds from Ed Slayter’s company and someone is positioning to remove Slayter from the CEO position.

THE LAST WORD is not a typical mystery novel. It is more a story about the interactions among the members of a dysfunctional family who happen to be in the private investigation business. Lutz’s happy-go-lucky writing style keeps the reader engaged and makes the book fun to read. The author’s use of amusing office memos, footnotes and appendices add to the light-heartedness of the novel. Although ample background information is available on all the characters to make the book a stand-alone novel, I can’t help but to think that a deeper understanding of the characters interactions would evolve by reading the other five books in the Spellman series.

If you enjoy a little laughter in your mystery novels then I recommend reading THE LAST WORD.

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

By the way, I was excited (and a little surprised) to see that there is a reading group guide for THE LAST WORD. So I'm guessing this dysfunctional family might provide some thought-provoking discussion.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: Murder as a Fine Art (Audio)


Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier. 

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives. 

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten. -- Hachette Audio

It might not be the best reason to pick up (or in this case listen to) a book, but I decided to read MURDER AS A FINE ART by David Morrell because Mr. Morrell graduated from my alma mater Penn State University. I have heard some wonderful things about his books; and while his first novel, which was the basis for the movie RAMBO, isn't exactly my cup of tea, I thought this historical mystery sounded a little more like it. I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed this novel.

MURDER AS A FINE ART takes place in Victorian England in the mid 1800s. The citizens of London are in a panic. A brutal mass murderer is on the loose and his crimes are all too similar to the Ratcliffe Highway Murders that occurred 43 years earlier. Thomas De Quincey, the famous writer also known as the Opium-Eater, is the prime suspect because his essay titled "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" is being used as the inspiration for the murders.

As tensions rise in London, De Quincey, with the help of his daughter and two detectives, must get to the bottom of these crimes not only to save himself and his family, but also the entire city of London.

I thought MURDER AS A FINE ART was a terrific example of a quality historical mystery. It encompassed everything I expect from a well crafted mystery, but it also brought to life Victorian England with amazing details. I especially loved how the author merged facts and real life characters with his story, and I was equally impressed with how suspenseful the story was.

Truth of told, I'm hard pressed to say what I liked the most about MURDER AS A FINE ART. Of course, I'm always game for a good mystery, and this novel had a fantastic one with lots of twists and turns. I loved that I was kept guessing until the author revealed the culprit and his motivations, and I actually thought the premise of the entire crime (and the book too for that matter!) was brilliant.

However, I also really appreciated how much historical data the author included in this story. It was apparent from the get-go that he conducted a vast amount of research and truly understood Victorian England. But what I liked even more that that was how much of this information he was able to include in the story. There were many asides which brought 1850s London to life including descriptions of the ways people could travel, the fashion of clothes and homes, and even the sanitation (or lack thereof) of the city's water supply. The author even included some descriptions of the police force, prison life, and opium addiction which I found extremely interesting.

Another really strong point of MURDER AS A FINE ART was the character development. I always think this is a challenge when some of the characters were real. I found De Quincey to be an intriguing characters, both because of his intellect and his addiction, but I also appreciated the detectives and De Quincy's daughter. Furthermore, I found the murderer to be unbelievable interesting... in a strange way, of course!

The audio book of MURDER AS A FINE ART was read by Matthew Wolf, and I thought he did a wonderful job. I loved his British accents and he was equally impressive with the variety of male and female characters. This is the first book that I've listened to which was read by Mr. Wolf, but I'm certain it won't be my last. I intend to see what else he's narrated and listen to one of them in the near future.

Overall, MURDER AS A FINE ART was a fantastic historical mystery. The author did a great job of bringing the setting to life as well as crafting an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an audio book 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. 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, October 26, 2013

Kid Konnection: The Top 10 of Everything in Sports

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 new picture book.

Summary: Presented in the format of Top 10 lists, this book is a comprehensive yet fun look at the greatest aspects of Pro Sports. From the top athletes to the most popular teams in the world, SI Kids ranks a variety of topics covering every professional sport. Readers are guaranteed to love the big, exciting action photos from the Sports Illustrated collection and the insider knowledge of SI Kids. Filled with trivia and information, this dynamic book will be the definitive kids sports book. -- Sports Illustrated Kids

Recently, Booking Son has discovered some fantastic books about sports which is perfect timing since he's required to read at least 20 minutes a night! The latest is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS THE TOP 10 OF EVERYTHING IN SPORTS. This 95 page hardcover book is perfect for kids who are sports fans, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit too!

THE TOP 10 OF EVERYTHING IN SPORTS is... well, just that -- thirty top 10 lists that cover all sports. It includes lists for the greatest athletes, the biggest rivalries, the greatest all-time records in sports, and many more. The terrific book also includes some amazing photographs as well as trivia.

One thing I appreciated about this book is that it covered a wide variety of sports. Of course, there were lots of stats about baseball and football, but it also included some information on college sports, hockey, and basketball. Furthermore, there were some fun lists too like best sports fans, best sports actors, and even best sports families (can you say The Mannings?)

The lists are created by Sports Illustrated, one of the most respected sports information sources in the world; however, I'm pretty sure that many sports fans (and historians) will have different opinions. And that's another thing that I loved about this book -- it's sure to generate discussion and maybe even a few arguments!

For families like us who are huge sports fans, this book is a must-have addition to your library. Highly recommended!

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, October 25, 2013

Review: My Own Miraculous (Audio)

Summary: From New York Times bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson comes an e-original short story that gives a fierce and funny character from Someone Else's Love Story a standalone adventure all her own. 

Shandi Pierce got pregnant when she was only seventeen years old. She fell for her son—deeply, instantly, completely—but as she sat at the table feeding him, her own mother was sliding eggs and bacon onto her plate, feeding her. 

 Now, four years later, Shandi is still more parented than parent. She lives with her mom, her dad pays her bills, and her best friend, Walcott, acts as her white knight. But Natty is no ordinary kid, and when his savant behavior catches the attention of an obsessive stranger, only Shandi sees the true menace. 

To protect her son, Shandi must grow up—fast—and find an answer to the question, how can a girl remake herself into a mother? -- Harperaudio

One of my highlights from this year's BEA was meeting Joshilyn Jackson. I have loved this woman's writing ever since my book club read GODS IN ALABAMA almost ten years ago. I have anxiously awaited each one of her new books, and I was extremely excited to learn that she has a new novel called SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY which will be available in just a few weeks!

Ms. Jackson was the surprise guest at an event held at the Harper Collins' offices during the week of BEA, and she was exactly how I imagined her to be. She was full of life and totally hilarious, and if nothing else, she convinced me that I need to "listen" to one of her books in the very near future. (She narrates her own audiobooks -- how cool is that?) Well, that opportunity came to me a few weeks ago when I received an audio copy of her new short story MY OWN MIRACULOUS.

MY OWN MIRACULOUS features one of the characters in SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY named Shandi Pierce. Shandi finds herself pregnant at seventeen and isn't quite ready to be a mother at this young age. She loves her son from the moment he is born and does her best to mother him, but she still needs a lot of help from her mom.

Shandi's son Natty is now four and Shandi is discovering that Natty is "special." He is attracting the attention of a strange girl who feels a connection to Natty. Shandi wants to protect Natty at all costs, and in the process, she has to grow up and become a mother in her own right.

MY OWN MIRACULOUS was a terrific listen. I definitely enjoyed the story and the characters, and I look forward to learning more about Shandi in SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY. This sweet short story had a little bit of everything including humor and even a little mystery that kept me guessing. But I especially appreciated how it celebrated friendship, family, and motherhood.

Joshilyn Jackson read MY OWN MIRACULOUS and it was everything I hoped it to be. She not only has mad writing skills, but she's also a darn good audiobook narrator. I loved her voices and her inflections, and that Southern accent is too cute!

MY OWN MIRACULOUS was exactly what I needed during my morning workouts. It was a cute short story that left me wanting more. Good thing SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY comes out in just a few weeks!

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guest Review: Wilson

Summary: One hundred years after his inauguration, Woodrow Wilson still stands as one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, and one of the most enigmatic. And now, after more than a decade of research and writing, Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg has completed Wilson--the most personal and penetrating biography ever written about the 28th President. 

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of documents in the Wilson Archives, Berg was the first biographer to gain access to two recently-discovered caches of papers belonging to those close to Wilson. From this material, Berg was able to add countless details--even several unknown events--that fill in missing pieces of Wilson s character and cast new light on his entire life. 

From the scholar-President who ushered the country through its first great world war to the man of intense passion and turbulence , from the idealist determined to make the world safe for democracy to the stroke-crippled leader whose incapacity and the subterfuges around it were among the century s greatest secrets, the result is an intimate portrait written with a particularly contemporary point of view a book at once magisterial and deeply emotional about the whole of Wilson s life, accomplishments, and failings. This is not just Wilson the icon but Wilson the man. -- Putnam

When the package containing WILSON by A. Scott Berg arrived on my front porch, I knew it was a big book -- I swear it weighed at least five pounds! Thankfully, I could pass it along to my dad who isn't as intimidated by big books as I am! Here are his thoughts on this very long book:

When I was given the opportunity to review WILSON I was excited to learn about a period of history of which I knew very little. The enthusiasm was a little dampened when the uncorrected copy I received totaled 800 pages. However, the time I spent reading WILSON was well worth it.

Wilson was born in 1856 in Virginia and lived in the south during his youth. He was greatly influenced by the Civil War and the fervent Presbyterian faith that his family practiced. Wilson was a good scholar and an excellent orator which led to a career in education and ultimately to the president of Princeton University. Under Wilson’s leadership, Princeton became a national model for higher education. Wilson’s traits of holding grudges and being inflexible to compromise first became apparent during his Princeton years and would later lead to some difficult times in his presidency.

Wilson began his political career by being elected governor of New Jersey in 1910. His ability to resist the pressures of the New Jersey political machine and enact some very progressive reforms got the attention of the national Democratic Party. In 1912 Wilson was elected the 28th president of the United States defeating Republican William Howard Taft and Bull Moose candidate Teddy Roosevelt. Wilson had some great accomplishments during his two-term presidency. For example he led our nation through World War I and saw it become a world superpower; was the first president to travel to Europe; promoted world peace through his contributions to the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I and the formation of the League of Nations; created the United States Central banking system and the federal reserve; signed into the law the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote and appointed the first Jewish judge to the Supreme Court. Whether or not you consider this a positive or negative, J Edgar Hoover was brought into the government during the Wilson administration.

Author A. Scott Berg shares some interesting facts about Wilson. During the worst of times as president, Wilson found time to play golf and go for lengthy rides around Washington. He actually played more golf than any other president. Wilson wooed his second wife with constant love letters that he found time to write and rewrite during some of the critical times of his presidency. He was a racist and considered the black race inferior to whites and did very little to improve their status, never commenting on the lynchings and beatings that took place during his time in office. He permitted his postmaster general to segregate the government department with the largest black employment and he supported the policy of not permitting black soldiers to fight alongside white soldiers during the War. Although no scandals appeared to touch Woodrow Wilson during his two terms, enemies brought up his constant correspondence with a Mrs. Peck while still married to his first wife. Wilson also appeared to be ill quite often and actually suffered a severe stroke while campaigning to gather public support for the acceptance of his League of Nations. Wilson spent a six month period of his term bed-ridden and paralyzed on his left side. This was kept from the public and his wife was more or less running the executive branch of the government most of his last year in office. Wilson actually didn’t shave during this period, an indication of his mental and physical state. At the end of his second term the U.S. economy was suffering from high prices, unemployment, strikes and racial riots. Wilson left office a broken man and died three years after leaving office at the age of 67.

The two most interesting sections of the book to me were the chapter on the U.S. entry into World War I and the chapter on the treaty ending the War. Wilson was forced into the war after running for his second term with the campaign slogan “He kept us out of the war”. Berg does a very good job of describing the War’s effect on the United States. In 1919 Wilson spent six months (except for one brief trip back to the U.S.) in Europe helping to define the terms of the peace agreement and pushing his vision of the League of Nations only to come home and have the U.S. Senate led by Henry Cabot Lodge reject the United States entry into the League. Wilson’s unwillingness to compromise resulted in his most significant defeat as president.

Author A. Scott Berg spent 13 years researching and writing WILSON and has included an incredible amount of detail in his book. Not having read any other biographies about Wilson it’s hard for me to judge his treatment of Wilson, but I do feel he treated Wilson very favorably. For example he spends very little time discussing those who opposed Wilson except for Teddy Roosevelt’s and Henry Cabot Lodge’s objections to Wilson on the war and the peace treaty. He quickly dismisses Wilson’s possible affair with Mrs. Peck suggesting his religious background would not allow such a thing. I also felt that he didn’t criticize Wilson sufficiently for his stand on race. Although Wilson’s views were probably the “norm” of the day, more should have been expected from a man with his vision and independent thinking. Berg also gave him a free pass on his foray into Mexico. In an unusual approach, Berg titled each chapter with a biblical term and a reference to a biblical quote. For example the first chapter is titled Ascension with a quote from Mark and the second chapter is called Providence with a quote from Romans. I don’t understand what the author was trying to achieve but it does give a religious overtone to the book.

I recommend WILSON to anyone who enjoys U.S. history.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: The Preservationist

Summary: A dark tale of psychological suspense, The Preservationist follows Julia Stilwell and Sam Blount, whose unlikely romance begins to unravel as a threat of violence approaches and the reader becomes less and less sure whom to trust. -- Pegasus

In July 2010, I reviewed a very unique novel called FINNY by Justin Kramon. I really enjoyed this coming-of-age story about a complex young woman, and I was even more delighted after I got to meet the author. So when he emailed me a few months ago and told me his second novel called THE PRESERVATIONIST was being released in October, I jumped at the chance to read it.

THE PRESERVATIONIST is not really anything like FINNY. It's a psychological thriller that centers around a love triangle between the three main characters. Unlike FINNY which did have a lot of humor and quirkiness, THE PRESERVATIONIST was definitely darker and even a little scary.

Julia Stilwell is a freshman at college who is trying to put a tragedy from her past behind her. She attracts the attention of Sam, a 39 year old man who works at the school's snack bar, as well as Marcus, a quiet fellow student. When Julia becomes enamored by Sam's attention, Marcus becomes jealous and tries to turn Julia against Sam.

Then, a series of rapes take place on campus, and Julia begins to wonder if either Sam or Marcus is responsible. As the story unfolds, both men begin to act suspiciously (to say the least); and Marcus even begins to stalk Sam. Julia isn't quite sure if she should trust Sam or Marcus, and she ultimately makes a choice which might cost her her life.

I liked THE PRESERVATIONIST, but I have to say that I didn't love it like I did FINNY. As far as psychological thrillers go, I thought the story and characters were intriguing; and of course, Mr. Kramon's writing was very good. However, I figured out pretty early on where the story was going to go and who was the "bad guy." I think I would have enjoyed it more had I been able to go back and forth about Sam and Marcus.

One thing that impressed me about the novel was how the story was written. The chapters went back and forth between Julia, Sam, and Marcus's points of view. I especially appreciated getting to know and understand each of the characters' motivations, and it was extremely interesting to see how the story unfolded as the characters unraveled.

Another quality aspect of this book was how the author explored the dynamics between these three characters. There most definitely was a love triangle which wasn't especially unique, but Julia, Sam and Marcus were extremely complex. I liked how the author brought into play Julia, Sam, and Marcus's pasts and how their similarities bonded them together.

And finally, I enjoyed how the book ended. By that I don't mean what happened to all of the characters -- it wasn't necessarily a happy ending for everyone. Rather, I liked that the author had a section called "The World Ahead" that told the reader what happened a few years after the official story ended. I appreciated knowing what happened (and didn't happen), and while much of the story was resolved, there was still something that left me thinking about the book after I finished it! I can't say more for fear of giving it away, but suffice it to say that I was left with a feeling appropriate for a psychological suspense novel!

While I don't usually recommend thrillers for book clubs, I do think THE PRESERVATIONIST would work. There is a reading guide that I found on the author's website that has eight terrific questions. As you can see from these questions, the story and the characters have some depth that are perfect for discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, forgiveness, death, grief, acceptance, honesty, and loss.

One last thing... check out this trailer for THE PRESERVATIONIST:

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kid Konnection: The Snatchabook

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 new picture book.

Summary: Where have all the bedtime stories gone? One dark, dark night in Burrow Down, a rabbit named Eliza Brown found a book and settled down...when a Snatchabook flew into town. It’s bedtime in the woods of Burrow Down, and all the animals are ready for their bedtime story. But books are mysteriously disappearing. Eliza Brown decides to stay awake and catch the book thief. It turns out to be a little creature called the Snatchabook who has no one to read him a bedtime story. All turns out well when the books are returned and the animals take turns reading bedtime stories to the Snatchabook. -- Sourcebooks

THE SNATCHABOOK by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty is getting rave reviews! It is #1 Kids Indie Next pick and it's being compared to none other than Dr. Seuss. Brian Selznick, author and illustrator of THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET even said, "So wonderful it demands to be read out loud."

So with all this great praise, my opinion hardly matters, but I'm going to share it with you anyway. THE SNATCHABOOK is absolutely precious! I adored everything about this book from the rhyming text, to the cute illustrations, to the compromise at the end of the story. This book is sure to be a winner in every house with young children, and I'm betting that parents will appreciate it as much (if not more) than the kids!

THE SNATCHABOOK takes place in the Burrow Down woods. Every night, different furry friends are read a bedtime story by their parents. But then, the books start disappearing! One little rabbit named Eliza decides to get to the bottom of this mystery. She discovers that a Snatchabook is stealing all of the books because he wants to have a bedtime story just like the other kids. Eliza, the clever rabbit that she is, works out a plan that makes everyone happy.

THE SNATCHABOOK is truly a perfect bedtime story! It has a mystery (that gets solved!) along with a strong and resourceful main character. In addition, the text rhymes and it's just so fun to read aloud. Call me a softie, but I especially love that this book celebrates the importance of bed time stories in a child's life.

As much as I loved the story and the characters, I think the illustrations in THE SNATCHABOOK make it extra-special. I am a sucker for picture books with animals as characters, and I think these animals' facial expressions are so darn cute!

I highly recommend THE SNATCHABOOK. I can almost guarantee that kids and parents alike will enjoy this sweet picture book about the importance of reading.

I received a copy of this book at the 2013 BEA.

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!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Cartwheel

Summary: Written with the riveting storytelling of authors like Emma Donoghue, Adam Johnson, Ann Patchett, and Curtis Sittenfeld, Cartwheel is a suspenseful and haunting novel of an American foreign exchange student arrested for murder, and a father trying to hold his family together. 

When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colorful buildings, the street food, the handsome, elusive man next door. Her studious roommate Katy is a bit of a bore, but Lily didn’t come to Argentina to hang out with other Americans. 

Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered in their shared home, and Lily is the prime suspect. But who is Lily Hayes? It depends on who’s asking. As the case takes shape—revealing deceptions, secrets, and suspicious DNA—Lily appears alternately sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her: the media, her family, the man who loves her and the man who seeks her conviction. With mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Cartwheel offers a prismatic investigation of the ways we decide what to see—and to believe—in one another and ourselves. 

In Cartwheel, duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. No two readers will agree who Lily is and what happened to her roommate. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how well we really know ourselves will linger well beyond. -- Random House

When I read the description for CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois, it sounded an awful lot like the Amanda Knox story. Of course, I knew the author was writing a fictional account of a foreign exchange student being charged with murdering her roommate. The setting was Buenos Aires instead of Italy, and the main characters were different. But it still seemed to have a lot in common with the Amanda Knox story. Despite having read numerous outstanding reviews of this book, I admit that I had my doubts.

In CARTWHEEL, Ms. Dubois does an excellent job of showcasing a crime and then the effects it has on those involved. The novel, of course, follows Lily -- the prime suspect, but it also shows how her family, her boyfriend, the media, and even the prosecutor see the events. It delves deeply into who is Lily Hayes, but it doesn't really give the reader a clear-cut answer. But that's okay because I think each reader will have their own opinion of Lily, much like everyone has their own opinion of Amanda Knox. I actually think the book ends up being less about who Lily truly is and more about how Lily and her actions were interpreted by others.

A few years ago, I read a non-fiction account of the Amanda Knox story; and I admit that I was fascinated by not only the crime, but also Ms. Knox and her behavior. One of the things she did that struck me as a bit odd was when she did a cartwheel at the police headquarters after she was interrogated. My initial reaction was how could she be so cavalier when her roommate was brutally murdered. But then, I began looking at it differently. Would she do a cartwheel if she had just committed a murder? Quite honestly, I wasn't sure what to make of that action!

I guess the author agreed that Ms. Knox's famous cartwheel was a little out of the ordinary, and she decided to have her character Lily do the same thing. I really think that this action (and also the title of this novel) was a perfect symbol for this story. As a reader, I admit that I was confused about Lily because the author did such a fine job of blurring Lily's actions. On a larger scale, I liked that this novel made me think as much as it did -- not only about these characters or the crime, but also about my assumptions about people in general.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how incredible of a writer Ms. Dubois is. Her ability to get inside these characters' minds and showcase the moral ambiguities was extremely unique; however, she also presented the story is such a way as to make it read like a thriller. Furthermore, her prose was pretty darn impressive. I appreciated her descriptions and the rawness of her writing, but I will say that she used more big words per page than I am used to seeing.

I do think CARTWHEEL would make an excellent book club selection because it does call into question so much of what we assume about people and their actions. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a discussion guide which is really a shame. I'm not sure that you need one to have a worthwhile meeting, but I do think it would be nice to have a little guidance!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with CARTWHEEL. Highly recommend for fans of literary and psychological thrillers.

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Speak of the Devil (Audio)

Summary: For readers of Kathy Reichs, Lisa Scottoline, Patricia Cornwell, and Lisa Gardner, a new thriller by former federal sex-crimes prosecutor Allison Leotta. 


On the very night she gets engaged to the man she loves, sex-crimes prosecutor Anna Curtis’s professional life takes a shocking turn that threatens everything she holds dear. 

While Anna is enjoying a romantic dinner capped off by a marriage proposal, a few miles away two separate groups are gearing up to raid a brothel. A vicious killer known as Diablo—the Devil—leads one group. A few minutes later, Anna’s own investigative team heads in to search the brothel, as part of the fight against human trafficking in D.C. Both groups are caught off guard, with deadly results. 

As Anna investigates the bloody face-off, the boundaries between her work and home life begin to blur. Though eager to focus on her new fiancé, the chief homicide prosecutor Jack Bailey, and her soon-to-be stepdaughter, Olivia, this case and the search for Diablo are never far from her mind. 

When Anna discovers a web of long-buried secrets and official lies leading straight to her doorstep, the truth about this case threatens to rob her of the happiness she seemed so close to securing. And everything Anna counted on becomes a question mark as Diablo moves in for yet another kill. 

Allison Leotta draws on her experience as a D.C. sex-crimes prosecutor to take readers into the back rooms of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the hidden world of the Witness Protection Program, and the secret rituals of one of America’s most dangerous gangs. Universally praised by bestselling authors from Catherine Coulter and George Pelecanos to Lisa Scottoline and David Baldacci, Leotta weaves fact and fiction to create her best novel yet. -- Simon & Schuster Audio

Like many of you, I'm hesitant about starting books in the middle of a series; however, I heard from a few sources that I'd be okay listening to SPEAK OF THE DEVIL by Allison Leotta even though it's the third book in the series. Fortunately, I decided to take a chance because I enjoy mystery/suspense novel with strong female leads.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL begins with Anna, a Washington, DC sex-crimes prosecutor, who is having a romantic dinner ending with a marriage proposal. Just a few miles away at a brothel, a violent gang member named Diablo and a sex crimes investigative team are both planning a raid. Things escalate when the two groups meet and the results are deadly.

Despite Anna's excitement with her recent engagement, she is quickly brought back to reality and forced to confront the bloody scene. As she delves into the crime, she finds that the distinction between her personal and professional life and blurred. She has to get to the bottom of the crimes not only to protect others but also to protect herself and her happiness.

I actually really enjoyed SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, and I wouldn't hesitate to read the other two books in this series. I thought the characters were interesting and I especially appreciated Anna. She was smart and gutsy, but she was also a woman who wanted to find happiness outside of work. I loved her confidence in the courtroom, but I also liked that the author showed her vulnerabilities.

In addition, I liked the mystery and how the events unfolded. I thought the crimes and the villains were positively gruesome (which right or wrong, did capture my attention), and I like getting an inside look into both a major sex crimes unit as well as the witness protection program. Furthermore, I found the portrayal of the gang (and Diablo) to be fascinating.

One thing that really stood out to me, though, was how well this book blended Anna's personal and professional lives. As a reader who didn't really know Anna's background because I hadn't read the first two books in the series, I was worried that I wouldn't feel an affinity towards her. That was certainly not an issue. Not only did this book work well as a stand-alone novel, but I immediately understood Anna. That was especially important for my enjoyment of this story since the crime and the participants totally overlapped with what was going on in Anna's life.

In addition to being able to weave a terrific suspense story, it's evident that the author really knew her stuff about sex crimes and the legal system. Ms. Leotta worked for twelve years as a sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, DC, and I do think her experience shined through in her descriptions throughout the novel.

I listened to the audio version of SPEAK OF THE DEVIL which was read by Tavia Gilbert. I thought she did an excellent job. I found her voices, both female and male, to be convincing; and I was especially impressed with the number of different accents she used. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is the first book that I've listened to read by Ms. Gilbert, but I sure hope it isn't my last.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is a very strong addition to the suspense genre. Recommended to fans of Lisa Scottoline, Karin Slaughter, and Tami Hoag.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this 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, October 12, 2013

Kid Konnection: Time For Kids Book Fun

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 two fun books for kids from Time For Kids.

Summary: Here's a trivia quiz for you: What are the five most popular names for dogs? Which five nations spend the most on chocolate per year? What are the five oldest baseball stadiums? Who were the five youngest Presidents? The answers to those questions-and dozens more-are found in the Time For Kids Top 5. Filled with fascinating trivia and kid-appealing lists, this book is based on Time For Kids' most popular feature: the TFK Top 5. And just as in the magazine version, the lists have amusing and colorful illustrations accompanied by information at a glance. Topics include animals, sports, technology, food, people, and entertainment. Each Top 5 list has guaranteed kid and parent appeal and is certain to surprise young readers who will refer to the book over and over. -- Time for Kids

What kid doesn't like books with lists? I know I did when I was young. And if I'm being entirely honest, I still like lists -- both making them and reading them! TOP 5 OF EVERYTHING: TALLEST, TASTIEST, FASTEST! by Time for Kids is a brand new addition to our home library, and we agree that it's a winner.

TOP 5 OF EVERYTHING is truly a lot of fun. It's a small softcover book that provides all sorts of top 5 lists. Some of the topics included are roller coasters, sports, geography, people, and other interesting tidbits. Of course, Booking Son was drawn to the ones associated with sports, but many of the lists in this book captured his attention.

I wanted to share with you a little idea of the variety of lists in this book:

Top 5 Cereals with the Most Sugar
1. Kellogg’s Honey Smacks
2. Post Golden Crisp
3. Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallow
4. Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s Oops!
5. Quaker Oats Original Cap’n Crunch

Top 5 Longest Snakes
1. Reticulated Python
2. Green Anaconda
3. Indian Python
4. Diamond Python
5. King Cobra

Tallest Mountains in the United States
1. Mt. McKinley
2. Mt. St. Elias
3. Mt. Foraker
4. Mt. Bona
5. Mt. Blackburn

As a mother, I really enjoyed TOP 5 OF EVERYTHING. Needless to say, I learned some fun trivia about a wide assortment of things, but I also appreciated that this book will appeal to all types of readers. Not only are some of the lists just plain fun like Top 5 Halloween Costumes for Kids (there's another list for Pets!), but there are also lists that provide educational information. For instance, there are lists for national parks, rain forests, animals, and more!

I knew when I was skimming through this book that I would be reading and re-reading it with my son. By that, I mean he will read it out loud to me as he discovers some interesting facts. He just loves to share what he learns and TOP 5 OF EVERYTHING offers many minutes of learning fun!

Summary: TIME For Kids The NEW BIG Book of Why Crazy, Cool & Outrageous answers the questions that kids commonly ask and adults can rarely answer. Why are our eyes different colors? Why do we put candles on a birthday cake? Why do we high five our friends? Why do elephants have big ears? Packed with hundreds of new brain busting questions with easy to understand answers that made the first Big Book of Why a best seller. The book is divided by subject area - humans, animals, environment/nature, technology and space - and written in an upbeat manner, each answer is accompanied by either a photo or an illustration to show the reasons why. TIME For Kids The NEW BIG Book of Why Crazy, Cool & Outrageous is a must-have book to satisfy the most curious of kids. Kids will be desperate to share what they've learned with their parents, teachers, and friends...and anyone else who will listen! -- Time for Kids

Next up is the BIG BOOK OF WHY: CRAZY, COOL, & OUTRAGEOUS! This hardcover book contains more than 1,000 fascinating facts about things kids want to know. The book is divided by subject matter and includes the human body, animals, nature, the Earth, space, science, technology, transportation, U.S. and world history, world culture, arts and media, and sports and games.

BIG BOOK OF WHY was another hit in our house! It's one of those books that just geared towards kids and makes reading fun. The colors and photographs are very eye-catching, and there is a lot of information about a variety of subjects on each page. I can guarantee that even reluctant readers will want to take a peek at this book.

I adored this book and consider it kind of a fun encyclopedia. The topics covered are both interesting and educational, but I also like how the information was presented. They answers to these questions are short and to-the-point, and even better, they are easy to understand. In addition to the questions and answers, the book also has some "cool" and "outrageous" facts thrown in!

I can't even begin to cover the amount of information offered in BIG BOOK OF WHY, so I'll just give you a few examples of the questions.

Q: Why are tropical fish so colorful?
A: Scientist believe bright colors can serve as camouflage for tropical fish, and can help them attract mates. Sometimes poisonous fish use their bright colors to warn away would-be predators. Another theory is that reef fish see more colors than humans can, so they have to be colorful to be recognized.

Q: Why do male lions roar?
A: For lions, roaring is like talking. Different sounds can express different things. Male lions roar to claim their territory, as if to say "This place is mine!" Sometimes they roar to call lionesses. Roars can be heard for miles, which is helpful since lions often live in large, flat areas.

Q: Why were U.S. soldiers called G.I.s?
A: During World War II, anything the U.S. government made -- from shoes to guns to chocolate -- was known as "government issue," or "G.I." Some American soldiers played off the term and unofficially called themselves G.I.s. Later, G.I. Joe soldier dolls became one of the most popular toys in the country.

I really think Time for Kids is on to something with these two books. Booking Son can't get enough of the lists, explanations, and pictures that these books offer. Highly recommended for home and school!

Thanks Goodman Media International 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!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: The Rosie Project

Summary: MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. 

 Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. 

 Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges. The Rosie Project is a rare find: a book that restores our optimism in the power of human connection. -- Simon & Schuster

At this year's BEA, there was one book in particular that I knew I just had to read. It's called THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion, and it's been getting quite a bit of buzz. When I first heard the basic premise of the book -- an autistic man decides to find himself a wife, I thought it had the potential to be a very entertaining book. However, I admit that all of the excitement surrounding this novel made me a bit leery because I was concerned that I was setting my expectations a bit too high.

Fear not! I adored THE ROSIE PROJECT! It was cute, funny, and touching; and it really is worthy of all the praise. It's one of those books that just makes you smile when you are reading it, and in my case, I wanted to share it with all of my friends.

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who isn't exactly comfortable in social settings. I'm pretty sure he falls somewhere on the autistic spectrum. As a scientist, Don excels with his methodical thinking; however, it doesn't translate very well to finding a wife as is evidenced by the failure of his "Wife Project."

Then one day, he meets Rosie -- but Rosie doesn't "fit" with his image of a wife. In fact, she's pretty much the opposite but Don finds himself drawn to Rosie. He decides to help Rosie on her quest to identify her biological father, and as they spend more time together, Don can't help but notice that he's falling in love with Rosie...even though, scientifically, she isn't right for him!

For those of you who enjoy the occasional chick lit book or romantic comedy, you probably will find the description of THE ROSIE PROJECT to be appealing. I absolutely agreed. But, as bad as this sounds, I also thought it could fall flat on its face. A book like this has to be written "just right" or it can be too silly, too gushy, or even too corny. Mr. Simsion did a remarkable thing with his novel. He captured the essence of his characters and made me truly care for them. Furthermore, once he captured my attention, he showed me how their relationship developed into a romantic one without making me roll my eyes. That's saying a lot for a romantic cynic like me!

One of the things I loved the most about THE ROSIE PROJECT were the characters of Rosie and Don. I just loved them and, despite their differences and misunderstandings, I was rooting for them to end up together. I enjoyed their dialogue and thought the inner workings of their friendship and eventual romantic relationship were so sweet.

I also loved the humor in this novel. Since the story was written in Don's voice, it ended up being incredibly funny. I can't tell you how much I laughed, really laughed, at this book. Don has major issues with socializing and I loved how he overcame them (well.. kind of!) His insights into other people's quirks were a riot as were his insights into himself.

And finally, the general message of the story was so heartwarming. Basically, it said that "the heart wants what the heart wants" no matter how unlikely a relationship might be. As someone who doesn't really appreciate "love stories," I can certainly tell you that Don and Rosie captured my heart and made me feel so darn good about the power of love!

I absolutely loved reading THE ROSIE PROJECT, and I can't wait to see it on the big screen! Highly recommended!

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Guest Review: Beloved Enemy

Summary: New from Eric Van Lustbader, the author of The Bourne Legacy and The Bourne Betrayal, comes Beloved Enemy, the thrilling fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling Jack McClure series. 

In the stunning follow up to Father Night, Jack McClure faces a choice: help the woman he loves, or destroy her as the enemy she is. 

Shortly after McClure leaves a late night meeting with Dennis Paull, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Paull is found—shot dead. The President is furious but equally frightened of a scandal, since Jack McClure is one of their own—an operative and Paull's friend. Who will protect the country if even McClure cannot be trusted? 

With top officials in the CIA and FBI after him, McClure, still devastated over his friend’s death, goes on the run. Someone framed him for Paull's murder, possibly to prevent him from accomplishing Paull's last request—a task vital to U.S. National Security. Someone in the intelligence community has gone rogue and is reporting to The Syrian, one of the most cruel, aggressive terrorists McClure and Paull have ever come across. McClure has been charged with securing the name of the mole, but when Paull’s informant goes missing, McClure realizes his mission has only begun. 

Jack may be setting off after a mole, but he knows that ultimately he will have to confront The Syrian. Which also means confronting The Syrian's lover, Annika Dementieva, the woman Jack once loved and lost. 

On a quest to find the mole before cloaked agents around the world are exposed and murdered, Jack will soon find himself facing his own beloved enemy… -- Forge

In the past, my dad has reviewed a few books from the Jack McClure series by Eric Van Lustbader. As soon as he discovered that there was a new one out called BELOVED ENEMY, he mentioned that he was interested in reading it. Here are his thoughts:

BELOVED ENEMY is Eric Van Lustbader’s fifth thriller of his Jack McClure series. In this installment, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Dennis Paull, has just given Jack an assignment to find a mole high up in the U. S. government. When Paull is found dead in his home Jack is the prime suspect as both the mole and the murderer.

 Jack quickly escapes the U.S. under cover and travels to Bangkok and Switzerland to find the one person he thinks can identify the mole and clear him of the accusations. Unfortunately for Jack the individual he is chasing is close to Iraj Namazi, aka The Syrian, a ruthless terrorist who Jack has crossed paths with in a prior novel. This also leads Jack to Anna Dementeva, his former lover who betrayed Jack to be with Namazi. Along the way Jack must deal with Namazi’s organization, Anna and a brutal killer called Redbird who has an assignment from a top U.S. official to kill him.

 An interesting aspect of this novel is the mistrust and infighting that exists among the President’s men at the FBI, the CIA, the Military and the Department of Homeland Security. These men actually implicate each other in front of the President. The other aspect of the story is involved with Anna’s late grandfather’s fortune where Anna, Namazi and a third individual all have parts of a code they think will lead to the fortune and more importantly key contacts from his corrupt empire.

As is always the case with Van Lustbader, he provides enough information from prior novels to allow the current novel to stand on its own. However, as he adds new installments it becomes more difficult to follow the storyline without reading the prior novels.

One criticism of the book for me was the large number of characters with complicated names that became very difficult to follow without referring back to prior chapters. This is a constant problem for me in all Lustbader’s novels in this series.

 BELOVED ENEMY is an action packed political thriller with plenty of sex, murder, lies, deceit and intrigue. In fact I think compared to the prior novels Lustbader has increased the brutality of the killings and has become more detailed in describing the sexual encounters. I also think that the author has become more creative in finding ways for Jack to escape sure death situations. Even though plenty of Jack’s enemies are killed off in this story, I think enough remain for another addition to the Jack McClure series.

If you enjoy a faced paced thriller with lots of twists and turns or are a fan of Eric Lustbader you’ll enjoy BELOVED ENEMY.

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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Kid Konnection: Mitchell Goes Bowling & 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 an adorable picture book that's perfect for Naitonal Learn to Bowl Month!

Summary: Mitchell liked to knock things down. That’s just how he rolled.

One Saturday, when Mitchell almost knocks down his dad, his dad catches him and puts him in the car. And when they step into the bowling alley, Mitchell feels right at home. Pizza! Giant crashing noises! Special shoes! But as Mitchell picks up the biggest ball and quickly learns the word gutter, and when Dad does a little kick with his leg and earns a big X on the scoreboard, Mitchell starts to get peevish. How can Mitchell get a chance to do a steamin’-hot-potato-dance too? With wit, warmth, and comedic charm, Hallie Durand and Tony Fucile roll another strike with this tale of a lovably rambunctious child and his doting dad.

Battle on! Head to the lanes for another hilarious, high-energy story as four-year-old Mitchell and his obliging dad strike a winning deal. -- Candlewick

MITCHELL GOES BOWLING by Hallie Durand and illustrated by Tony Fucile is a terrific book for preschoolers and even early elementary age children. It is very funny and the illustrations are fantastic. I'm betting this is one picture book that both children and adults will want to read over and over again.

In MITCHELL GOES BOWLING, Mitchell is always knocking into things. So one day, his dad decides to take him on a surprise outing to the bowling alley. Mitchell immediately felt as if he belonged, but he also discovered the gutter. Eventually he was able to knock down a pin or two, but he was starting to get frustrated. His dad, on the other hand, made strike after strike and even did a fun little dance; and Mitchell became more jealous by the minute. When his dad suggests that they play on the same team, all of Mitchell's problems were solved!

I thought MITCHELL GOES BOWLING was adorable! I loved Mitchell and I think many kids (and parents) will be able to relate to Mitchell's antics -- both at home and at the bowling alley. The story was very cute and demonstrated a positive father/son relationship. It also had a sweet little message about how to act when you're losing.

However, what really made this book outstanding in my opinion were the illustrations. They were the perfect complement to this story. The were bright and silly and I couldn't help but smile as I read each and every page. I especially loved the pages where Mitchell and his father were celebrating their "victory."

MITCHELL GOES BOWLING is the second book in this series. The first one is titled MITCHELL GOES DRIVING (formerly know as MITCHELL'S LICENSE), and it came out in 2011. I have to say after reading MITCHELL GOES BOWLING, I'm a big fan! I loved the fast and furious pace of the story as well as Mitchell's almost hyper activity level. And the pictures were fantastic! I have a feeling that the first book is the same way!

If you are looking for a very fun book that will appeal to both kids and adults, then I highly recommended MITCHELL GOES BOWLING!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of MITCHELL GOES BOWLING to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before October 18th 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 in U.S. and Canada 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, October 4, 2013

Review: The Light in the Ruins

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart. -- Doubleday

I think I'm finally caught up with all of the reviews for my beach reads! It's embarrassing how long it's take me to write all of them -- a good six weeks. However, I now have a different problem. I don't have a big backlog of books to review and I am finding that I have less and less time to read. You  might be seeing less regular book reviews on my blog over the next few months. But enough about my petty concerns...

One of the highlights of my beach reading list was THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian. I am a huge fan of Mr. Bohjalian's and I seem to enjoy all of his books a great deal. That was certainly the case with THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS. Like some of his recent works, this novel was historical fiction, but it was also a terrific literary thriller. It goes without saying that I had big expectations for this novel -- Mr. Bohjalian and a mix of two of my favorite genres!

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS takes place in Florence, Italy,  in 1943 and 1955. The Rosati family comes from a long line of nobles and lives on an estate with a beautiful villa. They believe that they will be safe from the war; however, soldiers arrive and request access to an ancient Etrusan burial site. The Rosatis, and especially the 18 year old daughter Cristina, face some drastic events.

Fast forward ten years after the war has ended... the Rosati family is facing a different sort of crisis. Someone is brutally murdering members of the family, one-by-one; and investigator Serafina Bettini is working the case. Serafina is dealing with scars from the war, both mental and physical ones; and her investigation into the murders causes her to uncover things not only about the Rosatis but also her own past.

What can I really say about THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS that hasn't already been said? It has received numerous positive reviews including starred ones from Library Journal and Booklist, and bloggers everywhere have been raving about this book for months. Of course, I agree with all of them. THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS was not only a well written and well researched piece of historical fiction, but it was also an intriguing literary thriller. Kind of the best of both worlds!

The stories in THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS go back and forth between Tuscany during World War II and Florence in 1955. Often times when a novel spans two different time periods, I find that I prefer one to the other. In the case of this book, I actually enjoyed both. The World War II parts were interesting from a historical perspective to me -- I pretty much knew nothing about the Nazi occupation of Italy, but I thought the character development, namely Serafina, and the mystery were better in the later sections. Mr. Bohjalian obviously did a great job of merging the two stories for optimal value!

There were many very good things about this novel that I'm hard pressed to just select a few to feature in this review. However, the one thing that keeps coming to my mind is the character of Serafina. I loved how complex she was. It unusual for her to be an investigator with a police department in 1955, and I appreciated seeing the challenges she faced as a result of being a woman as well as her process for solving crimes. But it was her inner struggles that really captured my interest. Serafina is damaged from the war in both visible and hidden ways, and I liked how investigating the Rosati murders brought to surface all of her pain. As she worked through finding the murderer, she was also forced to face some demons from her past. I found it all extremely interesting and loved how the author tied everything together.

This might come as a surprise (not!) but I think THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS would make a wonderful book club selection. I've read a few of Mr. Bohjalian's books for my book clubs through the years, and they always provide a lot of material for discussion. I was excited to find a discussion guide for this novel with thirteen stimulating questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include love, family, war, sacrifices, ethical dilemmas, survival, scars, and loss.

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS is sure to be appreciated by fans of historical fiction and literary thrillers. Highly recommended.

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: The Silent Wife

Summary: Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go. -- Penguin

There was so much buzz over the summer about THE SILENT WIFE by A.S.A. Harrison that I decided to pack it for my beach vacation. (Yes... I'm still catching up on reviews from almost two months ago!) I had seen in more than one place that THE SILENT WIFE was being compared to GONE GIRL; and quite frankly, that set my expectations pretty high... probably unfairly so.

THE SILENT WIFE does have a few similarities to GONE GIRL. It is a psychological thriller told in alternating chapters by the "husband" and the "wife," and their "marriage" is far from sound. However, it didn't quite have that same shock value that the first half of GONE GIRL did. It's not that I didn't enjoy THE SILENT WIFE. I actually thought it was a very good book. I just think it might have been a disservice to compare it to the mega-hit GONE GIRL.

In THE SILENT WIFE, the reader is introduced to Jodi and Todd, a couple who have been together for twenty years. Their relationship is strained to say the least, partly because of Todd's serial cheating and Jodi's ability to deny. However one day, Jodi gets fed up and decides to do something. Both sides of the relationship are presented in alternating chapters in Jodi and Todd's voices, and it's clear that the couple is headed towards something big -- namely Jodi deciding to murder Todd!

I really liked THE SILENT WIFE. It is a very well written novel and I thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing the individual stories of both Jodi and Todd. I especially appreciated getting Jodi's story because it became rather "twisted," and I liked seeing how her character evolved from the point of denial to the point of murder. Talk about a woman scorned! Having said that, I also enjoyed getting Todd's view on their relationship. I think presenting both the "him" and "her" sides of the story was the ideal way to tell this story.

I think what I appreciated the most about THE SILENT WIFE was how smart it was. The story was clever, as was the writing, but I most enjoyed the psychological insight into the characters. I found the path towards destruction of their relationship to be extremely interesting, and while I didn't really like either of the main characters, I found their interactions (and lack thereof) to be almost humorous given the resentment each one was harboring towards the other.

THE SILENT WIFE would make a great book club discussion. Truly, Jodi and Todd are fascinating and it would be a lot of fun to dissect their relationship over a glass of wine or two. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a discussion guide but I doubt that one is necessary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, betrayal, resentment, infidelity, and revenge.

It wasn't until I finished THE SILENT WIFE that I realized that the author passed away just months before the publication of this novel. Such a tragedy for so many reasons....

While I hesitate to compare THE SILENT WIFE to GONE GIRL, I do think readers who appreciate psychological thrillers will enjoy this novel.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guest Review: Fourth and Long

Summary: In search of the sport’s old ideals amid the roaring flood of hypocrisy and greed, bestselling author John U. Bacon embedded himself in four programs—Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern—and captured college football’s oldest, biggest, most storied league, the Big Ten, at its tipping point. He sat in as coaches dissected game film, he ate dinner at training tables, and he listened in locker rooms. He talked with tailgating fans and college presidents, and he spent months in the company of the gifted young athletes who play the game.

None of Bacon’s discoveries is more poignant than this: the last, true defenders of the student-athlete ideal are the players themselves, who, even as money changes everything around them, are left to carry the future of the league, the game, and more than a century of tradition on their backs every fall Saturday.

Fourth and Long reveals intimate scenes behind closed doors, from a team’s angry face-off with their athletic director to a defensive lineman acing his master’s exams in theoretical math. It captures the private moment when coach Urban Meyer earned the devotion of Ohio State’s Buckeyes on their way to a perfect season. It shows Michigan’s athletic department endangering the very traditions that distinguish the college game from all others. And it recreates the euphoria of the Northwestern Wildcats winning their first bowl game in decades, even as they do honor to the student-athlete ideal.

Most unforgettably, Fourth and Long finds what the national media missed in the ugly aftermath of Penn State’s tragic scandal: the unheralded story of players who joined forces with Coach Bill O’Brien to save the university’s treasured program—and with it, a piece of the game’s soul.

This is the work of a writer in love with an old game—a game he sees at the precipice. Bacon’s deep knowledge of sports history and his sensitivity to the tribal subcultures of the college game power this elegy to a beloved and endangered American institution. -- Simon & Schuster

When FOURTH AND LONG: THE FIGHT FOR THE SOUL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL by John U. Bacon was released last month, it caused quite a stir here in Central Pennsylvania. Excerpts from this book were everywhere and, as a Penn State graduate, I couldn't get enough of the juicy details. I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, so I passed it along to my dad first. I knew he'd get to it right away. Here are his thoughts:

In FOURTH AND LONG: THE FIGHT FOR THE SOUL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL, author John U. Bacon focuses on the 2012 football season for Big 10 teams Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Penn State. Bacon embedded himself to various degrees into each program to provide insider information. Michigan probably provided the least opportunity for Bacon while Penn State gave him the most access.

Bacon used stories about these four storied programs to emphasize what makes college athletics unique – what differentiates them from professional teams. He also discusses the threats to this uniqueness such as new conference alignments, too many bowl games, higher prices, more TV access to games and the loss of long time rivalries. He used the example of the decision to add Rutgers and Maryland to the Big 10 as being more about money than about the interest of the fans and athletes.

The author looked at each university from a different perspective. At Michigan he concentrated on the Athletic Director, Dave Brandon and his CEO approach to running the athletic programs with his emphasis on profit at the expense of the fans and student-athletes game day experience. Although Bacon didn’t get great access to the Michigan program, he is a Michigan graduate and has formed strong opinions on the direction of the athletic programs. He also gave the reader some insight into the strong rivalries Michigan maintained with Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame. The recent cancellation of the Notre Dame annual game is another example of ignoring the desires of the fans and athletes.

For Ohio State, Bacon focused on new coach Urban Myer and his approach to having his coaching methods accepted by the team. Bacon makes the case that Myer’s undefeated first season will put immense pressure from fan expectations going forward. The reader also got a view of the rivalry with Michigan from the Ohio State perspective.

At Northwestern, the author emphasized athletic success under Coach Pat Fitzgerald despite the strong academic environment. Bacon carried the academic theme a little further when he emphasized the overall academic strength of the Big Ten as compared to other conferences such as the SEC.

The story about Penn State focused entirely on the NCAA sanctions imposed after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and how the team under new coach Bill O’Brian handled them throughout the 2012 season. Bacon was very critical of the NCAA sanctions. A large portion of the book focused on Penn State. I suppose that the controversy surrounding the program and the willingness of the players to talk freely was a little more interesting to write about than the less controversial subject matter at the other universities.

FOURTH AND LONG is a story about college football and the direction it’s moving. Bacon uses stories about the athletics at Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Penn State to show the uniqueness of the college game. Although I found a few factual errors in the book, the overall premise of the book is sound. Most football fans would enjoy reading FOURTH AND LONG; however Big 10 fans and graduates of one of these four universities would find the book most interesting. As a Penn State graduate I found the Penn State stories extremely revealing as to how the student-athletes and coaches handled the tragic scandal.

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