Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: Twisted Sisters

Summary: Reagan Bishop is a pusher. A licensed psychologist who stars on the Wendy Winsberg cable breakout show I Need a Push, Reagan helps participants become their best selves by urging them to overcome obstacles and change behaviors. An overachiever, Reagan is used to delivering results.

Despite her overwhelming professional success, Reagan never seems to earn her family’s respect. Her younger sister, Geri, is and always will be the Bishop family favorite. When a national network buys Reagan’s show, the pressures for unreasonably quick results and higher ratings mount. But Reagan’s a clinician, not a magician, and fears witnessing her own personal failings in prime time. (And seriously? Her family will never let her hear the end of it.) Desperate to make the show work and keep her family at bay, Reagan actually listens when the show’s New Age healer offers an unconventional solution…

Record Nielsen ratings follow. But when Reagan decides to use her newfound power to teach everyone a lesson about sibling rivalry, she’s the one who will be schooled… -- New American Library

I think I've mentioned a time or two that I'm just not reading at my normal pace. Although since this has been true for a few months now, I'm beginning to think this is my new normal! Rather than feel like reading is a chore, I decided to pick up a book that I knew would be fun -- TWISTED SISTERS by Jen Lancaster.

TWISTED SISTERS is about Reagan Bishop, a psychologist who stars in the cable reality show I Need a Push. She tries to help contestants face their fears and change their behavior. Reagan is a major perfectionist, both her job and personal life; and despite her successes, she feels as if her family doesn't understand or appreciate her.

When the show is purchased by a major network, Reagan finds that there are many changes to how she's been doing her job. The new team wants both faster results and higher ratings, and they are willing to sacrifice quality to achieve these things. Reagan fears that she can't be successful with this new formula so she turns to the show's New Age healer Deva to help her.

As Reagan faces pressure from all sides, she decides to take this opportunity to prove a thing or two to her boss and her family. However, Reagan realizes that she just might be the one who needs to learn a lesson about herself.

I've read a few reviews for TWISTED SISTERS that weren't exactly glowing. That's not to say that they weren't good. They just weren't stellar. I was actually a little surprised because I found this novel to be a lot of fun. Granted, it wasn't exactly literature and I had to let a few of my sensibilities go to believe the story; however, I thought it was cute... and I really liked how everything was eventually resolved. This novel most definitely entertained me!

Some of the characters in TWISTED SISTERS, namely Reagan, were a bit over-the-top. The story was told in Reagan's voice, and boy was she a piece of work! She was snobby, judgmental, and pretty darn unlikable for much of the novel; however, I did enjoy seeing her get her comeuppance. In fact, I actually ended up liking her character as she realized the error of her ways!

For those of you who have read anything written by Ms. Lancaster, then you already know that she's a very funny writer. Her humor was definitely evident in TWISTED SISTERS. Maybe it's because there's just the tiniest of me in Reagan, but I found some of her insight and reflections about people to be hilarious -- even though it usually wasn't very nice!

While I enjoyed the entire book, I found the ending to be especially good. I admit I was a little worried that it would be too predictable, but I actually found it to be satisfying. I don't want to say that this book was full of complex themes and messages; however, I did like the lessons that Reagan learned throughout the course of the story.

If you are looking for a light read that is guaranteed to make you laugh, then I suggest trying TWISTED SISTERS.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review: The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion (Audio)

Summary: The one and only Fannie Flagg, beloved author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, and I Still Dream About You, is at her hilarious and superb best in this new comic mystery novel about two women who are forced to reimagine who they are.

Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.

Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure. As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds herself with new inspiration for her own life.

Fabulous, fun-filled, spanning decades and generations, and centered on a little-known aspect of America’s twentieth-century story, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is another irresistible novel by the remarkable Fannie Flagg. -- Random House Audio

I'm pretty sure that I've read every novel that Fannie Flagg has written. It's been some time now since I read FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, and I've always been highly entertained by her characters and heartwarming stories. Needless to say,  I was very excited to learn that she has new book out called THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION'S LAST REUNION.

I was even more excited after I read the description for THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION'S LAST REUNION (TAGFSLR). It was described as a "comic mystery" and that certainly appealed to me. Plus the novel appeared to have an interesting plot and maybe even a surprise or two. All of that plus Ms. Flagg's down-home writing style made this book sound like a winner to me.

TAGFSLR begins with the story of Sookie Poole, a wife and mother who has just married off her last daughter and is looking for a little R&R with her husband. Her life should be much calmer now... except for her dealings with her overbearing mother.  One day, Sookie uncovers a secret about her mother and her past that threatens to turn her world upside down.

Sookie begins investing this "mystery" and her research introduces her to Fritzi, a strong and determined woman who not only ran her family's gas station but also served as a pilot during World War II. Sookie's introduction to Fritzi and her family allows Sookie to fill in the gaps about her past. In addition, she gains some inspiration in her own life through the courageous actions of these women.

If I'm being entirely honest, I liked TAGFSLR but I didn't love it like I did some other of Ms. Flagg's novels. This is the first book by her that I've listened to, so that might have have contributed to my feelings; however, I just think the book was a little long and even dragged in a few places. Had the book been a few hours shorter, I still think the complete story could have been effectively told; and I wouldn't have been as frustrated with some of the slower parts.

Having said that, I still found much of TAGFSLR to be enjoyable. I love Ms. Flagg's zany cast of characters and I did find many things to be very funny in this novel. I even found myself smiling a time or two (or more!) while running on the treadmill. (I'm sure others thought I was very strange.) In addition, I liked how the characters faced some hardships, yet managed to not only survive but thrive! And like many of Ms. Flagg's books, I appreciated the messages about family, friendship, and the strength and resilience of women!

The story went back and forth between the present (or almost present day) and the past. Much of the story was Sookie's day-to-day activities, and then it would jump to the 1940s when Fritzi was a young woman. For some of the past scenes, the author used letters which went back and forth between the characters. This might sound strange, but I felt as if the two stories weren't really "related"; and the transitions seemed a little abrupt. I knew that the stories would eventually come together, and I definitely liked how they did at the end of the novel; however, it seemed like a long time before the stories merged.

While I enjoyed both Sookie's and Frizi's stories, I have to say that I found Fritzi's to be much more interesting. I don't want to give to much away, but Fritzi's (and her family's) involvement in World War II was fascinating to me. I learned quite a few things about women's role in the war that I had never known; and like Sookie, I gained a huge respect for those women (and men) who served our country in a very tough time.

As far as how the "mystery" aspect of TAGFSLR worked, I have to say that it definitely did for me. I liked Sookie's investigation into the mystery, and I admit that I was surprised by what took place. There were a few twists and turns -- one of which actually shocked me, and I appreciated how the mystery eventually was revealed. I have to admit that a few of the ending scenes made this entire novel a worthwhile read (or should I say listen?) for me.

I listened to the audio version of TAGFSLR which was read by Ms. Flagg herself. As an actress and a writer, I think she did a very good job. I appreciated her sense of comic timing, especially with Sookie's character; and I liked her interpretation of Sookie's mom -- now she was a piece of work.  Take a listen this clip to get idea of how Ms. Flagg narrated the novel:

I definitely think TAGFSLR would make a fun discussion book for female book clubs. I wasn't able to find an on-line discussion guide; however, I don't think you'd need one. There is a great deal to discuss about family, friendship, loss, war, sacrifice, love, parenting, second chances, forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption. And because so many of the characters evolve so much throughout the course of the story, there is a great deal to analyze about their actions.

THE ALL-GIRL FILLING STATION'S LAST REUNION is a funny and heartwarming story about family and courage. It has over four stars on Amazon with over 1200 reviews, so you might want to check it out!

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: After I'm Gone

Summary: The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Thing, I'd Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know returns with an addictive story that explores how one man's disappearance echoes through the lives of the five women he left behind—his wife, his daughters, and his mistress

Dead is dead. Missing is gone.

When Felix Brewer meets nineteen-year-old Bernadette "Bambi" Gottschalk at a Valentine's Day dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July in 1976, Bambi's comfortable world implodes when Felix, facing prison, vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his devoted young mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day after Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she's left to join her old lover—until her remains are discovered in a secluded park.

Now, twenty-six years later, Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web of bitterness, jealousy, resentment, greed, and longing stretching over five decades. And at its center is the man who, though long gone, has never been forgotten by the five women who loved him: the enigmatic Felix Brewer.

Felix Brewer left five women behind. Now there are four. Does at least one of them know the truth? -- William Morrow

I have been in a bit of a funk lately when it comes to reading; and somehow, I missed that Laura Lippman has a new stand-alone novel out called AFTER I'M GONE. Once I realized the error of my ways, I quickly got my hands on a copy of this book. Boy am I glad I did!

I absolutely loved AFTER I'M GONE and it's definitely one of the best books I've read so far this year. Considering I haven't exactly been reading all that much, that might not sound impressive. However, I guarantee you that this novel will go down as one of my favorites for 2014.

It's just that good...

At it's simplest, AFTER I'M GONE tells the story of the disappearance of Felix Brewer, a Baltimore man who was involved in some questionable ventures. No one knows where he went over 25 years ago or even if he's alive or dead. When his mistress Julie goes missing ten years to the day after Felix mysteriously left, most believe she left to be with Felix. That theory doesn't pan out when her body is found in a secluded section of a park sixteen years later.

Sandy Sanchez, a retired detective who is now a contractor working on cold cases, decides to investigate Julie's death. His investigation takes him back almost fifty years as he looks into Felix's past as well as his relationship with his wife, mistress, and his friends. As he gets closer to finding out what happened to Julie (and Felix), he begins to discover that the people involved in Felix's life are holding onto many long-time secrets.

Where do I even begin to talk about AFTER I'M GONE? I loved this novel... for so many reasons. The mysteries were definitely intriguing, as were the cast of characters; and there were so many twists and turns that I actually had no idea where the story was going. Ms. Lippman is truly one of the best writers of crime fiction out there.

However, I think it's Ms. Lippman's ability to get inside her characters' brains and make them real that really made this book outstanding. I love that not only was there an interesting mystery (or two!), but that she also managed to make this book about so much more than just these mysteries. Basically, Ms Lippman delved into how this man's disappearance affected the five women in his life -- his wife, his three daughters, and his mistress. Her psychological insight into this situation was fascinating to me as a reader, and I thought she was brilliant.

AFTER I'M GONE was written in a very special way. The story goes back and forth between the present and the past, and the reader is able to pick up clues along the way about both Felix's and Julie's disappearances, but also about the relationships between the characters. I thought the transitions between the flashbacks were extremely well done and transitioned very smoothly. Furthermore, I loved learning how life was for Felix's family both before and after his disappearance. Needless to say, it took a toll on them both physically and emotionally!

Another thing that I absolutely adored about AFTER I'M GONE was the character of Sandy Sanchez, the retired detective who was investigating the crime(s). I loved him! He was so complex and dealing with some baggage of his own; and I think that he's just a wonderful character. I hope to see more of him in future novels; and based on the ending, I think that might be the case.

AFTER I'M GONE would make an awesome book club pick -- truly awesome! Not only is the story riveting, but the characters are fascinating in their own right. As a result, there is so much to discuss. I was excited to fine a reading guide with fourteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to talk about include actions and consequences, betrayal, honestly, deception, trust, family, friendship, adultery, marriage, parenting, stereotypes, and more!

AFTER I'M GONE is just a terrific novel that you shouldn't miss! 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. 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, February 22, 2014

Kid Konnection: Duopress Puzzles

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 something a little different!

Through the years, I've reviewed quite a few Duopress board books, and I've always loved their adorable illustrations of popular locales. Now they are spreading out into another fun category -- puzzles. Duopress has a new line of children's puzzles featuring MY SAN FRANCISCO PUZZLE: THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE and MY NEW YORK PUZZLE: THE STATUE OF LIBERTY.

Summary: Kids will claim their love for America’s greatest cities with their first city puzzles. Depicting familiar scenes and landmarks in bold, bright colors, these puzzles are manufactured on high-quality paper using nontoxic soy-based ink and packed in a sturdy box, for easy storage. Perfect on the road or at home, these puzzles are lots of fun for young locals of or visitors to America’s greatest cities! -- Duopress

Summary: Kids will claim their love for America’s greatest cities with their first city puzzles. Depicting familiar scenes and landmarks in bold, bright colors, these puzzles are manufactured on high-quality paper using nontoxic soy-based ink and packed in a sturdy box, for easy storage. Perfect on the road or at home, these puzzles are lots of fun for young locals of or visitors to America’s greatest cities! -- Duopress

Both the San Francisco and New York puzzles are absolutely adorable and perfect for little ones. The puzzle pieces are geared towards children ages three and up and are very sturdy. Each puzzle has twenty pieces, and the finished size of the puzzle is 12.5 x 9 inches. Plus, they boxes are very solid and actually slide apart to hold the pieces. No crushed or torn boxes here!

I love this concept of designing puzzles which feature popular landmarks in different cities. What makes these puzzles even more fun, though, are the illustrations by Violet Lemay. Her use of colors is wonderful (just check out the fireworks on the New York puzzle), and I like that she added lots of interesting little items in the backgrounds.

My kids were right around three years old when they loved doing puzzles! They couldn't get enough of them and didn't mind doing the same ones over and over again. I can promise that these two puzzles would have been fast favorites for both of them!

As a mom, I like that these puzzles are not only fun but also educational. Granted, by themselves, they are cute pictures of famous landmarks; however, I think parents can take the opportunity to share with children the history of these images as well as the cities featured.

Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing samples of these puzzles.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: Lydia's Party

Summary: Lydia is having a party—it’s a party she hosts every year for six women friends who treasure the midwinter bash. Over a table laden with a feast of food and wine, the women revel in sharing newsy updates, simmering secrets, and laughter. As this particular evening unfolds, Lydia prepares to make a shattering announcement.

As we follow these friends through their party preparations, we meet flawed but lovable characters who are navigating the hassles of daily chores while also meditating in stolen moments on their lives, their regrets, their complicated relationships, and their deepest desires. When Lydia’s announcement shocks them all, they rediscover the enduring bonds of friendship and find their lives changing in unexpected ways.

Tender, wryly funny, and exquisitely written, Lydia’s Party poignantly considers both the challenges of everyday life and of facing our fears while creating characters whose foibles and feistiness will capture readers’ hearts. -- Viking

When I read the description for LYDIA'S PARTY by Margaret Hawkins, I figured it would be a book that I might enjoy. I am a sucker for stories about these strength of women and their friendships, and LYDIA'S PARTY certainly seemed to fit the bill. Better yet, the book received a starred review from Kirkus so I decided to give it a shot.

If I'm being entirely honest, I liked LYDIA'S PARTY but I didn't love it like I had hoped. LYDIA'S PARTY is the story of Lydia and her friends who meet each year at a party hosted by Lydia. Lydia's parties are always known for the vast amount of food and drink as well the good times shared between the women.

This year, Lydia has a major announcement to make that will forever alter the future of the party. Despite the bad news, Lydia's friends manage to pull together for Lydia's sake; and in the process, they discover things about themselves and the importance of friendship.

Based on the book's description, I had a feeling that LYDIA'S PARTY wasn't going to be a joyful book; however, I had hoped that the overall messages about friendship would manage to make it a worthwhile read. That was definitely the case. Even though Lydia was facing a very sad situation, I was happy to see that many of the messages from the novel were upbeat and positive. That's not to say that I didn't feel like crying a few times while reading this book -- many of the characters were facing issues in their lives, but I found strength in their resilience and perseverance.

One thing I definitely appreciated about LYDIA'S PARTY was the writing. I had never read a book by Ms. Hawkins before, but I was definitely impressed with her prose. She did a great job of developing many female characters and I love the way she explored female relationships -- and by that, I don't mean just friendships. In addition, she touched upon some very real issues that women of a certain age face; and I think she did it in a fair and compassionate way.

For the most part, I enjoyed LYDIA'S PARTY but I just don't know if the book was for me. I think one reason that LYDIA'S PARTY didn't resonate with me as much as I had hoped was because the characters were all a bit older. I hate to admit that I'm not all that far away from their ages, but they just seemed to be in very different places in their lives than I am. While there were many women in the story with a variety of problems, I never found one that I could truly relate to. Nor did I find one that even reminded me of any of my friends. I know it's not necessary to like or relate to a character to appreciate a story, but in this case, I think it would have helped.

LYDIA'S PARTy would, without a doubt, make a good book club selection -- especially if your group is made up of middle-aged (or older) women. I wasn't able to find a reading guide (which is a shame), but I do think there are many themes to discuss. Some of the topics your friends might want to explore is love, marriage, parenting, loss, grief, regret, aging, and of course female friendships. Since the party is the major setting for the story, there is also some potential for some great food and drink ideas!

Overall, I enjoyed LYDIA'S PARTY and think it will appeal to fans of women's fiction.

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Lost Lake

Summary: The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It’s a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it’s too late?

At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places. -- St. Martin's Press

It's been awhile since I've read a novel by Sarah Addison Allen; however, when I read the description for her latest book titled LOST LAKE, I thought it sounded like a book I might enjoy. I'm the first to admit that I'm not usually drawn to stories with elements of magic, but I do remember thinking Ms. Allen did a great job of incorporating this into her books and making it "believable." I also happened to read a few very positive reviews for LOST LAKE, and truth be told, they did persuade me to give this one a try.

At it's heart, LOST LAKE was really a lovely story about a widow named Kate who has been "sleeping" for the past year ever since her husband died. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be), Kate's domineering mother-in-law has been "helping" Kate and her eight year old daughter Devin.; and she recently sold Kate's house and wants to move them in with her. On moving day, Kate discovers an old postcard from her aunt Eby who owns some cabins at Lost Lake; and Kate decides to take Devin to visit. Lost Lake holds a special place in Kate's heart and she remembers her stay there as the last summer she was truly happy.

When Kate arrives at Lost Lake, she learns that Eby can no longer maintain the cabins and is selling them to a developer. Kate and Devin feel an immediate connection to Lost Lake and the people who are staying there for one last summer, and they are both saddened that Eby and the cabins will no longer be there.

Meanwhile, Devin discovers a magical alligator who leads her to a missing box from past. (It wouldn't be a Sarah Addison Allen book if there wasn't some magic!) As Kate learns more about Lost Lake and the secrets in the box, she rediscover her true self and is finally able to move forward and make a new life for herself and her daughter.

I really enjoyed LOST LAKE! I mentioned that I'm not a huge fan of books with mythical elements; however, it didn't really bother me that there was a talking alligator in this story. Having said that, I will admit that the story between the alligator and Devin wasn't my favorite part of this novel. It definitely worked for me and it was an interesting way to uncover secrets from the characters' pasts, but I much preferred some other things about this story -- namely the cast of characters and the atmospheric writing.

I thought the characters in LOST LAKE were so much fun. I loved Kate and Eby, and it was interesting to see how both of them changed throughout the novel. I truly loved how Kate "got her groove back." In addition, I found Eby's best friend Lisette, who was unable to speak and communicated with a ghost from her past, to be intriguing; and I appreciated how the book explored her character's development and eventual romance. However, I think it was the oddball cast of misfits that visited LOST LAKE that really captured my heart. These characters were very funny, yet all of them had big hearts; and I loved how they pulled together to help Eby!

Another thing I really liked about LOST LAKE was Ms. Allen's writing. She has proved time and time again that she has a way with words, and she truly does a great job of incorporating magical realism into her stories. In the case of this novel, I thought she did a great job with bringing the setting of Lost Lake to life for the reader. I loved her gorgeous descriptions of the property as well as her details about how run down the cabins were; and I liked that I was able to picture everything so vividly.

LOST LAKE would make for a very interesting book club selection. I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide, but don't let that deter you from picking this book for your next meeting. The story is sweet and definitely a feel-good story (at least the ending is!), and there are many topics to discuss including loss, grief, family, guilt, love, friendship, second chances, and redemption. 

LOST LAKE is sure to be a hit with fans of Sarah Addison Allen. It's a beautiful story that is guaranteed to warm your heart. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guest Review: Lincoln in the World

Summary: A captivating look at how Abraham Lincoln evolved into one of our seminal foreign-policy presidents—and helped point the way to America’s rise to world power.

This is the story of one of the most breathtaking feats in the annals of American foreign policy—performed by one of the most unlikely figures. Abraham Lincoln is not often remembered as a great foreign-policy president. He had never traveled overseas and spoke no foreign languages. And yet, during the Civil War, Lincoln and his team skillfully managed to stare down the Continent’s great powers—deftly avoiding European intervention on the side of the Confederacy. In the process, the United States emerged as a world power in its own right.

Engaging, insightful, and highly original, Lincoln in the World is a tale set at the intersection of personal character and national power. The narrative focuses tightly on five distinct, intensely human conflicts that helped define Lincoln’s approach to foreign affairs—from his debate, as a young congressman, with his law partner over the conduct of the Mexican War, to his deadlock with Napoleon III over the French occupation of Mexico. Bursting with colorful characters like Lincoln’s bowie-knife-wielding minister to Russia, Cassius Marcellus Clay; the cunning French empress, EugĂ©nie; and the hapless Mexican monarch Maximilian—Lincoln in the World draws a finely wrought portrait of a president and his team at the dawn of American power.

In the Age of Lincoln, we see shadows of our own world. The international arena in the 1860s could be a merciless moral vacuum. Lincoln’s times demanded the cold, realistic pursuit of national interest, and, in important ways, resembled our own increasingly multipolar world. And yet, like ours, Lincoln’s era was also an information age, a period of rapid globalization. Steamships, telegraph wires, and proliferating new media were transforming the world. Global influence required the use of “soft power” as well as hard.

Anchored by meticulous research into overlooked archives, Lincoln in the World reveals the sixteenth president to be one of America’s indispensable diplomats—and a key architect of America’s emergence as a global superpower. Much has been written about how Lincoln saved the Union, but Lincoln in the World highlights the lesser-known—yet equally vital—role he played on the world stage during those tumultuous years of war and division. -- Crown

Booking Pap Pap is back with another interesting review. This time it's for LINCOLN IN THE WORLD: THE MAKING OF A STATESMAN AND THE DAWN OF AMERICAN POWER by Kevin Peraino. Here are his thoughts:

When we think about Abraham Lincoln we generally think of the President who ended slavery in the United States and successfully guided the country through the Civil War. We seldom think of Lincoln in terms of his foreign policy. In fact Lincoln had never traveled outside the United States. In LINCOLN IN THE WORLD, THE MAKING OF A STATESMAN AND THE DAWN OF AMERICAN POWER  author Kevin Peraino presents five events that helped define Lincoln’s foreign policy.

The first example deals with his position on the conduct of the United States in the Mexican War. His anti-war position was debated heavily with his law partner, Billy Herndon. At the time Lincoln was a first term Representative in the U.S. Congress and the country was being driven by the “Manifest Destiny” drumbeat and his position was not well received. His view was probably the main reason he lost his Congressional seat after one term and was also a major factor in his debates with Stephen Douglas and his ultimate defeat for a seat in the U.S. Senate some ten years later.

According to Peraino the second episode that influenced his foreign policy stance was his interaction with his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. Seward saw Lincoln as weak on international relations and used that knowledge along with Lincoln’s preoccupation with domestic problems to attempt to wrest control of foreign policy. At the end of the day Lincoln held his own with his Secretary of State and although their methods were different, both men had the same goals. The challenges for Lincoln and Seward were to prevent England, France and Spain from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation and at the same time prevent those countries from aggressive land grabs while the country was occupied with the Civil War.

The third incident was Lincoln’s standoff with Britain’s Lord Palmerston during the Trent crisis of 1861. An international incident occurred when the captain of the U.S.S. San Jacinto boarded the British ship, Trent, and seized two Confederate envoys. Lincoln applied deft diplomacy to avoid a war with Britain and prevent a recognition of the Confederacy.

The next chapter attempts to make a case that Lincoln and Karl Marx were in a race to use the media to mold public opinion. There is no evidence that their paths ever crossed. Marx worked for a short time as a writer for the New York Tribune and he supported Lincoln’s anti-slavery stand and thought of it as a part of the worldwide abolition of slavery. Marx contended that the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation strongly influenced the British labor movement. Of all the cases put forth by Peraino I think this is the weakest.

The final episode deals with Lincoln’s stance with Napoleon III’s occupation of Mexico and the installation of Maximillian as the head of government. Many feared this was a prelude to foreign intervention in the Civil War. Many wanted the United States to invade Mexico but in the end Lincoln’s patience and the later withdrawal of French troops led to a quick demise of Maximillian’s rule.

Peraino closes his book by examining John Hay’s attempt to define the lasting role of Lincoln’s foreign policy. Hay served as Lincoln’s personal secretary and later as Secretary of State for McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt.

LINCOLN IN THE WORLD is an interesting look at Abraham Lincoln foreign policy perspective. Peraino shows that the Civil War was an influence on world events and was not fought in a vacuum. The author also points out that at the end of the Civil War the United States army and navy were the largest in the world, making them a world power. Lincoln’s policy was twofold: avoid foreign intervention in the Civil War and keep foreign governments from recognizing the Confederacy as a separate nation. It’s clear that Lincoln handled his international issues well while under tremendous pressure from the Civil War.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in U.S. history, particularly the Civil War.

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

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kid Konnection: Robot Burp Head Smartypants!

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 picture book that's guaranteed to make your little ones giggle.

Summary: Robot and Robot are thirsty. How about a big gulp of engine oil? Ga-lugg! Guzzle! Mmm, mmm -- BurrRRRP! Oops! Pardon me! Of cour -- Burrrrrp! -- ourse! Oh, pardon me!

On your mark, get set, belch! The green and purple robots from Robot Zombie Frankenstein! are back for a second round of "Top This" games! Burp to ten? Easy! Burp the alphabet? No sweat! Burp by tens while blindfolded, juggling, and skateboarding? Yikes! Reluctant readers won’t even notice that they’re learning as they laugh out loud at the wacky antics of these irreverent robotic pals.

Annette Simon’s rival robots are back with a new game of nutty and bolty -- or is that burpy? -- one-upmanship. -- Candlewick

The robots from the picture book ROBOT ZOMBIE FRANKENSTEIN by Annette Simon are back! (You can read all about their last appearance here!) This time they appear in ROBOT BURP HEAD SMARTYPANTS!, and they are once again competing against each other.  Instead of one-upping each other with colors and costumes, they are trying to out-burp the other one. (Yes... you read that correctly.) This book involves a lot of burping from two very silly robots.

The robots actually drink a little too much engine oil which causes them to belch. (In case you're wondering, they do excuse themselves!) The begin to burp while counting to ten and then they start in on the alphabet. The move on to counting (or should I say burping) by tens, and each performance is more and more outlandish.

While I'm not exactly a fan of burping, I did find ROBOT BURP HEAD SMARTYPANTS! to be cute, and I definitely think kids will love it. I am pretty sure my son would have gotten a kick out of these two robots when he was younger. As a mother, I do appreciate that the book is fun while also teaching little ones to count and say their ABCs.

As far as the illustrations go, I think they are positively adorable. The tone of the book is obviously silly and the brightly colored drawings are the perfect complement. In addition, I love the use of the different sized fonts. There is no doubt that these illustrations will attract even the youngest of readers.

ROBOT BURP HEAD SMARTYPANTS! is a very fun and very cute book.

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

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: The Whole Golden World

Summary: Kristina Riggle, the acclaimed author of Real Life & Liars, returns with a thought-provoking novel inspired by real-life events

Seventeen-year-old Morgan Monetti shocks her parents and her community with one simple act: She chooses to stand by the man everyone else believes has exploited her—popular high school teacher TJ Hill. Quietly walking across a crowded courtroom to sit behind TJ, and not beside her parents, she announces herself as the adult she believes herself to be.

But her mother, Dinah, wants justice. Dinah is a fighter, and she believes with all her heart and soul that TJ is a man who took advantage of her daughter. He is a criminal who should be brought to justice, no matter what the cost to his family.

Rain, TJ's wife, is shocked that her handsome, loving, respected husband has been accused of a terrible crime. But has her desperation to start a family closed her eyes to the fault lines in her marriage? And can she face the painful truths about herself and her husband?

Told from the perspectives of these three remarkable women, The Whole Golden World navigates the precarious territory between childhood and adulthood, raising questions about love and manipulation, marriage and motherhood, consent and responsibility. It's a novel both shocking and unforgettable in its power. -- William Morrow

I think I've read every novel that Kristina Riggle has written, and each one has been entertaining in their own special way. I appreciate Ms. Riggle's writing, especially her prose and her character development; and my feelings about her latest novel THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD are more of the same. While this book wasn't always easy for me to read because of the subject matter, I enjoyed this one a great deal; and I liked that it brought up a ton of complex issues.

I guess THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD is based on some real-life events -- which actually make it even harder for me to process. Let me explain. Morgan, a seventeen year old girl, who is basically a good student has an affair with her high school teacher TJ Hill. When he is charged with a crime, she chooses to act like "an adult" and stand-by "her man" thinking their relationship is based on mutual love and respect.

Her mother Dinah, however, isn't quite as understanding and wants justice for the man she believes took advantage of her daughter. Her strong convictions never waiver even though Hill is married and expecting his first child.

And then there's Hill's wife Rain who is torn apart by the allegations and isn't quite sure what to believe. She is desperate to start a family -- so much so that she might be willing to turn her eyes from the truth!

Needless to say, this novel explores some very complicated ethical and emotional issues; and as a mother of a teenage girl, it was a bit hard for me to read. Having said that, I did "enjoy" this novel and I thought Ms. Riggle did an excellent job of showing the different views of the characters. The book was very readable thanks to her quality writing, yet it also managed to make me think. I always say that's a sign of a good book.

One thing I really appreciated about THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD was how the author chose to tell the story. The novel was written in alternating chapters by the three main female characters -- Morgan, Dinah, and Rain. I thought Ms. Riggle did a fantastic job of giving each woman a unique voice and making them believable to the reader. And even though I got frustrated with each character at times, I felt as if they were real and I could sense their pain and desperation.

The affair between Morgan and Hill was absolutely despicable to me; however, the after effects of their actions did resonate with me. By that, I don't mean that I've ever experienced anything along the lines of what happened; however, as a mother, I could totally relate to Dinah's reactions. In addition, my heart also went out to Morgan because she was taken advantage of by an adult and still so innocent and naive. And truly, my heart broke for Rain. I can't imagine trying so hard to get pregnant only to discover that the man you love is sleeping with a teenager! Talk about having your life fall apart.

Since I've touched upon many of the emotional and ethical issues in this review, you probably won't be surprised that THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD would make an excellent book club pick. In addition to the obvious discussion topics like adultery, parent/child relationships, and sexual abuse, there are also many other issues like marriage, commitment, forgiveness, and justice. I sincerely doubt that there will be many female readers who sympathize with Hill, but I do think there will be some different interpretations of the actions of the three main female characters.

Despite the icky premise of THE WHOLE GOLDEN WORLD, I did appreciate this novel and believe that the author did a wonderful job with her character development. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jojo Moyes Valentine's Day Giveaway

Summary: A Brief Encounter for our time, The Last Letter from Your Lover is a sophisticated, spellbinding double love story that spans decades and thrillingly evokes a bygone era. In 1960, Jennifer Stirling wakes in the hospital and remembers nothing—not the car accident that put her there, not her wealthy husband, not even her own name. Searching for clues, she finds an impassioned letter, signed simply "B," from a man for whom she seemed willing to risk everything. In 2003, journalist Ellie Haworth stumbles upon the letter and becomes obsessed with learning the unknown lovers’ fate—hoping it will inspire her own happy ending. Remarkably moving, this is a novel for romantics of every age. -- Penguin

Summary: They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life steady boyfriend, close family who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel and now he s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn t have less in common a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart? -- Penguin

My book club recently discovered the awesomeness of Jojo Moyes when we read ME BEFORE YOU last month. All of us agreed that the book was terrific, if a bit of a tear-jerker; and one of our members was even inspired to read more of her books! I am happy to say that I've been a fan for quite some time! You can read my review of THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER and my review of ME BEFORE YOU to get an idea of why I think her books are so special.

Since Valentine's Day is quickly approaching, I thought the timing was perfect to offer a giveaway of two of Ms. Moyes' books, THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER and ME BEFORE YOU, because this woman definitely knows a thing or two about writing love stories. Even the covers of these two books just scream Valentine's Day with their gorgeous pink and red!

Thanks to the fine folks at Penguin, I just happen to have copies of THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER and ME BEFORE YOU to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before February 24th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: The Gods of Guilt

Summary: Mickey Haller gets the text, "Call me ASAP - 187," and the California penal code for murder immediately gets his attention. When he learns that the victim was a prostitute he once represented and thought he had rescued, he knows there is no way he'd let this one go. He soon finds out that she had been back in LA and back in the life. Far from saving her, Mickey may have been the one who put her in danger.

Mickey must follow his gut instinct directly into a dark, dangerous world to get justice for both of his clients, living and dead. As he faces the "gods of guilt"-the jurors who will ultimately deliver the verdict in court-he's forced to struggle with his personal demons for a shot at his own redemption. THE GODS OF GUILT shows once again why "Michael Connelly excels, easily surpassing John Grisham in the building of courtroom suspense" (Los Angeles Times). -- Little, Brown

I don't know if I can even express how excited I was to receive a copy of THE GODS OF GUILT by Michael Connelly. Mr. Connelly is my absolute favorite crime/mystery writer, and probably one of my very favorite authors of any genre. I adore his novels -- from the complex characters, to his amazing storytelling abilities, to his writing style.

THE GODS OF GUILT is a Lincoln Lawyer novel, rather than a Harry Bosch one; and truth be told, I've come to love this series just as much as Mr. Connelly's Bosch books. Mickey Halley, also known as the Lincoln Lawyer, isn't in a good place when the novel opens. Business is down, his teenage daughter wants nothing to do with him, and he's facing some serious personal issues having to do with guilt. However, he receives a text that could change everything.

Gloria, a former prostitute and client of Mickey's (from a prior novel) is found dead; and the suspected murderer (basically an on-line pimp) hires Mickey to defend him. Mickey believes that his client is innocent and that there is more to her death than what meets the eye. He even begins to wonder if Gloria's testimony which put a drug cartel leader in prison had anything to do with her murder or if what she knew might have put her at risk.

This case becomes personal for Mickey because he held a special place in his heart for Gloria and credited himself with turning around her life. As he learns more about the case, he discovers that everything he thought he knew about her is in question. When Mickey finally takes this case to a jury of twelve men and women (aka the Gods of Guilt), he must manipulate the legal system to the best of his abilities to uncover the truth and, in the process, save his client.

I know I'm going to sound biased when I say that I loved this book! I always seem to say something along those lines when I review a book by Mr. Connelly, and this time is no exception. But I can honestly say that this book is outstanding on so many levels. Not only is the plot fantastic, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep things interesting. I truly had no idea where this book was going to go or who was trustworthy -- I love it when that happens!

If you've ever read one of Mr. Connelly's legal thrillers, then you already know that he has major skills when it comes to writing the courtroom scenes. I love how he explains the legal tactics as well as the courtroom procedures, and his exploration of the "gods of guilt" theme was equally impressive.

In addition, I think the character of Mickey Haller is fascinating. He's really coming into his own as a complex character -- much along the lines of Connelly's other protagonist Harry Bosch. Mickey definitely has a little sleaze factor to him and he's not afraid to push the boundaries, but in this novel, I saw a more sensitive and troubled side to his personality. Mickey was almost pitiful at times in this novel, like when he was watching his daughter play soccer through binoculars because she won't have anything to do with him; and his guilt over the consequences from a past case is so severe that my heart just broke for him. Mickey is definitely a complicated man and it was nice to see that he has a softer side.

THE GODS OF GUILT is another outstanding novel by Mr. Connelly. The story was definitely intriguing, and I especially enjoyed the insight into Mickey's character. 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. 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, February 8, 2014

Kid Konnection: Confessions of a Wild Child

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 by a familiar author of adult novels that's geared towards young adults.

Summary: Lucky Santangelo. A fifteen-year-old wild child ready to discover life, love and independence. Daughter of the notorious Gino, Lucky discovers her mother's murdered body floating in the family swimming pool at the tender age of four. Since then Gino has kept her protected from life closeted in their Bel Air mansion. But in Jackie Collins' Confessions of a Wild Child, Lucky finally breaks free, and running away from boarding school the adventures begin. Boys, sex, drugs and rock n' roll - Lucky explores it all in preparation for the strong, kick-ass woman she eventually becomes. Delve into the world that Lucky rules! -- St. Martin's Press

I'd never admit this to my teenage daughter, but I read a lot of Jackie Collins when I was in high school. In fact, Jackie Collins' books became a topic of conversation at a recent lunch I had with friends. Everyone at the table admitted to reading them when they were young, and one of my friends even claimed that almost everything she learned about sex came from Jackie Collins!

Thankfully, there are plenty of young adult books out there now, so my daughter doesn't feel like she has to read Jackie Collins. I seriously doubt that either she or I am ready for that! However, if she's tempted to pick up a book by Ms. Collins then there is finally one that I'm almost comfortable giving to her. It's Ms. Collins' latest novel titled CONFESSIONS OF A WILD CHILD, and it's a young adult book about one of her most beloved characters, Lucky Santangelo's, early years.

CONFESSIONS OF A WILD CHILD takes place when Lucky is a mere fifteen years old and living with her father and her brother. (You might remember that Lucky found her mother floating in their swimming pool eleven years earlier!) Lucky might be young and fairly innocent due to her father's protective nature; however, the passion, curiosity, and intensity that readers have come to know and love about Lucky are definitely present in her teenage self.

This novel definitely gives new (and old!) readers an opportunity to see Lucky's formative years. The time she spent in a European boarding school, the time she ran away from that very same school, her first crush/boyfriend, her sampling of drugs, and even her first experiences with guys. Lucky truly tested all of the limits placed on her, and it's clear early on in the story how the young Lucky turned into the strong woman that we've discovered in Ms. Collins' other novels.

Well.... what can I say about CONFESSIONS OF A WILD CHILD? Fans of Jackie Collins will love it and those not familiar with her novels probably won't "get it." It is true that this book is geared towards a much younger audience (probably 14 years old and up), and Lucky's actions are much tamer than the ones when she appears as an adult; however, Lucky still is up to no good for most of the story. Having said that, Lucky does have some sense and it's clear that she's no dummy when it comes to guys... and her father.

As far as the story goes, CONFESSIONS OF A WILD CHILD is full of entertainment and fast-paced. Lucky is a hoot and her actions always seem to get her in trouble (although she's not as "bad" as some of her friends!) Personally, I got a kick out this coming-of-age story but, let's face it, it's not exactly literature. It's a written form of a soap opera and I take it for what it's worth -- an escape read.

CONFESSIONS OF A WILD CHILD is a another fun chapter of Lucky Santangelo's life and explains a thing or two about her adult behavior. Recommend to fans of the Lucky books!

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

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

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: We Are Water

Summary: In middle age, Annie Oh—wife, mother, and outsider artist—has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Annie has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Annie and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs—nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.

With humor and breathtaking compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience in vivid and unforgettable characters struggling to find hope and redemption in the aftermath of trauma and loss. We Are Water is vintage Wally Lamb—a compulsively readable, generous, and uplifting masterpiece that digs deep into the complexities of the human heart to explore the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives. -- Harper

WE ARE WATER by Wally Lamb was definitely one of the books I was most excited to read after this year's BEA. Mr. Lamb has been one of my favorite authors for years -- ever since SHE'S COME UNDONE was chosen as an Oprah Book Club book. I have always loved his ability to create special characters, and his writing is just a pleasure to read. Do I even need to mention how excited I was to actually meet him? I'm pretty sure I made a fool out of myself.

At its heart, WE ARE WATER is a family saga. It's told in multiple voices with plenty of flashbacks. Annie Oh is and artist and middle aged mother who has left her longtime husband for Viveca, her art dealer. The focus of the book centers around their upcoming nuptials in Three Rivers, Connecticut; and as you can probably expect, there are some emotional responses to the wedding from Annie's ex-husband and children. In the days leading to the wedding, family secrets are revealed... some of which are extremely painful.

I should probably start by saying that there are many wonderful things about WE ARE WATER; however, I don't think it's my favorite Wally Lamb book to date. The novel was really long (over 550 pages) and very detailed with flashbacks -- some pertinent and others not quite as much. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I got tired of the book because I am such a huge fan of Mr. Lamb's, but I did question why this book tried to cover so many serious topics. At one point during my reading, I sat back and honestly questioned how much more could happen to this family and this small town.

I admit that it did take me a long time to write this review -- I actually finished the book long before the holidays. It's not that I didn't enjoy the novel because I really did like so many things about it. I just wanted to love it; and instead, I only liked it a lot. I probably had incredibly high expectations. Having said that, I was once again extremely impressed with Mr. Lamb's storytelling abilities as well as his prose, and there were times that I was blown away by his descriptions or his way with words. Furthermore, I loved the complexity of the characters and how they had so many issues both with themselves and each other. I truly just love reading anything Mr. Lamb writes.

One thing that really stood out to me about WE ARE WATER was how well Mr. Lamb addressed the topic of family. The Oh family had a little bit of everything happen to them, and I loved how the author explored their individual reactions to tragedy and loss. I truly believe Mr. Lamb just sees people differently than most of us; and as a result, he has a unique ability to create memorable (and very real) characters. He also develops intense relationships between his characters that I find fascinating.

I definitely appreciated how this story was told through the eyes of various characters. I thought Mr. Lamb did an excellent job of capturing the different voices and revealing their stories in an interesting way. I think the presentation of different viewpoints as well as Mr. Lamb's use of flashbacks kept the story moving and and allowed him to reveal the family (and town's) secrets in bits and pieces. It also gave me a better understanding of the inner conflicts that there characters were experiencing because often, their actions were in direct opposition to their thoughts.

In WE ARE WATER, Mr. Lamb did an excellent job of showing the strength and resilience of humans; and I just love that message. Though there were many major and minor losses that occurred to this family, Mr. Lamb managed not to make this book a total downer. Rather, he demonstrated how much of a challenge the entire healing process is and how different people handle the pain. Furthermore, he showcased the power of hope and redemption which ultimately is why I think this novel was so special.

WE ARE WATER would make an outstanding book club selection and I have a feeling that many groups will be choosing this novel... especially once it's released in paperback. There is a reading guide available with fourteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, parent/child relationships, marriage, abuse, prejudice, social injustices, crime, rape, forgiveness, redemption, healing, grief, loss, and love. I listed quite a few major themes, but trust me when I say there are many, many more!

WE ARE WATER is a gripping family saga with memorable characters and an intriguing story. Highly recommended to fans of Wally Lamb and readers who enjoy books about complex families.

I received a copy of this novel at this year's BEA.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Sweet Nothings

Summary: Life’s sweetest moments happen when you least expect them . . .

When Ruby McMillan’s husband announces one morning that he’s dumping her for another woman, she’s unable to decide which indignity stings the most: the dissolution of their eighteen-year marriage or the deflation of her white-chocolate soufflĂ© with raspberry Grand Marnier sauce. Without a good-bye to their two teenaged children, Walter leaves Ruby to cope with her ruined dessert, an unpaid mortgage, and her failing bakery.

With only royal icing holding her together, Ruby still manages to pick herself up and move on, subsidizing her income with an extra job as a baking instructor, getting a “my-husband’s-gone” makeover, and even flirting with her gorgeous mortgage broker, Jacob Salt. For as long as she can remember, Ruby has done what’s practical, eschewing far-fetched dreams and true love in favor of stability. But suddenly single again at the age of forty-four, she’s beginning to discover that life is most delicious when you stop following a recipe and just live. -- Berkley

You  may or may not have noticed that I haven't been reading or posting as much in the past few months. I initially blamed some stuff going on in my personal life and then I used the holidays as an excuse, and both of those things were true. However, I'm finding that I'm still having a hard time carving out time for reading and writing lately. I can't seem to focus on anything and, as a result, I'm in a pretty major reading slump for me.

I really haven't been in the mood for anything heavy so I decided that a lighter, more fun book might be the answer. So I picked up SWEET NOTHINGS by Janis Thomas. I would classify this novel as mom lit (as opposed to chick lit), and baking was a major theme. For a foodie like me, I figured all of the talk about cakes and decorating couldn't hurt either. For the most part, I was right. SWEET NOTHINGS was a cute escape read that definitely lightened my spirits.

SWEET NOTHINGS tells the story of Ruby McMillan, a 43 year old wife and mom, who wakes up one morning to discover that her husband of eighteen years is leaving her for another woman. (And it's not a significantly younger or more attractive woman either!) Not only does he leave with virtually no explanation or even a goodbye to his two teenage kids, he also leaves Ruby with a financial mess. The mortgage is unpaid, the bank accounts are cleared, and her bakery is floundering!

While Ruby's life is falling apart in many ways, she realizes that she never loved her husband like he needed her to. This valuable information helps Ruby to move forward and do what she has to to protect her family and her bakery. She turns over a new leaf appearance-wise and even begins teaching a cake decorating class (a huge step for someone with a major fear of public speaking!) In addition, she meets a very sexy mortgage broker that causes her to reevaluate everything she's ever thought she's known about love and passion.

SWEET NOTHINGS is a very fun story about love and second chances. The characters were very likable (except for the husband!), and I especially liked Ruby. She had lived her life in a practical manner and thought everything was just fine -- she was happy enough, right? But she later learns that sometimes letting go and allowing her emotions to take over just might let her experience true happiness. It was a sweet message and one that resonated with me because I tend to be more practical than happy-go-lucky!

It's probably not a big surprise that SWEET NOTHINGS is fairly predictable. Having said that, given the tone and message of this novel, I wouldn't have been too happy if it didn't have a fairytale ending. Needless to say, I wasn't really surprised by any of the events in this story but I still found the characters and their actions to be entertaining. I think that's a credit to the author who managed to infuse so much humor and wit into the plot.

SWEET NOTHINGS would make a fun book club pick if your group is looking for something a little lighter. Since baking is a major theme in the story, you could do a lot with the food and drink served at the meeting! There is a reading guide with fifteen questions that will stimulate your discussion; however, I have a feeling that most groups could find plenty to discuss on their own. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parenting, marriage, love, friendship, fears, second chances, and redemption.

Overall, I thought SWEET NOTHINGS was a fun read. Recommended for fans of mom lit and women's fiction!

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Takedown Twenty (Audio)

Summary: New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum knows better than to mess with family. But when powerful mobster Salvatore “Uncle Sunny” Sunucchi goes on the lam in Trenton, it’s up to Stephanie to find him. Uncle Sunny is charged with murder for running over a guy (twice), and nobody wants to turn him in—not his poker buddies, not his bimbo girlfriend, not his two right-hand men, Shorty and Moe. Even Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, has skin in the game, because—just Stephanie’s luck—the godfather is his actual godfather. And while Morelli understands that the law is the law, his old-world grandmother, Bella, is doing everything she can to throw Stephanie off the trail.

It’s not just Uncle Sunny giving Stephanie the run-around. Security specialist Ranger needs her help to solve the bizarre death of a top client’s mother, a woman who happened to play bingo with Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur. Before Stephanie knows it, she’s working side by side with Ranger and Grandma at the senior center, trying to catch a killer on the loose—and the bingo balls are not rolling in their favor.

With bullet holes in her car, henchmen on her tail, and a giraffe named Kevin running wild in the streets of Trenton, Stephanie will have to up her game for the ultimate takedown. -- Random House Audio

I can't say that I've read every novel in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich; however, I'm read (or listened to) most of them. The latest installment in this extremely popular, and long-running series, is called TAKEDOWN TWENTY; and it's exactly what you'd expect from the twentieth book in this series. It's filled with the zany characters that fans have come to know and love, and Stephanie finds herself caught up in a lot of craziness.

In TAKEDOWN TWENTY, Stephanie is tasked with finding Uncle Sunny, a notorious Trenton mobster, who is charged with murder. Surprisingly (not really!), it's not an easy assignment since everyone wants to protect Uncle Sunny... even Stephanie's policeman boyfriend Joe Morelli isn't anxious to get involved since Uncle Sunny is his actual godfather! Furthermore, Stephanie gets caught up in the investigation of serial killer -- one who targets elderly women. Once again, Stephanie finds herself in some precarious situations and her life might even be at risk. And if that's not enough, a giraffe is on the loose in downtown Trenton!

I don't have much to say about TAKEDOWN TWENTY. There's nothing really new or original in this book (except the giraffe!), but I still enjoyed it. I listened to this audio while I worked out last week and it was a fun way to kill time (pardon the pun.) After all these years, I still enjoy the chemistry between Stephanie and Joe.. and Ranger; and Lulu never fails to crack me up. I guess you could say that the Stephanie Plum books are a form of comfort food for me!

At it's heart, TAKEDOWN TWENTY is a mystery; and there are definitely a few mysteries in this novel. I don't think any reader will be all that shocked when the secrets are revealed (except maybe the one about why there a giraffe running around town); however, I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure them out. This book was just light and fun, and I definitely didn't take it too seriously!

I have to admit that I stopped reading the Stephanie Plum books for a few years because I did think that they were too similar. And then I discovered the audio version after a neighbor's recommendation. The audio book is read by Lorelei King and I think she's terrific! I love her accents and portrayal of the characters (especially Lulu). Her performance brings these stories to an entirely new level for me. Just listen:

TAKEDOWN TWENTY is another fun mystery in the long line of Stephanie Plum books. Regular fans of the series will enjoy it, and new readers might get a kick out of these crazy characters!

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

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. 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, February 1, 2014

Kid Konnection: The Runaway Hug

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 Valentine's Day.

Summary: "Mommy," said Lucy. "Can I have a hug before I go to bed?"

When Mommy jokes that she only has one hug left, Lucy decides she must keep Mommy's last hug safe. As Lucy shares the hug with everyone in her large and loving family, she is always careful to get it back . . . until the canine member of the family refuses to play along!

Highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling picture-book creators Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood collaborate for the first time on this charming story, which celebrates the imaginative powers of children and the extraordinary love to be found in ordinary bedtime routines. -- Random House

THE RUNAWAY HUG by Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood is so darn sweet that I can hardly stand it. This one is not only perfect for Valentine's Day but it's also great for bedtimes!

It's bedtime and Lucy asks her mom for a hug before bed. Her mommy teases her that she only has one hug left and Lucy has to promise to give it back. Lucy proceeds to go around the house giving everyone a hug (daddy, the twins, and the baby) while being sure to get them back. And then she gives a hug to her dog and he runs away with it. Thankfully, the dog returns the hug to Lucy (in a very playful way) so she can give it back to her mom one last time!

I just loved THE RUNAWAY HUG although it made me a little sad that both of my kids are way past the target audience for this book. Heck, they are past the age for the bedtime hug and kiss routine part too! I think both little ones and their parents are going to adore this picture book -- probably for different reasons.

Parents can't help but love the portrayal of family life as bedtime approaches. It's obviously a chaotic time in the household, and the family in this book is far from perfect as seen in the illustrations of their cluttered house. However, adults will find the overall message of love to be quite touching.

And kids are just going to love this story too! The book kind of follows a pattern with Lucy offering a hug to each family member and then getting it back. So when the dog actually runs away with her hug, it's pretty funny. In addition, children will enjoy looking at the delightful illustrations and even finding a thing or two out of place.

THE RUNAWAY HUG is adorable! Highly recommended!

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

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