Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Giveaway: Ladies' Night

Summary: Take a splash of betrayal, add a few drops of outrage, give a good shake to proper behavior and take a big sip of a cocktail called…Ladies' Night!

Grace Stanton’s life as a rising media star and beloved lifestyle blogger takes a surprising turn when she catches her husband cheating and torpedoes his pricey sports car straight into the family swimming pool. Grace suddenly finds herself locked out of her palatial home, checking account, and even the blog she has worked so hard to develop in her signature style. Moving in with her widowed mother, who owns and lives above a rundown beach bar called The Sandbox, is less than ideal. So is attending court-mandated weekly "divorce recovery" therapy sessions with three other women and one man for whom betrayal seems to be the only commonality. When their “divorce coach” starts to act suspiciously, they decide to start having their own Wednesday "Ladies' Night" sessions at The Sandbox, and the unanticipated bonds that develop lead the members of the group to try and find closure in ways they never imagined. Can Grace figure out a new way home and discover how strong she needs to be to get there?

Heartache, humor, and a little bit of mystery come together in a story about life’s unpredictable twists and turns. Mary Kay Andrews' Ladies' Night will have you raising a glass and cheering these characters on. -- St. Martin's Griffin

Last summer, I had a lot of fun reading LADIES' NIGHT by Mary Kay Andrews. You can read my review here. It's a story about betrayal, starting over, and friendship; and it's pretty much guaranteed to touch your heart... and make you laugh! I am excited to announce that LADIES' NIGHT was released in paperback yesterday, and you can win a signed copy!

Thanks to the publisher and Tandem Literary, I have a fantastic LADIES' NIGHT goody bag to share with one lucky reader. Just check out what you can win:

  • Signed copy of LADIES' NIGHT in paperback 
  • Set of 3 LADIES' NIGHT recipe cards 
  • LADIES' NIGHT drink coasters 
  • Cocktail umbrellas 
  • LADIES' NIGHT drink cup 
  • Three different Mary Kay Andrews bookmarks 
  • SAVE THE DATE magnet 
  • Set of 3 SAVE THE DATE recipe cards 
  • News about a special SAVE THE DATE pre-order gift

To enter, just fill out the form below before May 13th 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!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: The Same Sweet Girls' Guide to Life & Giveaway

Summary: Written with a blend of humor and practical wisdom, The Same Sweet Girl’s Guide to Life offers inspiration and solid advice to new graduates that can sustain them through life’s inevitable ups and downs. In this small book readers will find advice that will only grow in meaning throughout the years. It can - and should - be read again and again, by thoughtful people of all ages. 

King’s true gift is in her ability to present readers with the sort of hard-earned wisdom that will help both young and old find sustenance and renewed meaning in their lives. According to acclaimed author Dorothea Benton Frank, "This little book offers big wisdom delivered with Cassandra King’s signature wit. I can’t imagine a better gift to guide the recent graduate, or for any friend passing through one of life’s transitions." 

Her first pearl of wisdom: sincerity is an important virtue, and once you learn to fake it, you are well on your way to success! Dare to laugh at yourself. Find kindred spirits and keep them close to you; expand your circle of friends. Know the t rue value of time. She also advises that we try to find words to express love and gratitude but to keep in mind that it is our actions that reveal our feelings more than our words. 

And as an addition to this lecture at Montevallo College, King adds a new afterword on the value of becoming a lifelong reader. Cassandra's advice is applicable to boys as well as girls. -- Maiden Lane Press

After reading THE SAME SWEET GIRLS' GUIDE TO LIFE: ADVICE FROM A FAILED SOUTHERN BELLE by Cassandra King, I regret not having read THE SAME SWEET GIRLS because I know I'd love it. (Just added another book to my already out-of-control wish list!) While THE SAME SWEET GIRLS' GUIDE TO LIFE (now known as TSSGGTL) isn't a sequel to this novel, it is a companion book. Actually, TSSGGTL was adapted from a lecture Ms. King gave to a graduating class at her alma mater University of Montevallo -- with a few fun extras thrown in!

TSSGGTL is a terrific book for women of all ages but especially graduates. Ms. King has put together some fantastic advice to help individuals navigate through life -- and by that I mean the good and the bad. There is also an introduction by Rick Bragg, thoughtful quotations, and some gorgeous photographs and illustrations. I'm totally serious about this being the perfect high school or college graduation gift!

TSSGGTL is a book that will be cherished by any woman lucky enough to have a copy. It can be read over and over again; and I have a feeling that each time it's read, it will mean something different to the reader. It is full of wisdom mixed in with lots of humor, and it provides useful advice like:

  • Be Sweet
  • Be Open to Love
  • Be as Strong as You Can Be
  • Be Grateful
  • Be a Spendthrift with Everything but Time
  • Be a Little Bit Crazy

I also liked the Author's Afterword because it is geared especially towards book lovers. This section wasn't part of her speech, but her followup advice is to "Become a Lifelong Reader." This little book even has a few pages in the back to log your very favorite books.

TSSGGL is a delightful book with some terrific advice. Highly recommended to graduates and women of all ages!

Thanks to Saichek Publicity for a review copy of this book.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE SAME SWEET GIRLS' GUIDE TO LIFE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 12th 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, April 28, 2014

Review: The Headmaster's Wife

Summary: An immensely talented writer whose work has been described as “incandescent” (Kirkus) and “poetic” (Booklist), Thomas Christopher Greene pens a haunting and deeply affecting portrait of one couple at their best and worst.

Inspired by a personal loss, Greene explores the way that tragedy and time assail one man’s memories of his life and loves. Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the Headmaster of Vermont’s elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story and an exploration of the ties of place and family. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster’s Wife stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief. -- Thomas Dunne Books

Lately, I've had a hard time becoming swept up in a story. I've read quite a few books that I've enjoyed, but it's rare that I find a book that I can't put down. Thankfully, I decided to pick up THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE by Thomas Christopher Greene. I loved the first half of the book for the beauty of the writing and the intriguing characters, and then the author threw me for a pretty big loop... and I raced through the second half of the novel in an effort to make sense of everything. What a wonderful ride!

THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE begins when Arthur Winthrop, the headmaster of an elite Vermont prep school, is found walking naked through Central Park. When the police take him to the station, he begins to tell his story which isn't always entirely clear to the reader -- his memories seem disjointed and a little foggy. What the reader does realize pretty early on is that Winthrop is consumed with lust for a female student. At the end of the first section, a shocking surprise is revealed; and I was absolutely gobsmacked!

The second half of the novel takes place in the present day and is narrated by a district attorney who once played a key role in Winthrop's life. It is in this section that the mystery is explained and the loose ends are wrapped up.

As I reflect back on THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE, I'm finding it difficult to talk about this book without giving away any spoilers. As a result, my review is pretty vague. Suffice it to say, that I went into this book knowing almost nothing about the story and I loved it this way. I recommend the same for all of you!

In fact, I'm not sure what I appreciated most about THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE -- the story or the author's writing style. Both were excellent in my opinion. I liked that I was confused by Winthrop's story in the first half of the book, and then I loved the shocker that was revealed. Often times, when an author incorporates a surprise like that, I feel manipulated; however, in the case of this novel, I adored it! I guess what I'm saying is that it was very well done!

In addition, the characters were extremely interesting to me -- especially Winthrop. He was an extremely unreliable narrator and I honestly didn't know what to believe given his memories were so clouded and rambling. As the mystery unfolded, I found myself even more intrigued by his past actions as well as his relationship with his wife and son.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how terrific of an author Mr. Greene is. I loved his prose and, while the story itself was fantastic, it was the little things he did with his prose that brought this book to the next level. I loved his descriptions of Vermont and the prep school; and his insights and commentaries about family, lust, and marriage were interesting. I also appreciated how this book looked at class structure. The themes in this book were quite complex and definitely made me think -- always a good sign!

I think THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE would make an excellent selection for book groups. Not only is it a suspenseful thriller, but it has some fascinating characters. In addition, there are some themes which warrant further thought including family, marriage, loss, love, memories, mental illness, grief, lust, and class structure.

I am so glad that I read THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE. Highly recommended to fans of literary suspense!

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, April 26, 2014

Kid Konnection: I Pledge Allegiance

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 very special picture book.

Summary: Libby's great aunt, Lobo, is from Mexico, but the United States has been her home for many years, and she wants to become a U.S. citizen. At the end of the week, Lobo will say the Pledge of Allegiance at a special ceremony. Libby is also learning the Pledge this week, at school—at the end of the week, she will stand up in front of everyone and lead the class in the Pledge. Libby and Lobo practice together—asking questions and sharing stories and memories—until they both stand tall and proud, with their hands over their hearts. -- Knopf

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez and illustrated by Patrice Barton is a wonderful book that's guaranteed to warm every American's heart! Libby's great aunt Lobo was born in Mexico, but she wants to become a U.S. citizen. Lobo has passed her test and, at the end of the week, she will say the Pledge of Allegiance and become an American citizen at a special ceremony.

Libby is also learning the pledge in school and the teacher has asked her to say the Pledge in front of the entire class so she will be ready to share her great aunt's special day. Libby and Lobo practice the Pledge together as they share special times and reflect on precious memories. At the end of the story, both Libby and Lobo say the Pledge and show how wonderful it is to be an American.

I thought I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE was a great book and perfect for the classroom. The book is based on the authors' real life aunt, and that made it all the more special to me! It's a wonderful book that is both educational and touching, and I just loved it.

Not only does I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE reference the Pledge numerous times so children can learn it along with the characters in the story, but it also shows the importance of patriotism and family bonds. Often times, I think we take things for granted in today's society, and this little book reminds parents and kids alike how fortunate we are to live in this country.

I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE shows how America truly is a melting-pot and why immigrants still desire to not only live here but to become citizens. I loved that the author included some Spanish words and mentioned some Spanish traditions because it really hit home the idea that individuals can retain their old customs while becoming an American.

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

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

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Burning the Map (Audio)

Summary: The choices Casey Evers has made in her 26 years aren't exactly making her happy. In fact, her life is so on course - college, law school, boyfriend, job offer - that it's actually off. So, before she slides into 14-hour days at a Chicago law firm, she heads to Rome and Greece with her two best friends for one last hurrah. 

The thing is, her best friends haven't really been all that close to her since she started seeing John two years ago, she hasn't been all that close to John lately, and she's awfully partial to Mediterranean men... 

I rest my head against his shoulder. The scooter starts to fly again, and Rome whizzes by - a myriad of fountains, marble statues, larger-than-life doors with gigantic handles, streets that look like alleys... 

The rigidity that has settled in my bones and head over the past year seems to thaw a bit. Yet with the thaw comes an army of questions from some unused corner of my brain. What about John? Will you tell him about this little excursion, this man you are hugging? What happens when you get back, when you have to start work, when you can no longer escape the world? I lift my head and let the wind snarl my hair around my face, trying to forget these questions, the ones with rifles in hand that are waiting to fire holes in my flimsy curtain of contentment. 

Set against the backdrop of sparkling beaches and old-world villages, Burning the Map ignites the fire within us all, to shine in unexpected ways... -- Story Avenue, LLC

When I was recently pitched BURNING THE MAP by Laura Caldwell, I was a little surprised. I remember the book being available some time ago, and I couldn't figure out why I was being asked to read it now.  It ends up that this book was first published ten years ago to some critical acclaim, and the author decided to re-release it in a new form -- as an audio book. I figured it would be a light, fun read while I logged some miles on the treadmill.

BURNING THE MAP is exactly the type of book that I used to read... about ten years or so. It would probably have been labeled as chick lit when it was published by Red Dress Ink (my friend and I used to love that publisher!) because it tells the story of a young woman on the brink of adulthood. The novel follows Casey after she graduates from law school and takes the bar exam but before she begins work at a law firm. She is in a serious relationship with John (at the expense of the other relationships in her life); and, like many girls in their mid-twenties, realizes that her life is becoming much more routine and predictable.

In an effort to have some fun before she is forced to grow up, Casey takes a vacation to Rome and Greece with her two best friends -- despite feeling less close to them in recent months. Once Casey's in Rome and Greece, she discovers that she's not missing John much at all. In fact, she finds that Mediterranean men can be quite attractive. Between handling a variety of guys and trying to balance her relationship with her best friends, Casey has to figure out what she wants out of life and what will make her happy!

I enjoyed BURNING THE MAP but I don't know if I'd say I loved it. I think I'm probably quite a few years past the target audience, but I did find it an entertaining way to spend 9 1/2 hours on the treadmill. I thought the writing was smart and I loved all of the descriptions of the Mediterranean beaches, villages, and food; however, I just didn't really relate to Casey or feel much sympathy towards her.

If I'm being entirely honest, I thought Casey was a little immature for 26. Heck... when I was 26, I was married, working full-time and going to graduate school. I realize that I was probably in the minority with that lifestyle, and maybe I should have had more wild experiences; however, I found it difficult to feel sorry for someone who was cheating on her boyfriend and ignoring her friends. I realize Casey had a lot of pressure, so I tried to cut her a break; and I really did want her to figure out things before taking the wrong path in life, but she seemed so self-absorbed for much of the novel.

Based on this review, you probably think Casey was a horrible person. That is definitely not the case. Casey was a sweet girl, albeit a little confused, and she did feel guilty for hurting her loved ones. And in all actuality, her actions could have been a lot worse! (I should point out that her boyfriend and travel companions weren't exactly perfect either.) What I appreciated about her character is how much she had to learn about herself within just a few weeks and how she faced some very difficult decisions. Many women wouldn't have had the strength or courage to face what Casey did.

One of my favorite things about this novel was the setting. I loved that the novel took place in Rome and Greece, and I thought Ms. Caldwell did a fantastic job of bringing these areas to life for the reader. I was able to get swept up as the characters' visited various landmarks as well as the beaches; and it definitely made me long to visit these countries. Furthermore, I liked how the author explored the theme of travel and how it can change the way we see things in our lives.

The audio version of BURNING THE MAP was read by Piper Goodeve, and I thought she captured Casey perfectly. This is the first audio book that I've listened to by this narrator -- I think she usually reads romance novels -- and I had absolutely no issues with her performance. I enjoyed her sense of timing with the humor, and I found her portrayal of Casey to be very realistic. You can listen to an excerpt here.

BURNING THE MAP would make a fun book club discussion.. especially if you could include some food and wine from Rome and Greece! The author has a reading guide on her website to facilitate your discussion. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include self discovery, honestly, love, friendship, parent/child relationships, adultery, and travel.

At its heart, BURNING THE MAP was a coming-of-age story for a young woman making the jump to adulthood, and many women will relate to this story -- especially ones in their early twenties. Recommended for fans of chick lit and books that take place in exotic locales.

Thanks to Kaye Publicity for providing a review copy of this audio book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: When the Cypress Whispers

Summary: On a beautiful Greek island, myths, magic, and a colorful cast of mortals come together in a lushly atmospheric debut celebrating the powerful bond between an American woman and her Greek grandmother.

The daughter of Greek immigrants, Daphne has been brought up to believe in the American dream. When her husband dies in a car accident, leaving her with an inconsolable baby and stacks of bills, she channels everything she has into opening her own Greek restaurant. Now an acclaimed chef and restaurateur, she has also found a second chance at love with her wealthy, handsome fiancé.

Although American by birth, Daphne spent many blissful childhood summers on the magical Greek island of Erikousa, which her grandmother still calls home. At her Yia-yia's side, she discovered her passion for cooking and absorbed the vibrant rhythms of island life, infused with ancient myths and legends lovingly passed down through generations. Somehow her beloved grandmother could always read her deepest thoughts, and despite the miles between them Daphne knows Yia-yia is the one person who can look beyond Daphne's storybook life of seeming perfection to help her stay grounded. With her wedding day fast approaching, Daphne returns to Erikousa and to Yia-yia's embrace.

The past and the present beautifully entwine in this glorious, heartfelt story about a woman trapped between the siren call of old-world traditions and the demands of a modern career and relationship. When Daphne arrives on Erikousa with her daughter, Evie, in tow, nothing is the way she recalls it, and she worries that her elderly Yia-yia is losing her grip on reality. But as the two of them spend time together on the magical island once again, her grandmother opens up to share remarkable memories of her life there—including moving stories of bravery and loyalty in the face of death during World War II—and Daphne remembers why she returned. Yia-yia has more than one lesson to teach her: that security is not the same as love, that her life can be filled with meaning again, and that the most important magic to believe in is the magic of herself. -- Harper

We have a little Greek restaurant near our house that is just fantastic -- it's even BYOB. Every time I eat there, I think I should pick a book for our book club that takes place in Greece and hold the meeting there. We could sample the various appetizers, eat the amazing desserts, and drink wine while discussing the novel. It would be a wonderful time!

Well... I recently read a book called WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS by Yvette Manessis Corporon that would be perfect for my book club fantasy! This novel just happens to take place in Greece and touches upon so many of the themes my group loves to discuss including family, love, and relationships. It also has elements of Greek mythology and wonderful descriptions of the Grecian countryside and foods. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS follows Daphne, a widow and mother of a young girl, as she heads to Greece to prepare for her marriage to a successful New York businessman. Daphne has faced a great deal of tragedy in her life -- she lost her husband and both of her parents in tragedies; however, she has managed to live out her dream of running a Greek restaurant. When her fiancé proposes marriage, she decides to return to the Greek island she visited every summer as a child and get married in the presence of her Yia-Yia.

Daphne has always had a very special relationship with her grandmother. Yia-Yia sensed Daphne's feelings even from thousands of miles away, and she provided a calming presence during the rough times in Daphne's life. As Daphne spends time on the island in the presence of her grandmother, she gradually finds herself relaxing from the stresses in her big city life and appreciating the finer things in life like food, family, and friendship.

As Daphne's wedding day quickly approaches, she realizes that she has strong ties to her past; and when her fiancé appears on the island, she begins to question everything she thought she ever wanted. With this help of her grandmother and some of the island's inhabitants, Daphne discovers a great deal about her grandmother's past but also about her own self.

Sometimes you read a novel at the perfect time in your life, and honestly, I think that was the case with WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS. I have had some stress in my life recently, and I needed a book that not only took me away from all of that but actually touched my heart and made me feel. I couldn't put down this novel, and I loved how it transported me to Greece with all of its beauty and traditions.

One of the things I really liked about this novel was the relationship between Daphne and her Yia-Yia. I am a sucker for books that feature mother/daughter relationships, so it makes sense that I was drawn to this story about a grandmother and her adult granddaughter. I loved how wise and knowing Yia-Yia was, and I found her storytelling to add another dimension to this novel. Furthermore, I really appreciated learning about Yia-Yia's past and I liked how it affected Daphne and her future decisions.

The book really does have a little something for everyone. There are elements of history, mythology, friendship, romance, Greek food and customs, and life lessons. As a result, I think it would make a fantastic book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal reading guide; however, you will have no problems finding things to discuss. In addition, the author has a lot of information on her website which could stimulate your discussion. And just in case you don't have your own little Greek restaurant nearby, she includes some wonderful recipes that you could make for your meeting including tzatziki.

WHEN THE CYPRESS WHISPERS is a book that touched my heart. Highly recommended to fans of women's fiction and readers who enjoy novels set in Greece.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Tuesday's Gone

Summary: Internationally bestselling authors Nicci Gerard and Sean French, writing as Nicci French, have sold more than eight million copies of their books worldwide. But nothing they’ve written written before has grabbed the attention of reviewers and readers like Blue Monday and its iconic heroine, Frieda Klein. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it a “superb psychological thriller . . . with brooding atmosphere, sustained suspense, a last-minute plot twist, and memorable cast of characters.”

In Tuesday’s Gone, a London social worker makes a routine home visit only to discover her client, Michelle Doyce, serving afternoon tea to a naked, decomposing corpse. With no clues as to the dead man’s identity, Chief Inspector Karlsson again calls upon Frieda for help. She discovers that the body belongs to Robert Poole, con man extraordinaire. But Frieda can’t shake the feeling that the past isn’t done with her yet. Did someone kill Poole to embroil her in the investigation? And if so, is Frieda herself the next victim?

A masterpiece of paranoia, Tuesday’s Gone draws readers inexorably into a fractured and faithless world as it brilliantly confirms Frieda Klein as a quintessential heroine for our times. -- Pamela Dorman Books

I can't believe it's been over two years since I read the psychological thriller BLUE MONDAY by Nicci French -- you can read my review here. I guess a clue should have been that the third book in the series, WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY, is now out. I feel like a major slacker because, despite really enjoying BLUE MONDAY, I missed read the sequel TUESDAY'S GONE. I figured that the time is right to catch up on this fantastic series starring Frieda Klein.

TUESDAY'S GONE picks up right where BLUE MONDAY left off. When a social worker is conducting a home visit for her client Michelle Doyce, she discovers her serving tea to a naked (and get this!) a decaying corpse. Chief Inspector Karlsson has absolutely no idea who the dead man is; and as a result, he looks to Frieda for help. Somehow, Frieda learns that the man is Robert Poole, a man who has conned almost everyone he meets.

As Frieda investigates the man's death, she can't help but feel as if there is more to the murder than what it initially seems. She even begins to wonder if someone from her past is trying to send her a message through Poole's brutal murder.

TUESDAY'S GONE was another suspenseful psychological novel, and I can now confirm what I already suspected -- I am a big fan of these books and Frieda Klein as the heroine. I love the authors' (Nicci French is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team) unique writing style and am excited by the amount of twists and surprises. These two novels definitely have a different feel to them than most other books, and I think that's a credit to the authors. They have created a very special character in Frieda who is both intelligent and complex, and while I'm not entirely sure what to make of her, I'm definitely intrigued by almost everything she does.

What I really appreciated about TUESDAY'S GONE is the balance between a murder mystery and a Frieda's past. This novel was so smart on so many levels. I loved following Karlsson and Frieda as they investigated the murder -- and it was a good one with surprises around every corner as well as a few dead ends! However, I also really liked the scenes surrounding the very complicated character of Frieda. She is such a unique character -- full of baggage and secrets, and I was so impressed with how she put everything together. And by that, I mean the current murder and some events from the prior novel.

I don't know if I'd say that you have to read the books in this series in order, but I highly suggest it. I do feel as if the authors did a good job of providing the back story; however, the second book definitely contained a lot of spoilers. And since BLUE MONDAY was full of so many amazing surprises and many of those twists are revisited in TUESDAY'S GONE, I highly recommend reading it first! But beware -- once you start this series, you'll be hooked. I can't wait to read WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY.

TUESDAY'S GONE was a terrific followup to the critically acclaimed BLUE MONDAY. I am so intrigued by this series and its characters! Recommended to fans of psychological thrillers and mysteries!

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, April 19, 2014

Kid Konnection: Summer State of Mind

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 novel that's both fun and full of great messages.

Summary: Summer has finally arrived and fifteen-year-old Harper McCallister intends to spend her days at the mall shopping or by the pool at her country club. But after receiving her latest heart-stopping credit card bill, Harper's parents makes other plans, and ship her off to camp.

Suddenly, the clueless yet ever-popular Harper is the new girl at the bottom of a social ladder she can't climb in wedge sandals and expensive clothes. She seems to be winning over super-cute camp "Lifer" Ethan, though, and if she can manage to make a few friends--and stay out of trouble--she just might find a whole new summer state of mind.

A fresh and funny summer-camp companion novel to Jen Calonita's hit Sleepaway Girls. -- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A few years ago, Booking Daughter and I had the privilege of meeting Jen Calonita. Not only did we find Ms. Calonita to be extremely fun and cool -- she has lots of inside scoop on Hollywood life, but we also discovered that we really like her novels. Her latest book is titled SUMMER STATE OF MIND, and it comes out next week. I'm pretty certain she has another winner!

SUMMER STATE OF MIND follows 15 year old Harper McCallister. Harper has a privileged life to say the least and she usually spends her time shopping or hanging out at a country club. When Harper finally pushes her parents too far after once again running up her credit card with "frivolous" purchases, they decide they need to teach her a lesson. They send Harper to a summer camp.

Needless to say, Harper finds herself miserable. She isn't used to "roughing it" and the kids at the camp are quite different from the friends she normally would choose to spend time with. Throughout the course of the summer camp, Harper discovers quite a bit about herself and the real meaning of friendship.

I really enjoyed SUMMER STATE OF MIND. Like Ms. Calonita's other novels, it's the perfect blend of entertainment and lessons; and as a mom, I always know I can count on her to write books that young girls and mom like (although they might be for entirely different reasons!) Booking Daughter just adores her novels; and although she hasn't read this one yet, she was very excited when it arrived. I actually had to look in her room to find the book -- she immediately ran off with it!

Sometimes I think that in my heart, I am still a twelve year old girl because I love books like SUMMER STATE OF MIND so much. And while I definitely liked this novel, I know as a tween, I would have read it over and over again. It's always fun to see how the wealthy live -- even I was envious of Harper's shopping trips; however, I loved how much Harper changed by the end of the novel. I liked that she saw how shallow and selfish she could be, and I especially appreciated how much she learned about the true meaning of friendship and what's important in life.

Ms. Calonita is certainly talented and in tune with pre-teen girls -- which is ironic since she has two sons! She knows how the make her novels fun while also creating enough drama to keep her readers interested in the story. I think her background as an entertainment writer definitely has definitely helped her in providing a realistic portrait of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And honestly, what young girl doesn't want to be swept up in a story about that world?

In the case of SUMMER STATE OF MIND, she did a great job of juxtaposing Harper's privileged lifestyle with her life at the camp. Since going to a sleepaway camp would have been one of my worst nightmares as a teen, I could actually relate to Harper on that front. However, I admit that I
was actually a little worried when I first started reading the book. Harper was really hard to like and, despite feeling a little bad for her for having to rough it at camp, I thought she deserved to suffer a bit. Fortunately, Ms. Calonita gave hints of Harper's potential so I ended up rooting for her before too long!

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is a companion book to one of Ms. Calonita's earlier novels SLEEPAWAY GIRLS. That basically means that you don't have to read the first book to appreciate this one. Since I haven't read SLEEPAWAY GIRLS, I can vouch that SUMMER STATE OF MIND works as a stand-alone; however, I know that Booking Daughter will enjoy revisiting the setting of that novel.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is an ideal book for tween girls to read as summer approaches. Highly recommended!

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, April 17, 2014

Review: The Shadow Queen

Summary: From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France. -- Doubleday

Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of historical fiction anymore. A few years ago, I'd probably say it was one of my favorite genres, that is no longer the case. I think I burned out on all those stories of kings and queens as well as their deceptions at court. However every once in awhile, I find that I'm in the mood for a good historical drama. THE SHADOW QUEEN by Sandra Gulland definitely hit the spot!

THE SHADOW QUEEN tells the story of Claudette, the daughter of two French actors who works her way up from poverty to become the personal assistant to one of Louis XIV's mistress. Claudette's story has humble beginnings as her family travels across the French countryside as part of an acting troupe. However by a strange twist of fate, Claudette gets involved with Athenais de Montespan and eventually ends up following her to court and becoming very involved in her life.

Claudette's new position forces her into some difficult situations as she is becomes a confidant to Athenais. She finds herself part of Athenais' twisted life as she spies for her and even becomes involved in some of her efforts to use Black Magic to increase her own power.  When Athenais fears that she is losing her control over the king, Claudette becomes caught up in some very serious actions that put everything she's known and loved at risk!

I adored THE SHADOW QUEEN and I have to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations. While stories about kings and queens aren't exactly on the top of my list, I loved this one. It had all of the elements that I look for in historical fiction from intriguing characters, to lots of drama, to romance, and even to deception. Plus it had some historical information that I found extremely interesting.

One of my absolute favorite things about THE SHADOW QUEEN was how there was so much information about the early years of French theatre. Ms. Gulland managed to incorporate many of the players in the theatre scene into the story, and I found all of this to be fascinating. I knew pretty much next to nothing about the history of theatre and actors in France, and the drama between the different groups was almost as full of deception as anything that happened at court. In fact, I actually liked how I was able to compare and contrast the two worlds in this novel.

Another good thing about this novel was the character development. I thought Claudette was a great character and I actually enjoyed seeing court life through a servant's eyes. In addition, I loved how she went back and forth between life at the court and life in the theatre. As far as Athenais goes, all I can say is "wow -- what a character!" I wasn't all that familiar with her story, but after further looking into her character, I discovered that Ms. Gulland took a very unique approach to portraying her. I especially loved how the author included the Black Magic angle into the story!

THE SHADOW QUEEN would make an interesting selection for book clubs. There is a reading guide available on the author's website that has eleven thought-provoking questions. Some of the things you might want to discuss include French society, the church at that time, rules -- both formal and informal, betrayal, trust, family, devotion, friendship, black magic, and love.

Overall, I enjoyed THE SHADOW QUEEN quite a bit. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating

Summary: The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating is Carole Radziwill's deliciously smart comedy about a famously widowed young New Yorker hell-bent on recapturing a kind of passionate love she never really had

Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture ... a Giacometti, no less! 

Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a "botanomanist," enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love. -- Henry Holt

When I initially heard about the novel THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING by Carole Radziwill, I wasn't entirely sure that it appealed to me. However, once I saw the author being interviewed on a few talk shows, I admit that I suddenly was very curious about this book. The descriptions (and the praise) made it sound like a very special story -- one that was both funny and touching, and I decided to give it a shot.

And I'm actually glad I did. I definitely enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING and it was a unique novel. It managed to entertain me while also providing some food for thought, and I was impressed with Ms. Radziwill's storytelling skills. I also liked how the book just had a different feel to it than the other books I've recently read.

THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING tells the story of Claire Byrne, a 34 year old woman whose older husband Charlie dies in an unfortunate (albeit kind of funny) accident. Charlie is a larger-than-life man who is famous for being a sexologist and best-selling author. He has some unique ideas including that sex and love can't coexist for very long. Not exactly what you want your husband to think, right?

Claire has lived in Charlie's shadow for years and even tolerated his womanizing ways; however, when she finds herself suddenly alone, she must find a way to bring the focus back to her own needs. Claire was once a successful writer in her own right, but she gave up her aspirations to be Charlie's wife. After Charlie's death, Claire tries to rediscover herself through a variety of ways including therapy, dating,  sex, and even visiting a psychic. As Claire tries to navigate her way as a newly widowed woman, she has many ups and downs; however, through it all, she just might be able to find some personal satisfaction and happiness.

While I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING, it did take me a few dozen pages or so to really get into it; however, once I did, I really liked this story. At first, I thought the writing was a little unusual and the tone of the book seemed to be a little "off." I definitely didn't feel that way by the end of the book, though. I came to really appreciate Ms. Radziwill's writing style, and I loved the unique feel of the story. I especially liked that humor that was woven into the book, although I admit that, at times, I wasn't sure if I should be laughing at certain situations.

I suspect that many of Claire's reactions to losing a husband, even though he was a philandering one, were actually quite honest. Since I've never really known any younger widow and the only other books I've read about widows were very depressing, I'm certainly not speaking from any actually experience, but I really liked seeing another side to the widow character. Claire's emotions went up and down and her actions were most definitely erratic; however, I believe that many of her feelings -- even the strange ones -- were probably quite reasonable given what she experienced. My heart went out to her, so it was all the more exciting to see her eventual healing process and self-discovery journey.

One thing that made this book special was the balance between the humor. and seriousness of the story. I loved the author's sense of humor and her ability to create some very funny situations for the characters. There were definitely some scenes that poked fun at the rich and famous, and there were also some rather silly characters and events. What Ms. Radziwill managed to do so well was to offset the humor with some poignant moments for Claire. While I did laugh a lot in this book, I also thought the book was insightful with some very smart writing.

THE WIDOWS GUIDE TO SEX & DATING would make an interesting book club selection. Although I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, I don't think one is necessary for a lively book club discussion. Claire is an extremely interesting character and I think most women would have a lot to say about her actions and emotions. In addition, her choice of men is certain to generate some ideas. Some of the other things you might want to discuss include marriage, love, friendship, grief, second chances, and romance.

Overall, I enjoyed THE WIDOW'S GUIDE TO SEX & DATING quite a bit. It's an entertaining read that is both serious and witty. Highly recommended.

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kid Konnection: Think Spring!

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 some adorable children's books which are perfect for this time of year.

Summary:When the flowers begin to bloom and the world starts turning green, animals everywhere are born . . . including the noisy ducklings!

From the creator of A Book of Sleep and Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit comes a beautiful book of baby animals. Travel with the curious duck and visit babies around the world on their very first day of life. -- Knopf

A BOOK OF BABIES by Il Sung Na is a perfect springtime book because it is all about new baby animals... and their mommies.  In this delightful picture book, children see many different types of animals that are born in the spring including ducklings, zebras, polar bears, and more!

Each page layout features a different mommy animal with her babies. In addition, the author has included something about that animal which makes it special. For example, new kangaroos are carried in their mother's pouches while zebras can walk right away.

A BOOK OF BABIES has already received a starred review form Kirkus Reviews and I can definitely see why. It's very cute and parents and toddlers alike will love learning about baby animals.

A BOOK OF BABIES would be a great addition to an Easter basket, but it would also make a very special Mother's Day gift!

Summary: Featuring Phoebe Dunn's classic animal portraits in a new board book education, The Little Rabbit will charm parents and children alike. 

The story and photographs follow Buttercup the rabbit as she explores her meadow and makes new and special friends. Paired with The Little Duck, this will make a perfect Easter gift for toddlers. -- Random House

Summary: Just in time for Easter comes this new board book edition of a springtime classic: The Little Duck, written by Judy Dunn and photographed by Phoebe Dunn.

Photographs depict everything from the thrill and jubilation of watching an egg hatch to a baby duck's adventures exploring his new world and making friends. The 8x8 edition has sold over 670,000 copies -- and the new board book edition will surely waddle its way into toddlers' hearts! -- Random House

THE LITTLE RABBIT and THE LITTLE DUCK, written by Judy Dunn with photographs by Phoebe Dunn, are very sweet picture books that are perfect for little one's Easter baskets. Both books are heavy 8x8 board books that are ideal for toddlers little hands since they are easy to turn as well as durable.

THE LITTLE RABBIT follows the adventures of Buttercup as she meets new animals and plays with them in a meadow, while THE LITTLE DUCK shows Henry the Duck's experiences from birth to when he makes new friends on the farm. I thought both books were adorable and I loved the photographs of the animals.

When my kids were toddlers, they were definitely drawn to picture books with photographs. Maybe they found them to be more "real," but I honestly have no idea why. They just loved actual pictures of animals. I have no doubt that they both would have enjoyed seeing experiencing these animals' adventures!

Summary: The U.S. Children's Poet Laureate and an award-winning children's poet join their prolific forces in this picture book of poems about cars. But they're not just any cars: there's the "Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy" ("So unique there is no copy"); the Bathtub Limosine ("With hot water heating / And porcelain seating"); and the "High Heel Car." Each of the thirteen quirky, inventive poems will speak directly to the imaginations of children, as will Holmes's high-concept, detail-filled illustrations. -- Schwartz & Wade

And since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd feature a fun little poetry picture book called POEM-MOBILES: CRAZY CAR POEMS by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian with pictures by Jeremy Holmes. This book is not only a good way to introduce poetry to your children, but it also has some fantastic illustrations!

POEM-MOBILES is pretty much what it sounds like -- a book with poems about cars. But the cars in this book are something special! One is "mini-mini," while another is a "paper car." There are futuristic cars and even cars that look like different types of food. As you can probably tell by now, these poems (and the cars they describe) are extremely silly and perfect for children with big imaginations!

I admit that I'm not a huge fan of poetry, and I definitely appreciate children's poems more than ones geared towards adults, so POEM-MOBILES is just perfect for me. I love the zany feel of this book, and that most definitely includes the illustrations. They are very whimsical and full of detail, and I think they are the perfect complement to these fun poems.

Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: Mimi Malloy, At Last!

Summary: Meet Mimi Malloy: A daughter of the Great Depression, Mimi was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six beautiful daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi, a divorcée, is unexpectedly retired. But she takes solace in the comforts of her new life: her apartment in the heart of Quincy, the occasional True Blue cigarette, and evenings with Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a highball in her hand.

Yet her phone is arguably the busiest in greater Boston—it rings “Day In, Day Out,” as Ol’ Blue Eyes would say. Her surviving sisters love to gab about their girlhood, while her eldest daughter, Cassandra, calls every morning to preach the gospel of assisted living. And when an MRI reveals that Mimi’s brain is filled with black spots—areas of atrophy, her doctor says—it looks like she's destined to spend her days in “one of those storage facilities for unwanted antiques.”

Mimi knows her mind is (more or less) as sharp as ever, and she won’t go down without a fight. Yet as she prepares to take her stand, she stumbles upon an old pendant of her mother’s and, slowly, her memory starts to return—specifically, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood, including her sister who was sent away to Ireland and the wicked stepmother she swore to forget.

Out of the ashes of Mimi’s deeply troubled history, Julia MacDonnell gives us a redemptive story of the family bonds that break us and remake us. Mimi Malloy, At Last! is an unforgettable novel, alive with humor, unexpected romance, and the magic of hard-earned insight: a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to fall in love and that one can always come of age a second time. -- Picador

Despite not having an ounce of Irish blood in my body, I am always drawn to stories with Irish characters. That's one of the reasons that I decided to pick up MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! by Julia MacDonnell. However, it also seemed like it would be a story about families and especially mothers and daughters; and I love books that delve into those types of relationships.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! tells the story of Mimi Malloy, a 68 year old woman who is a mother to a six grown daughters. Her husband left her about 15 years ago for another woman, and she recently lost her job. To make things even worse, doctors have recently found black spots on her brain and her eldest daughter thinks she needs to go to assisted living.

Of course, Mimi thinks she's fine living on her own, smoking cigarettes and having the occasional drink (or two). She's even recently become quite fond of her building's maintenance man. However, when she discovers an old necklace that was once her mother's, she begins to remember her childhood... the good and the bad.

In the meantime, her sister has asked her to fill out a family tree for her grandson's school project. Mimi isn't the slightest bit interested in talking about her troubled childhood especially when it causes her to question what happened to her sister Fagan. All of Mimi's sisters all have different memories their stepmother and what could have occurred. Answers are found when Mimi's estranged daughter returns to the picture and actually helps them realize the painful truth.

I enjoyed MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! and it was an entertaining novel. For the most part, it was a light-hearted and heartwarming story about a very memorable character. I found Mimi to be extremely funny, despite having some memory issues; and I loved how the author portrayed her. I could visualize Mimi and her sisters perfectly, and I had to laugh at Mimi's stubbornness and desire to keep her independence. In addition, I appreciated that Mimi had a little opportunity for some romance in her life after experiencing a pretty sad situation with her ex-husband fifteen years earlier.

However, in addition to some very funny parts of this novel. there were also some very dark secrets that came to light near the end of the book. While I could sense that something was coming, it still threw me for a loop and actually caused me to change some of my initial impressions of the story. -- it wasn't near as light as I first assumed! I also thought that many of the themes explored in this story were of a serious nature including family dynamics, mother/daughter relationships, memory, and redemption.

This is the first novel that I've read by Ms. MacDonnell and I have to say that I was impressed with her writing. I especially liked how smart this book was it really had just a different "feel" to it.  The author balanced a fine line between humor and wit while also delving into some pretty complex issues. In addition, she created a character in Mimi that is extremely memorable for her quirks as well as how she handled the relationships in her life.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! would make an very interesting book club selection. There is a reading guide which explores many of the themes that I've mentioned in this review. While many of the topics are unique to Mimi and her family, readers might also find that they can relate to some of the relationships and secrets in the story. As a result, there are some universal themes in this story that warrant further thought and discussion including families, secrets, second chances, love, faith, redemption, and memory.

MIMI MALLOY, AT LAST! was selected as a National Indie Bookseller Pick for April, and I can definitely see why! It's an entertaining, yet thought-provoking read, and perfect for book clubs!

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Keep Quiet

Summary: New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Lisa Scottoline is loved by millions of readers for her suspenseful novels about family and justice. Scottoline delivers once again with Keep Quiet, an emotionally gripping and complex story about one man’s split-second decision to protect his son - and the devastating consequences that follow. 

Jake Buckman’s relationship with his sixteen-year-old son Ryan is not an easy one, so at the urging of his loving wife, Pam, Jake goes alone to pick up Ryan at their suburban movie theater. On the way home, Ryan asks to drive on a deserted road, and Jake sees it as a chance to make a connection. However, what starts as a father-son bonding opportunity instantly turns into a nightmare. Tragedy strikes, and with Ryan’s entire future hanging in the balance, Jake is forced to make a split-second decision that plunges them both into a world of guilt and lies. Without ever meaning to, Jake and Ryan find themselves living under the crushing weight of their secret, which threatens to tear their family to shreds and ruin them all. 

Powerful and dramatic, Keep Quiet will have readers and book clubs debating what it means to be a parent and how far you can, and should, go to protect those you love. -- St. Martin's Press

I have been quite a fan of Lisa Scottoline's novels and essays for some years now, but I admit it's been awhile since I've read one of her mysteries. Her latest novel, titled KEEP QUIET, is out tomorrow; and I have to say it's quite the crazy ride. This book delves into some complex ethical and moral issues, but it's also full of shocking twists. I honestly read this book in just a few sittings because I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.

Let me give you a little background about KEEP QUIET and you'll see what I mean. Jake Buckman is married to Pam and father to 16 year-old Ryan; however, his relationship with his son is strained at times. Since Ryan is much closer to his mom, Jake decides to pick him up one night after an evening at the movies with his friends. As Jake is driving Ryan home, he sees an opportunity for some male bonding and even makes a breakthrough in communicating. So when Ryan asks Jake if he can drive his car on an empty road, even though it's past curfew and technically against the law, Ryan allows it. Unfortunately when taking a blind curve, Ryan hits what they think is a deer. They immediately stop the car and find that it's not an animal -- rather it's a woman who was out for an evening run.

Ryan immediately freaks out and Jake desperately wants to protect his son. Given what has just occurred (plus another little surprise that Ryan throws at Jake), Jake sees that he has little choice; and therefore, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. Between the guilt that both men feel as well as the additional cover-up and lies, they feel their lives are in a downward spiral; and they aren't sure that they can live with the consequences of their actions.

I had a hard time writing the description for KEEP QUIET because I didn't want to give away any spoilers. I fear I might have hinted at a few; however, trust me when I tell you that there is a lot more that happens to Jake and Ryan and their family after the accident. Truly, each page in this novel was suspenseful as things just escalated in Jake and Ryan's lives. Just when I thought their living nightmare couldn't get any worse -- it did!

I was seriously impressed with Ms. Scottoline's writing in this novel. I've read enough of her books to know that she can really write. I especially appreciated how she not only wrote a suspenseful story with many twists and turns, but she also managed to capture the feelings of a protective father in addition to the way guilt can eat a person alive.

Furthermore, I really liked how she delved into the life of a modern day family. The Buckmans were a well-to-do family who lived outside of Philadelphia. Jake was a successful (and self-made) financial analyst while his wife Pam was a judge. Ryan was a good student and a stellar basketball player. Despite outside appearances though, this family was far from perfect. There were complex relationships issues between Jake and Pam as well as insecurities and baggage based on events that occurred in the past. After this tragedy occurred, this "normal" family just fell apart; and while Jake thought he could keep things together, he quickly learned that far too much was out of his control.

As far as a mystery goes, I actually wasn't quite sure that there was much of one until part-way through the novel. As the ending approached, it quickly became apparent that there was a lot more going on than I initially though. I had a feeling that another shoe was going to fall, by the end of the novel, I was rewarded with a pretty shocking surprise. While I didn't guess the exact outcome of events, I had a feeling... and I wasn't disappointed.

I will say that while I enjoyed KEEP QUIET a great deal, I did have a few issues with the story. First of all, I thought the initial premise was a little predictable. In fact, I thought I had even read a book with a similar plot before. Having said that, by about halfway through the book, I learned that the story was, indeed, suspenseful and quite unique. I also had an issue with how the novel ended. It wasn't the resolution of the mystery that bothered me. Rather, it was how tidy things ended up for the Buckman family. On one hand, I was glad that everything worked out for them; but on the other hand, I just thought it was a little too neat compared to the rest of the story.

Ms. Scottoline is a big fan of book clubs and I think she must have had them in mind while writing KEEP QUIET. There truly is so much to discuss about this novel. I actually had lunch with a friend last week and we were discussing the ethical implications of Jake's actions. As a parent, I am pretty sure that this novel was more complicated and painful for me than it might be for other readers. As a result, I am definitely recommending this novel to book clubs that are made up of parents! In addition to discussing Jake's action and his relationship with his son, there are many other interesting issues too including lies, honestly, marriage, deception, revenge, sacrifice, love, duty, forgiveness, and redemption. You can find the formal discussion guide here.

KEEP QUIET was a very interesting read for me. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Sarah Hall Productions 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, April 5, 2014

Kid Konnection: The Pigeon Needs a Bath! & 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 latest Pigeon book!

Summary: The Pigeon really needs a bath! Except, the Pigeon’s not so sure about that. Besides, he took a bath last month! Maybe. It’s going to take some serious convincing to try and get the Pigeon to take the plunge. -- Hyperion/DBG

When Booking Son saw THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! by Mo Willems sitting on my desk, he proclaimed, "I love those Pigeon books!" Well, millions of kids and parents alike agree with him -- including me.

Mo Willems has done it again with THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! It's just an all-around terrific picture book. While it's actually aimed at kids 3-5, I think you'd be hard pressed to find any one who didn't get a kick out of this book. That pigeon is a hoot!

You can probably guess what happens in THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! The Pigeon is told that he's dirty and even a little stinky, but he swears it's normal for a pigeon to smell like that. He is dead set against getting a bath but with a little convincing (and a lot of patience), the Pigeon finally decides to hop in. And guess what? He ends up loving his bath!

I remember when Booking Son wasn't too thrilled with bath nights -- they just got in the way of fun and playtime. How perfect this book would have been for him! I imagine that I'm not the only parent who ever experienced their child not wanting to get clean, and this adorable picture book could certainly help makes things easier for parents and kids alike!

What more can really be said about Mo Willems that hasn't already been said? He definitely has created a wonderful character in the Pigeon, and he knows how to make readers laugh. His cute illustrations are just perfect for the tone of the book. I just love his books!!!!

Can you believe that the first book in the series, DON'T LET PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS recently celebrated its 10th birthday? Over the past ten years, The Pigeon books have sold millions of copies and received numerous starred reviews. They have appeared on many "best of" lists and even been inducted into the Indies Choice Picture Book Hall of Fame. If you aren't familiar with these books, then you are certainly missing out!

You can learn more about THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! at the Official Site or follow @The_Pigeon on Twitter.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to Disney Publishing, you too can "Get to know Pigeon!" One (1) winner will receive not only THE PIGEON NEEDS A BATH! but also an "It's a Busload of Pigeon Books!” To enter, just fill out the form below before This contest is open to US addresses only. Good luck!

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!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Summary: Whistling past the graveyard. That’s what Daddy called it when you did something to keep your mind off your most worstest fear. . . .

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be. -- Gallery Books

Last month, my book club read WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD by Susan Crandall. I was the hostess for March; and as a result, I was the one who selected this novel and led the discussion. I am such a big fan of Southern fiction and I love coming-of-age stories, so I figured WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD would be an ideal selection. Plus, it didn't hurt that it had some fantastic reviews!

It turns out that I adored WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD, and I think my friends agreed. It was a well-written novel with one very special character, nine-year-old Starla. (Actually, there were quite a few great characters!) I loved this touching story about a young girl's struggle to find her mother; and the themes of racism, friendship, and redemption made it that much more special.

WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD takes place in Mississippi in 1963. Starla, a young girl who lives with her "mean" grandmother dreams of one day finding her mother who left her for a career in Nashville. She heads out on day towards Nashville (or at least the direction she believes is Nashville) and is picked up by Eula, a black woman who is traveling in a run down with a white baby.

Eula and Starla head towards Nashville and have quite an adventure... to say the least. They experience many struggles and have to make some difficult choices. They also learn a lot about themselves and the world around them.

I just loved WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD and it's one of those books that I will be recommending to all of my friends (although many of them already read it with me!) I fell in love with so many of the characters, and I especially loved the lessons in the book about family, love and second chances. The novel both entertained and touched me, and little Starla just captured my heart.

There are lots of wonderful things about WHISTLING WITH THE GRAVEYARD -- from the writing, to the story itself, to the cast of characters, to the setting, to the messages. I could go on and on about each one of these things and probably bore you to death. However, I will focus on just a few. One thing that really stood out to both me and my book club was how interesting we found the story's setting. Of course, we've all read books that take place right before the Civil Rights movement, but I loved that this one showed it to us through the eyes of a nine year old girl. Starla was both naive and yet wise about these times, and I thought her insight into the events was fascinating.

Another thing I loved about this book were the characters, especially Starla. Do I dare say she reminded me a bit of Scout from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? I love coming-of-age stories so it's no surprise that I loved this book given the use of Starla as a narrator. I so appreciated how authentic the author made her voice, and at the same time, I loved seeing the world through her eyes. In addition, Starla grew up so much during her journey with Eula that it was a pleasure to see hints of the young woman she'd become.

And finally, I loved all of the messages and morals in this story. Needless to say, racial relations were a big issue in the story; and I loved the messages that Starla learned about race and respect towards others. I also really liked the lessons that she learned about family and friendship -- sometimes the best families are the ones you choose, not necessarily the ones you are related to! And also I loved the ideas of second chances and redemption!

My book club had a terrific time discussing WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD! As the host, I was thrilled to make some good ole' Southern desserts that were mentioned in the story like Chess Pie and Apple Dapple Cake. There is a reading guide available with fifteen questions; however, we didn't really use it much. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include secrets, race, family, parent/child relationships, ethics, dysfunction, coping mechanisms, forgiveness, redemption, and second chances.

I just adored WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD! Highly recommended!

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