Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead

Summary: The newest thriller from Michael Koryta, New York Times bestselling author

When 13-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he's plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare.

The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains.

The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind. -- Little, Brown

Many of you probably know this, but I am a big fan of books by Michael Koryta. Every summer, I look forward to his latest novel and this year's THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD was no exception. In fact, I was even more excited than usual after reading this book's description. Don't get me wrong... I always enjoy Mr. Koryta's books, but I admit I was excited that this one was a pure thriller without any of that supernatural stuff!

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD has a great premise! Jace Wilson, a thirteen year old boy is a witness to a horrific murder. committed by the notorious Blackwell Brothers. In an effort to protect him from the murderers, he is sent to the mountains of Montana to be part of a wilderness skills program for troubled teens.

Ethan and Allison Serbin are the couple who runs the camp. While both have strong survival skills, they are definitely tested to their limit when the Blackwell Brothers show up in Montana looking for Jace. In addition, Hannah Faber, a woman who works in a fire lookout tower and has her own set of baggage, finds herself caught up in the chase. Can these individuals protect Jace or will they become the brothers' next victims?

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD was a real page-turner! I couldn't put this book down. The characters were interesting, the crimes were wretched, and the action was extremely fast-paced. Mr. Koryta has an uncanny knack of creating scary stories, and I loved that this one scared the heck out of me with just man versus nature. (I guess you're figuring out that I'm not a big fan of supernatural, scary things!)

This novel definitely took me on roller-coaster ride! The book had some really BAD guys and their pursuit of Jace was pretty terrifying on its own. However, Mr. Koryta also managed to stage this book in the desolate mountains of Montana (which to a non-outdoorsy girl is pretty scary too!) He then added the element of forest fires to the story to increase the suspense even more. I loved how tension just kept building and building and how the story toyed with my mind. And there were even a multitude of twists and turns (some pretty huge ones!) that kept me guessing and not knowing who or what to believe.

In addition to Mr. Koryta's amazing storytelling skills, I loved how he brought this story to life through his descriptions. There were brutal and detailed descriptions of the crimes, but there were also some unbelievable descriptions of the mountains of Montana. For someone who has never been out west, I was able to picture these isolated mountains and their dangers quite vividly. I was especially impressed with his accounts of the forest fires -- I could almost feel the heat and smell the smoke!

It didn't come as any surprise to me that THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD has already been optioned for film by 20th Century Fox. I don't say this often, but this book will make one heck of a film -- one of those movies that leave you hanging on the edge of your seat for two hours! I can't wait to see who they cast in the roles! And then there's the gorgeous (and dangerous) setting...

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is definitely one of my favorite Koryta books. Once again, I'm extremely impressed with whatever this guy writes! Highly recommended to fans of thrillers and 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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Giveaway: Harlequin Summer Reads

Happy Summer!!!! I am actually arriving in the Outer Banks later today so my summer is in full swing. I can barely wait for sun, sand, and books... lots of books. My yearly trip to the beach is my absolute favorite time to read!

To celebrate summer and hopefully you're favorite time to read, the fine folks at Harlequin have a fantastic giveaway for one lucky Booking Mama reader. You can win an oversized striped canvas beach tote bag and the following "beach" books:

FOUR FRIENDS by Robyn Carr
AVENGE ME by Maisey Yates
WAITING ON YOU by Kristan Higgins
TAKEN WITH YOU by Shannon Stacey
WHEN WE MET by Susan Mallery

To enter, just fill out the form below before July 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. or Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kid Konnection: X Why Z Animals

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a fun book that is also educational.

Summary: Why do zebras have stripes?
Why don't cats like water?
Why do sharks have so many teeth?

When it comes to the facts, every child wants to know: Why? Now, with X-Why-Z Animals from Time For Kids, young readers-and their parents-can discover the answers. This book satisfies the never-ending curiosity of children, ages 4 to 6.

The easy to follow, question and answer format accompanied by colorful photos and illustrations delivers answers to more than 200 questions that kids have about animals! -- Time for Kids

X WHY Z ANIMALS: LITTLE KIDS ASK, WE ANSWER is a fantastic resource for those families with children who are interested in animals. This book is geared towards children ages four to six with its simple explanations; however, if I'm being entirely honest, I really liked it too. And I even managed to learn a few things about animals!

X WHY Z ANIMALS is another book in the X Why Z series, and I can see why these books are so popular. This particular book makes learning about different animals fun with the question and answer format. I can't believe all of the fun facts that this book contained!

The format of the book is so user-friendly (or should I say reader-friendly?) Each chapter is about a different family of animals, so there are sections on Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Insects, Arachnids, Sea Animals, Birds and Dinosaurs. Then, each page spread has multiple questions and answers along with some adorable photographs. In addition, there are X Why Z Facts thrown in which provide even more information. Finally, there is a useful index in the back of the book in case you are looking for something about a specific animal.

I can pretty much promise you that kids will love this book. There are useful facts about animals we encounter every day like our pets, but there is also some pretty weird stuff about other less popular animals. What makes this book so great is that the questions this book asks are ones I've heard my  kids ask or ones that I've even wondered about! I also really appreciate is that the information is presented in such a simple way. There is a brief question posed, and then a clear answer that is just a sentence or two so it's ideal for even curious toddlers.

X WHY Z ANIMALS is a super book for animal lovers and kids of all ages. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Goodman Media for proving a review copy of this book.

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Margarita Wednesdays & Giveaway

Summary: In answer to the question of what happened following her New York Times bestseller Kabul Beauty School, Deborah Rodriquez is back with a new memoir.

Irreverent, insightful, and blatantly honest, Deborah takes us along on her inspiring journey of self-discovery and renewal after she is forced to flee Afghanistan in 2007. She first lands in California, where she feels like a misfit teetering on the brink of sanity. Where was that fearless redhead who stared danger in the face back in Kabul?

After being advised to commune with glowworms and sit in contemplation for one year, Rodriguez finally packs her life and her cat into her Mini Cooper and moves to a seaside town in Mexico. Despite having no plan, no friends, and no Spanish, a determined Rodriguez soon finds herself swept up in a world where the music never stops and a new life can begin. Her adventures and misadventures among the expats and locals help lead the way to new love, new family, and a new sense of herself.

In the magic of Mexico, she finds the hairdresser within, and builds the life she never knew was possible—a life on her own terms. -- Gallery Books

It seems like it's been a long time since I read KABUL BEAUTY SCHOOL by Deborah Rodriguez. I guess it has been because a lot has happened in Ms. Rodriguez's life since then. She tells her story in her latest memoir MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS, and it's certainly a doozie!

MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS picks up when Ms. Rodriguez was forced to leave Afghanistan in 2007 -- and I mean forced! She ends up in California and she discovers that she doesn't really fit into this community. At the same time, she is dealing with PTSD-like symptoms and spiraling downward with fits of depression. She can barely remember the strong and determined woman she once was -- a woman who showed no fear and opened a beauty school in Kabul.

She tries therapy and also tries to heal herself, but she ends up just picking up and driving to her newly purchased house in Mazatlan, Mexico. Keep in mind that she knows absolutely no one there nor does she speak Spanish. Once she settles in Mexico, she meets many wonderful friends; and eventually, despite what she swore would never happen, she opens a full service salon.

I was looking forward to reading MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS to see what happened to Deborah Rodriguez, and I have to say that I wasn't at all surprised. That is... after I heard about her scary exit from Afghanistan. I found her story to be brutally honest and quite entertaining, and I was happy that she eventually found peace and happiness in Mexico.

I understand why she included so much in this book about her time in California, but I have to tell you that the book really took off for me when she arrived in Mexico. I loved her descriptions of the town, the houses, the restaurants, the food and the townspeople. She did a great job of showing how much she lives this place.

While I was reading about Ms. Rodriguez's life, I almost felt as if something was missing. It was a strange feeling to have while reading a memoir to say the least. I think I was waiting for her to open a salon and help the girls (and boys) who were less fortunate. I think that's how I picture Ms. Rodriguez and it's when she is at her best.

I debated putting this in my review, but I decided, "Why not?" I had a hard time relating to Ms. Rodriguez in this book. She couldn't be more of my opposite and I felt as if I was constantly shaking my head at her decision-making skills (or lack thereof!) I wasn't judging her, but I was wondering how she came to be this type of daring and carefree person. Fortunately, in MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS, Ms. Rodriguez shared with the reader her process of self-discovery. Much of her childhood and young adult life contributed to her behavior, and I have to say learning this made me (almost) understand her!

MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS would make an interesting book club pick. Of course, I'd love the overall Mexican theme possibilities. Just imagine the food and drinks and decorations you could have! There is a reading guide available with fourteen questions along with some ideas to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendship, mental health, fear, second chances, love, marriage, parent/child relationships, and healing.

Overall, I enjoyed MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS. It works as a stand-alone story but I do think it's best appreciated in tandem with KABUL BEAUTY SCHOOL.

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of MARGARITA WEDNESDAYS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 10th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: The Stories We Tell

Summary: Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family. 

But things may not be as good as they seem. 

Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets "back on her feet." Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it. 

A riveting story about the power of truth, The Stories we Tell will open your eyes and rearrange your heart. -- St. Martin's Press

During the summer, I tend to read even more women's lit than usual, and one novel that I recently enjoyed was THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry. I've read a few of her novels in the past, and I always appreciate how she writes touching stories with well-developed characters. I think she hit the mark once again with THE STORIES WE TELL.

In this novel. Eve has been married to Cooper Morrison for decades with a teenage daughter Gwen, and their lives seem to be too good to be true. Eve has created a successful print business and her husband runs a digital magazine focusing on the Southern gentleman. Cooper comes from old Southern money and the have a lovely house and circulate in the wealthy circles of Savannah. Not too shabby for a girl who a preacher's daughter!

However, Eve's life isn't perfect. Gwen is a teenager who is definitely challenging Eve's authority. She has a boyfriend that Eve doesn't exactly like and she sneaks out of the house to see him. Cooper isn't all together supportive of Eve's business -- most likely he's jealous of her success. And her sister Willa is staying with them until she can get her life turned around. But overall, things are good for Eve.

And then one night, there is a car accident involving Cooper and Willa. Eve tried to make sense of the accident, but between Cooper's evasive story and Willa's memory loss, nothing is adding up. Eve is determined to get to the truth... even if that means discovering things about her loved ones that could ultimately destroy her family.

I enjoyed THE STORIES WE TELL, and overall, I thought it was a pretty good book. I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it, but it's a good, quick read to pack in your beach or pool bag this summer. I found the story to be entertaining and many of the characters were interesting, and I loved the setting of Savannah; however, I don't think that this is one of those books that will remain in my thoughts for  a long time.

There were a few things that I did appreciate about THE STORIES WE TELL. First, I liked some of the major themes of the novel. One of the main themes that the book explored was trust and I found it interesting to see Eve try to figure out what happened the night of the accident. The fallout she experienced from learning that her husband wasn't honest about that night (or a few more things for that matter) was well done, and I liked that Eve was determined to learn the truth rather than hiding from from it.

In addition, I liked how this novel explored the concept of memories. When Willa has brain damage from the accident, she isn't able to recall many events from that night; however, she also has some other memory issues that she had to deal with. I have always found it interesting how individual choose to remember things and how these memories change over time. As a result, I liked seeing Eve reflect back on her life and how she saw things in a different light.

Ms. Henry is a beautiful writer and I thought that showed through in THE STORIES WE TELL. I appreciated how she delved into some very complex relationships and created some unique characters. One small complaint that I had, though, concerns some of her character development. I felt as if Cooper and his parents were flat and too predictable. In addition, I had a hard time getting a grip on Eve at times. One minute she was the "perfect" wife and mom and the other she was fantasizing about her employee. It was just a little confusing and some of the messages she sent were a little mixed.

THE STORIES WE TELL deals with many interesting relationships and would definitely make a good book club pick. There is a reading guide with fourteen thought-provoking questions that would definitely help initiate conversation. Some of the things you might want to explore include marriage, memory, loss, lies, trust, parent/child relationships, appearances, and creativity.

I liked THE STORIES WE TELL and it did explore some special themes. I recommend it to fans of Southern fiction and women's lit.

Thanks to Sullivan and Partners for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Cutting Teeth

Summary: One of the most anticipated debut novels of 2014, Cutting Teeth takes place one late-summer weekend as a group of thirty-something couples gather at a shabby beach house on Long Island, their young children in tow.

Nicole, the hostess, struggles to keep her OCD behaviors unnoticed. Stay-at-home dad Rip grapples with the reality that his careerist wife will likely deny him a second child, forcing him to disrupt the life he loves. Allie, one half of a two-mom family, can't stop imagining ditching her wife and kids in favor of her art. Tiffany, comfortable with her amazing body but not so comfortable in the upper-middle class world the other characters were born into, flirts dangerously, and spars with her best friend Leigh, a blue blood secretly facing financial ruin and dependent on the magical Tibetan nanny everyone else covets. Throughout the weekend, conflicts intensify and painful truths surface. Friendships and alliances crack, forcing the house party to confront a new order.

Cutting Teeth is about the complex dilemmas of early midlife—the vicissitudes of friendship, of romantic and familial love, and of sex. It’s about class tension, status hunger, and the unease of being in possession of life's greatest bounty while still wondering, is this as good as it gets? And, perhaps most of all, Julia Fierro’s warm and unpretentious debut explores the all-consuming love we feel for those we need most, and the sacrifice and compromise that underpins that love. -- St. Martin's Press

I think the novel CUTTING TEETH by Julia Fierro is on just about every recommended summer reading list I've seen. It was even an Book of the Week! I can't help but agree. This book is extremely well written, plus it's smart and insightful. It's also funny -- painfully so at times; and I think it will resonate with many readers, especially those who are parents.

CUTTING TEETH is about a group of Brooklyn couples, who with young children, head to Long Island for a summer weekend. The group consists of five couples (four of the moms and one dad are all members of the same play group), and each family is facing a different issue.

Nicole, the hostess suffers from OCD (among other things) and turns to prescription drugs to keep her issues hidden. While Rip, the stay-at-home dad, wants another child but his career driven wife isn't on the same page. Allie is having thoughts of leaving her pregnant wife and kids to pursue her dream of creating art. And Tiffany is insecure with whether she belongs in this upper-middle class group, and rather than keeping to herself, she flirts and flaunts her killer body.  Finally, there's Leigh, a blue-blood who is close to being broke and who holds a dangerous secret that could ruin her family's lives. Needless to say, each person is a bit of a mess and has their fair share of baggage.

CUTTING TEETH is Ms. Fierro's debut novel and what a fantastic start. It's almost hard to believe this is her first book because the writing is so polished and the dialogue is so sharp. In addition, CUTTING TEETH delves into so many thought-provoking issues including mental illness, marriage, parenting, insecurities, class structure, jealousy and love. By creating these complex characters, Ms. Fierro features the difficulties that many parents face (albeit in a more entertaining way); and that we, as readers, aren't alone in our daily struggles to make life perfect!

The story is told through a variety of characters' eyes and I loved this narrative style. While I didn't always "love" the characters, I found their individual stories to be extremely interesting... and often times funny. By hearing different characters' version of events, I was able to better understand them and even feel some compassion because I knew what was truly going on inside their minds.

CUTTING TEETH definitely has a little something for every reader. For those of you who appreciate strong writing and a literary flair, this novel definitely has both of those things. In addition, the characters are brought to life, foibles and all; and you can't help but be reminded of individuals you know (or perhaps even yourself!) There is lots of drama and even some humor, and many relationship issues are presented which are worthy of some reflection.

While I found that all of the characters had something to offer the reading in CUTTING TEETH, my absolute favorite was Leigh's Tibetan nanny Tenzin. In a house full of people with concerns only the young and the wealthy can have, Tenzin brought some common sense and perspective to the story -- she "grounded" it, if you will. She saw things in these characters that wasn't always obvious and her views on parenting were so wise.

Of course, CUTTING TEETH would make an incredible discussion book! Fortunately there is a reading guide available with 17 questions; however, I'm not sure one is necessary to get your conversation started. I think I've given you a fairly decent idea of some of the discussion topics in this story, but some additional themes include depression, anxiety, secrets, lies, stay-at-home moms vs. working moms, stay-at-home dads, parenting styles, gender issues, marriage, friendships, ethical issues, and parent/child relationships.

CUTTING TEETH was one of the most anticipated books of Summer 2014. Don't miss it!

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Giveaway: The Signature of All Things

Summary: In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers. -- Penguin

Today is the paperback release of the NY Times bestselling novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert. THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS was named one of the best books of 2013 by the New York Times, Amazon, Time, the Washington PostThe New Yorker, Good Housekeeping, the Chicago Tribune! Unfortunately, I haven't read this novel yet, but I intend to in the very near future. It deals with science, love and the quest for knowledge and I think it just looks so good!

In fact, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS looks like a fantastic book club pick! There is a reading guide, which includes some thought-provoking discussion questions and a Q&A with the author. In addition, Penguin is offering a sweepstakes for a chance to win a plant a month for an entire year, courtesy of White Flower Farm. For full terms, conditions, and a chance to win, please visit here. Please note the contest ends July 24th.

Of course, you should enter to win the plant a month, but in the meantime, I have a great giveaway too -- a copy of the newly released paperback of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 7th 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, June 23, 2014

Review: Suspicion

Summary: When single father Danny Goodman suddenly finds himself unable to afford the private school his teenage daughter adores, he has no one to turn to for financial support.

In what seems like a stroke of brilliant luck, Danny meets Thomas Galvin, the father of his daughter’s new best friend, who also happens to be one of the wealthiest men in Boston. Galvin is aware of Danny’s situation and out of the blue offers a $50,000 loan to help Danny cover his daughter’s tuition. Uncomfortable but desperate, Danny takes the money, promising to pay Galvin back.

What transpires is something Danny never imagined. The moment the money is wired into his account, the DEA comes knocking on his door. Danny’s impossible choice: an indictment for accepting drug money that he can’t afford to fight in court, or an unthinkably treacherous undercover assignment helping the government get close to his new family friend.

As Danny begins to lie to everyone in his life, including those he loves most in the world, he must decide once and for all who the real enemy is or risk losing everything—and everyone—that matters to him. -- Dutton

I don't think I've read a book by Joseph Finder for quite awhile, but when I read the description for his newest one SUSPICION, I thought it sounded terrific! One of the main reasons I started Mystery Mondays a few years ago was to discover great mysteries and thrillers and share them with you. I think SUSPICION is one of those!

SUSPICION tells the story of Danny Goodman, a single dad who doesn't have the money to pay for his daughter's private school education. That's when Thomas Galvin enters the picture! Galvin is the father of Goodman's daughter's best friend and one of the richest men in Boston. He offers Goodman a loan of $50,000 to help cover the tuition, and Goodman reluctantly accepts.

Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money for Goodman to owe; however, the debt is only the beginning of his problems. Immediately after Galvin wires the money into Goodman's account, the DEA comes knocking. They give him quite the ultimatum. He can either be indicted for accepting drug money (and probably become a target of a major drug cartel) or start "spying" on Goodman which also has its fair share of risk!

The DEA agents keep asking Goodman for more and more, and the stakes keep getting higher. Not only is Goodman in danger, but he fears that everyone he holds dear is at risk too. As Goodman tries to balance pleasing the DEA agents with staying "friends" with Galvin with protecting his loved ones, he discovers that he isn't sure what's the truth or who he can trust.

I liked SUSPICION quite a bit and I think fans of thrillers will appreciate this exciting and fast-paced novel. I actually couldn't put the book down and my heart raced as Goodman got himself into one tense situation after another. I was extremely impressed with not only Mr. Finder's invention of a creative story, but also his ability to build suspense. In addition to creating a likable character in Goodman, Mr. Finder also managed to keep my interest with the crazy amount of twists and turns in the story. I will definitely admit to being majorly surprised more than a few times!

As much as I loved the entire book, I'm still a little up in the air about how I feel about the ending. Don't get me wrong, I was happy with how things worked out for Goodman. (I can't really say much more than that!) However, I felt as if everything wrapped up a little too neat and tidy. I guess it's not really a complaint of mine about the novel, though, because if things had ended differently, I think I would have been disappointed. Does that make sense?

Overall, SUSPICION is a great thriller with one exciting and tense-filled scene after another. I wouldn't be surprised to see this come to the big screen in the future. Highly recommended for fans of thrillers and mysteries. It's a great addition to your beach or pool bag this summer!

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, June 21, 2014

Kid Konnection: Franklin School Friends & 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 the first two books from a fun series for early middle grade readers.

Summary: Kelsey Kline is the best reader in the third grade—well, maybe tied for best with know-it-all Simon Ellis. When the principal, Mr. Boone, announces a school-wide reading contest—complete with a pizza party for the winning class and a special certificate for the top readers in each grade—she knows she’s just the person to lead Mrs. Molina’s third graders to victory. But how can they win when her classmate Cody Harmon doesn’t want to read anything, and even Kelsey’s best friends Annika and Izzy don’t live up to her expectations? And could Simon possibly be reading all of those books that he claims he is, or is he lying to steal Kelsey’s rightful spot at the top? 

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen is the first book in Claudia Mills’s Franklin School Friends series. -- Square Fish

Summary: Annika Riz loves math more than anything, so when she hears about a sudoku contest at the local public library, she is determined to win it—maybe then her friends Kelsey Green and Izzy Barr will see that math is just as cool as reading and running. When the school carnival, the biggest fundraiser of the year, comes around, Annika realizes her class booth is losing money by selling their lemonade too cheaply. Annika embraces her math skills, saves the day, and shows her friends that math can be useful and even a bit of fun, too, in Claudia Mills's Annika Riz, Math Whiz. -- Margaret Ferguson Books

KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN and ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ by Claudia Mills and pictures by Rob Shepperson are the first two books in the Franklin School Friends series, and I thought they were adorable. I'm pretty sure that Booking Daughter would have enjoyed these books in second or third grade because of the cute stories as well as the wonderful illustrations.

Each book in the Franklin School Friends series focuses on a different kid. I hesitate to say "girl" because I'm not sure if some of the future books will feature male characters. Based on the two books that I've read, there are three friends -- Kelsey, Annika, and and Izzy who are in third grade at Franklin School. I am assuming that the third book will star Izzy and I wouldn't be surprised to find that a future book stars Simon, the boy who is "good at everything."

In KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN, Kelsey considers herself to be the best reader in third grade. So when the principal announces a school-wide reading contest with lots of fun prizes, Kelsey is determined to prove that she can read the most books. She doesn't think she'll have any problem winning the individual contest, and she wants to ensure that her third grade class wins the pizza party!

However, Kelsey soon discovers that there are some impediments to winning. First of all, she can't just read anytime she wants (even during math class!) Secondly, Simon seems to be reading at an impossible pace. And lastly, some kids (including Annika and Izzy) don't seem to be taking the contest as seriously as Kelsey!

In ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ, Annika learns about a sudoku contest at the local library, and she's certain she can win it and prove once and for all that math is cool to her friends. The only thing in her way is Simon who just might be as good at sudoku as Annika.

While waiting for the results from the contest, Annika is working at the school fair. After multiple attempts to make cookies, she and her friends decide to sell homemade lemonade. It's Annika's sharp math skills that allow her to realize that they are not charging enough for their drink. Ultimately, Annika's friends do see the importance of math in their every day lives!

I thought KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN and ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ were both cute stories. I like that they focused on friendship and showed that every child has something that makes them special. I also appreciated how the girls treated each other -- I guess these girls are nice and too young to start the catty behavior that I've seen in so many other books recently.

As a mom, I loved the lessons in these stories. There are so many things that you can discuss with your child including friendship, jealousy, hard work, the importance of education, and helping others. In addition, I think children will love the characters and humor in the stories.

One thing that really stood out to me were the illustrations. They are absolutely gorgeous and so detailed! Besides bringing the stories to life, they are beneficial to readers who might be intimidated by the amount of words on each page. I remember my children liking when there were a few full page pictures in the book to break up the text.

Another great feature of the books is that there is a teacher guide available for KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN and ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ. It has quite a few discussion question for each book as well as some challenging activity ideas including writing a poem about a character using fractions and showing how math is relevant in daily life. Educators will appreciate that there are references to the relevant Common Core Standards. There are also some cute printable bookmarks.

I really enjoyed these two books and I suspect young kids will love them! Great for school and home libraries!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing review copies of this book.

Giveaway alert: I have copies of the first two books in the Franklin School Friends series--KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN (paperback) and ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ (hardcover). To enter, just fill out the form below before July 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: Snugg iPhone 5c Ultra Thin Clear Case

If you are a regular reader at Booking Mama, then you already know that I'm a big fan of Snugg products. Recently, I was asked to try out a phone case and I knew exactly which one I wanted -- the iPhone 5c Ultra Thin Clear Case. I got an iPhone 5c last November in the coral/pink color and I absolutely love it. But here's my dilemma... I don't want to cover the phone because it's so cute, and yet, I feel as if I need some sort of protection.

That's why the iPhone 5c Ultra Thin Clear Case is perfect for me. It's clear so my coral/pink color shows through and it's so light and thin that it doesn't add any bulk. In fact, my phone with this case still fits in my armband that I use when working out. (I've had cases that I have to take on and off each time I use the armband -- not fun!)

Here are a few things that this case has to offer:
  • Sleek, clear cover for the iPhone 5c.
  • Special design provides the ultimate Snugg fit. 
  • Tough PC plastic resists scuff marks and scratches. 
  • One of the thinnest, lightest cases on the market. 
  • Made with non-slip plastic.
In addition, the Ultra Thin case allows access to all of your phone’s important buttons and even allows you to take photos with ease (the camera lens isn't covered up at all!) The lightning charger port is also exposed which makes life that much easier -- you know what I mean if you've ever had a case that you had to take on and off for charging.

This case also comes in black, but honestly, I like the clear one better! Why have an iPhone 5c to just hide the bright color?

And finally, I really appreciate that Snugg is willing to stand behind their products. This case (and pretty much all their products) comes with a lifetime guarantee.

I've been using this case for about two weeks now and I truly love it. Highly recommended!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: No Book but the World

Summary: At the edge of a woods, on the grounds of a defunct “free school,” Ava and her brother, Fred, shared a dreamy and seemingly idyllic childhood—a world defined largely by their imaginations and each other’s presence. Everyone is aware of Fred’s oddness or vague impairment, but his parents’ fierce disapproval of labels keeps him free of evaluation or intervention, and constantly at Ava’s side.

Decades later, then, when Ava learns that her brother is being held in a county jail for a shocking crime, she is frantic to piece together what actually happened. A boy is dead. But could Fred really have done what he is accused of? As she is drawn deeper into the details of the crime, Ava becomes obsessed with learning the truth, convinced that she and she alone will be able to reach her brother and explain him—and his innocence—to the world.

Leah Hager Cohen brings her trademark intelligence to a psychologically gripping, richly ambiguous story that suggests we may ultimately understand one another best not with facts alone, but through our imaginations. -- Riverhead

My friend Dawn rarely raves about a book, so when I saw her post something on Facebook about the new novel NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD by Lean Hager Cohen, I knew I had to read it. I requested this book immediately from our local library, and it took weeks for it to arrive. When it did, I rushed right over and started reading it right away. I actually ended up finishing it that very same day too!

You might think that when I had such high expectations for a book that I was just asking for trouble; however, that wasn't the case with NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD. I was caught up in this story from the first few pages and I didn't put it down until I finished it. It was so beautifully written and the characters were so intriguing that it just captured my heart!

NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD tells the story of Ava and her brother Fred. They lived in a rural environment on the campus of the closed "free school" that their father ran before they were born. They are pretty much left free to learn about the world and their environment on their own, but they do have some interactions with the other families that live at the school. Fred is a little peculiar and not a great communicator, but his parents refuse to label him or have him evaluated. As a result, he is very close to Ava with little contact with others.

As the children grow older and their parents die, Ava and Fred lose contact with each other. Ava marries her best friend's brother who used to live at the school, and Fred becomes a bit of a drifter. When Ava learns that Fred is in jail for a horrific crime involving a young boy, she rushes to his side to learn the truth because she believes she is the only one who can get through to him.

NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD is a very special book and one that will remain in my thoughts for some time. It is the first novel I've read by Ms. Hager Cohen and I admit I was blown away by her prose. The story is told in a variety of characters' viewpoints, and I loved how she captured the essence of them in each section. The story begins with Ava's story and her descriptions of the children's past are just so finely written with exquisite details. I was very impressed! And then, she switched to other characters' stories and I thought they were excellent. Finally, she told Fred's story and I think it was my absolute favorite version.

So much about this story caused me to think.. and feel. I loved how well drawn the characters were and my heart went out to Ava. While I was intrigued by her childhood, I'm not sure I would have wanted to have so much freedom (and lack of structure.) And then to have to face that your brother (who isn't really able to communicate) might be a murderer  is just heartbreaking. However, it was the stories about Fred that truly affected me. There is a story where Ava and her friend play with Fred that I found so sad and almost cruel. And the entire section of Fred's story just made me sick. His inability to understand normal interactions with people, his feelings of isolation, and the general way he was treated just made me cry. I can't even describe how much pain was conveyed through Ms. Hager Cohen's writing.

Finally, I should say that this book had a bit of a surprise ending -- one that I definitely didn't see coming. It was revealed almost quietly and I had to read it twice to truly understand what happened. I was just so blindsided by it. This revelation actually made the book that much better to me (and keep in mind I was already loving it!) Everything just worked for me!

Naturally, I'm going to say that NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD would make a wonderful book club selection. There truly is so much to discuss include family dynamics, education, philosophies on child rearing, marriage, obligation, autism, friendship, bullying, secrets, and discovering the truth. This is one of those books that you finish and want to call a friend to talk about what happened.

I am so grateful that Dawn put NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD on my radar. It was such a beautiful book! Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: That Night

Summary: As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night. 

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.  -- St. Martin's Press

I've been wanting to read a book by Chevy Stevens for some time now, and I'm pretty sure I even have a few of her novels on my bookshelves. I decided to start with her latest story THAT NIGHT which has already received some pretty special blurbs from Harlan Coben and Lee Child -- not too shabby!

THAT NIGHT tells the story of Toni Murphy, a woman who has spent the last fifteen years in prison for murdering her sister. Toni admits that she wasn't always an "easy" teenager -- she fought with her mom, she couldn't understand her "perfect" sister, and she desperately wanted to spend all of her free time with Ryan; however, she wasn't a murderer.

Evidence was strong against Toni and Ryan, especially when four girls who bullied Toni spoke out at the trial; and the two were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Naturally, prison changed Toni but she was eventually granted parole and returned to her home town. Toni was determined to stay out of trouble and that included no contact with Ryan.

Ryan, however, has different ideas and contacts Toni. He wants them to work together to prove their innocence and that means contacting the girls who hated Toni in high school. Toni is torn between violating parole and discovering the truth behind her sister's murder. Toni does her best to stay away from Ryan, but when she realizes that her life will never be "normal," she decides to begin her own investigation into the truth.

I really enjoyed THAT NIGHT and it was a quick read, but I don't know that I absolutely loved it. I did like it a lot though. I appreciated Ms. Stevens' writing style and I liked her characters. I also thought her portrayal of prison and then Toni's time on parole were interesting. However, it was her exploration of bullying that really impressed (and scared me!) In more than a few ways, it reminded me of a Megan Abbott book but maybe that's because THE FEVER is so fresh in my mind!

One thing that struck me as being a little odd is that I actually felt as if the book was geared towards a YA audience -- maybe because Toni was an adolescent for half of the story. The book went back and forth between present day when Toni was on parole trying to start over and the past when Toni was in high school. Even in the present when Toni was 34, I still felt as if she weren't truly an adult. That's not a knock on the writing or character development. Rather, I think it's probably very possible considering that Toni spent 15 years in prison and wasn't close to anyone including her family.

I appreciated how the novel went back and forth between the present and the past, and I thought it flowed very well. I actually read the novel in less than 24 hours and I was definitely intrigued. Even though I had a pretty good idea of what happened "that night," I was still surprised when all of the truth was uncovered at the end of the novel.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was the relationship between Toni and her mother. (That sounds twisted since it was so bad!) During Toni's high school years, things definitely were strained because of Toni's acting out. However, once Toni was arrested for her sister's murder, things got even worse. While Toni's father did his best to support and believe his daughter, Toni's mother never even wanted to hear Toni's side of the story. When Toni was released from prison, things were no better -- sad, but still not surprising. However, once Toni was able to prove her innocence, her mother's reaction was definitely not what I expected. I can't really say much more about this because I don't want to spoil things, but suffice it to say, that I think their relationship is incredibly complex!

Because of the complicated relationships in the novel (among other things!), THAT NIGHT would make for an interesting discussion. There is a reading guide with nine interesting questions that will help facilitate your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, guilt, redemption, our prison system, bullying, perceptions, loneliness, and honestly. I actually think these questions are an interesting starting point, but I'm pretty sure your club will come up with much more to discuss. Warning: the discussion guide has a few spoilers!

Overall, I enjoyed THAT NIGHT and I think fans of mystery and suspense will enjoy it. I am looking forward to reading more of Ms. Stevens' novels.

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: All Fall Down

Summary: Allison Weiss got her happy ending—a handsome husband, adorable daughter, a job she loves, and the big house in the suburbs. But while waiting in the pediatrician’s office, she opens a magazine to a quiz about addiction and starts to wonder…Is a Percocet at the end of the day really different from a glass of wine? Is it such a bad thing to pop a Vicodin after a brutal Jump & Pump class…or if your husband ignores you?

The pills help her manage the realities of her good-looking life: that her husband is distant, that her daughter is acting out, that her father’s Alzheimer’s is worsening and her mother is barely managing to cope. She tells herself that they let her make it through her days…but what if her increasing drug use, a habit that’s becoming expensive and hard to hide, is turning into her biggest problem of all?

With a sparkling comedic touch and a cast of unforgettable characters, this remarkable story of a woman’s slide into addiction and struggle to find her way back up again is Jennifer Weiner’s most masterful work yet. -- Atria 

When I sat down to write my review of ALL FALL DOWN by Jennifer Weiner, I realized that it's been thirteen years since her novel GOOD IN BED was published. Like many, I absolutely loved this book. I laughed and I cried, and I still look back on that novel as one of my favorites of all time. I've read all of Ms. Weiner's books since that first one, and I've been looking for one that evokes those same feelings in me. While I've enjoyed most of her books (some more than others), sadly, I haven't had any luck finding one that I've loved as much as GOOD IN BED.

Ms. Weiner's latest novel ALL FALL DOWN came pretty darn close though. ALL FALL DOWN tells the story of Allison Weiss. Allison has a great job, is married to a good guy and has a gorgeous daughter. Life should be "perfect." However, Allison has a problem... and a pretty big one at that. She is addicted to prescription drugs. Allison has a lot of stresses in her life -- her husband is distant, her daughter is strong-willed, her father has Alzheimer's and her mother can't handle it -- so she just needs a little something to take the edge off. The problem is that Allison begins to require more and more drugs just to get through the day. Eventually, Allison can't keep her addiction a secret and it threatens to destroy everything she holds dear in her life.

I really, really liked ALL FALL DOWN and critics seem to agree. Booklist and Library Journal both gave it starred reviews, and there are some great blurbs from some popular authors. I think one of the reasons for the praise is that ALL FALL DOWN will resonate with a lot of readers. I know it did for me. A few years ago, there was a local doctor who had a thriving practice and a gorgeous family. As far as my friends and I were concerned, she had it all. And then one day, a local news program reported that she was abusing prescription painkillers. Just like that, her life fell apart and she lost her medical license. It was so tragic and I wondered how it could happen to someone who was so smart and successful.

In ALL FALL DOWN, Ms. Weiner created a very real character in Allison. She reminded me a lot of women I know and respect, and this novel gave me some insight into how someone (not all together unlike me) could become an addict. I not only appreciated her progression as an addict, but I also liked how Ms. Weiner delved into her recovery steps. I found her portrayal of Allison's time at rehab to be extremely realistic from her denial, to her snobbery, to her eventual acceptance and hard work.

One thing I really enjoyed about ALL FALL DOWN was that, despite being a story about a very sad situation, it was really funny... in a dark way. I have to admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of Allison for most of the story -- probably because she exhibited the selfish behavior of an addict; however, I did appreciate the development of her character. What I did love about her character was the humor and sarcasm she displayed over and over again. This book was laugh out loud funny in some parts, and it did remind me a bit of GOOD IN BED in that aspect.

ALL FALL DOWN would make an excellent book club discussion selection. I have a feeling that my book club would be a little judgmental about Allison, but it could still be interesting to discuss some other themes in the novel including marriage, care taking, parent/child relationships, love, lies, betrayal, addiction, recovery, guilt, appearances, and self-discovery. You can check out the specific questions here.

I think ALL FALL DOWN is the best book Ms. Weiner has written for many years. Highly recommend to fans of Ms. Weiner and those who appreciate women's fiction.

Thanks to Engelman & Co. and the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: The Fever

Summary: The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security. -- Little, Brown

I was fortunate enough a few years ago to meet author Megan Abbott at a BEA party. It came right on the heels of reading her thriller THE END OF EVERYTHING, and I was amazed that such a nice (and tiny) woman could write such scary stuff. I read her next novel DARE ME and I swear, as a mom to a teenage girl, that it gave me nightmares. And now her latest novel THE FEVER is out, and it's another thrilling (and scary!) story. In fact, I think it's her best of the three -- and that's really saying something because I'm a pretty big fan!

THE FEVER is a suspenseful story that takes place in what appears to be a peaceful suburban community. Deenie is a 16 year old student at the local high school where her dad Tom is a popular teacher and her brother Eli is a hockey stud. Deenie is your typical teenage girl with "normal" concerns until one of her best friends Lise has an unexpected seizure at the high school. Naturally, the teachers and students are concerned about Lise, but tensions escalate when another girl has a seizure. Rumors fly as members of the community try to figure out why young girls are exhibiting these symptoms. Deenie has to navigate her own personal issues while at the same time deal with the terror that is occurring to the girls in her school.. and wondering if she's next!

I absolutely adored THE FEVER! Ms. Abbott truly knows how to write a gripping tale while also scaring the heck out of me. (I think part of my fear is because I am a mom to a teenage girl!) This book intrigued me from the very first page until the last, and once again, I was impressed with how well she "gets" the drama that is part of teenage girls' lives. I loved the pace of the novel and how the tension built; and I truly was satisfied with the stunning conclusion.  (Obviously, I didn't see it coming!) It really was such a fun book and the perfect summer read.

While I thought Ms. Abbott did a fantastic job of bringing the world of teenage girls to life, I think what I most appreciated about this story is how she explored the growing panic of a small community. As I read this novel, I could totally see something like this happening in our home town; and it just felt like the reactions of the townspeople were so real. Rumors flew (some more realistic than others!) and the entire community got caught up in terror!

As scary as the seizures were when they first began occurring, the tension just increased as more and more girls experienced the same symptoms. Naturally, Deenie tried to make sense of the drama while also fearing that she would be next. I thought Ms. Abbott created a marvelous character in Deenie and I loved her authenticity while also fearing for her safety. In addition, I appreciated the way Deenie explored the ongoing changes in her life -- her relationship with her mother and father, school, and even her sexuality -- in the midst of all this confusion!

If you haven't discovered Megan Abbott yet, then you are truly missing out! I highly recommend THE FEVER... and all of her other books!

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, June 14, 2014

Kid Konnection: So Not Okay

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 middle grade book that deals with a very serious issue -- bullying.

Summary: There is no such thing as neutral.

According to the Ambassadors 4 Kids Club, one out of every four students is bullied—and 85% of these situations never receive intervention. Parents, students, and teachers alike have amped up the discussion of how to solve the bullying problem for a networked generation of kids.

Written by bestselling author, Nancy Rue, each book in the Mean Girl Makeover trilogy focuses on a different character’s point of view: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. Each girl has a different personality so that every reader can find a character she relates to. The books, based on Scripture, show solid biblical solutions to the bullying problem set in a story for kids.

So Not Okay tells the story of Tori Taylor, a quiet sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School in Grass Valley, California. Tori knows to stay out of the way of Kylie, the queen bee of GCMS. When an awkward new student named Ginger becomes Kylie's new target, Tori whispers a prayer of thanks that it’s not her. But as Kylie’s bullying of Ginger continues to build, Tori feels guilty and tries to be kind to Ginger. Pretty soon, the bullying line of fire directed toward Ginger starts deflecting onto Tori, who must decide if she and her friends can befriend Ginger and withstand Kylie’s taunts, or do nothing and resume their status quo. Tori’s decision dramatically changes her trajectory for the rest of the school year. -- Thomas Nelson

I rarely read Christian fiction, or even middle grade fiction for that matter, but the new novel SO NOT OKAY by Nancy Rue appealed to me. When Booking Daughter was younger, she loved Ms. Rue's books about girls and the various problems they faced. Not only could she relate to these books, but she appreciated the powerful messages in the stories.

SO NOT OKAY is about Tori, a nice sixth grade girl who is content with group of friends and knows to stay away from Kylie, the "queen bee" of their middle school. However, when the new girl Ginger moves into their school, Kylie decides that Ginger will be her target. On one hand, Tori is grateful that she's not the one being harassed; but on the other hand, she feels bad for Ginger and tries to be kind to her. It probably won't surprise you that Kylie decides to pick on Ginger and her group of friends too. While Tori knows in her heart that she's doing the right thing, she fears that her friends won't be quite as willing to stand up for Ginger. Tori has to decide whether she has what it takes to put up with Kylie and her friends' taunts or ignore Ginger and fly below Kylie's radar. Tori quickly realizes that with either decision comes a fair share of heartache and pain!

SO NOT OKAY is the first in the Mean Girl Makeover trilogy, and I think it contains some very important messages. Each book in this series focuses on a different character -- the bully, the victim and the bystander -- and shows their view point on the situation. Needless to say, these three girls have very different opinions and reactions to what happens in the story. I think the concept of this trilogy is fantastic because it allows all types of girls to relate to the characters in the story.

As a parent, I think SO NOT OKAY is a great book for young girls. Bullying and mean girls are rampant in elementary and middle school, and often times, girls have no idea how to handle the situation. They don't want to tattle and draw even more attention to the situation; however, they don't know how to talk to (or not talk to) the girls that are tormenting them or their friends. SO NOT OKAY not only shows that these girls are not alone in being bullied, but it also offers some ideas for how to deal with these mean girls.

I also liked that SO NOT OKAY dealt with some very serious issues while also being a fun story with fun characters. There was a lot of humor in the story and Tori is just a wonderful character who learns to deal with bullying as a bystander. While the ideas in this book are based on scripture, the story isn't heavy-handed or preachy. In addition, this novel teaches tweens important lessons about self-worth and confidence.

SO NOT OKAY would make a great book for schools and book clubs, especially mother/daughter ones. There is a great deal to to learn from Tori about being bullied and also standing up and doing the right thing. Some other topics that you might want to discuss include peer pressure, friendship, loyalty, parent/child relationships, teacher/student relationships, and faith.

SO NOT OKAY is a great start to, what I hope, is an important series of books about bullying.

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!

Friday, June 13, 2014

BEA 2014 -- Day 3 and 4 (Friday, May 30th and Saturday, May 31st)

Friday was my last full day in New York City and it was a great one. Rather than rush over to the Javits Center, Kathy and I decided to head to Bubby's on the High Line for a wonderful breakfast. Their homemade sodas are amazing -- I had a strawberry/rhubarb one! We ended up walking the three miles to Bubby's and then we walked the High Line back to Javits. It was a gorgeous day and we appreciated every minute of it. It was nice not to have to rush from one event to another that morning.

(This is a little aside, but Kathy and I didn't once take a cab or the subway during our trip to New York (except for Kathy's rides to and from the airport.) The weather, albeit a little cool, was perfect for walking; and we were able to time everything so we could walk everywhere. Just when we were finally getting comfortable getting around the subway system...)

However, when we arrived back at BEA we were more than ready to tackle the show floor. We walked up and down the aisles and even checked out some of the autograph signings. I was happy to grab an autographed copy of THE WOLF by Lorenzo Carcaterra at the very last minute of his signing. Of course, I picked up a wide variety of adult and kids books that you will hear more about throughout the next few months! Some of the ones that I am extremely excited about include:

LILA by Marilynne Robinson
THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman
THE BLACK HOUR by Lori Rader-Day

One of the best things about BEA is the BEA Book Group Speed Dating Session which took place on Friday at 2:00. We arrived plenty early to register because we knew this session is extremely popular with both bloggers and librarians in addition to book club leaders. Basically, there were 20+ publishers there "pitching" their top book club picks to us.  Each large round table had one or two publisher representatives; and when the gong ringed, they moved to the next table. We then had one or two new publishers for the next few minutes. And so on and so on. In an hour and forty-five minutes, we were treated to a variety of great book club suggestions. Many of the publishers brought books for us to take with us too! We even received a handout featuring all of the books -- even the ones we weren't specifically presented. It was so much fun!!!

Here's a list of books that caught my eye:

DESCENT by Tim Johnston
REUNION by Hannah Pittard
LOOKAWAY, LOOKAWAY by William Barnhardt
WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas
RAINEY ROYAL by Dylan Landis

After this session, Kathy and I decided to head back to our hotel and check out the TKTS booth. We had no plans for the evening and thought it would be the perfect time to catch a show. Our first choice was Kinky Boots and we were lucky enough to score tickets for 40% off!

But first, we wanted to get a quick bite to eat. We were planning on getting a quick salad somewhere but Kathy spotted a cute little Italian restaurant that almost looked like a fast food cafe. It was called the Academie Barilla and it was pretty darn good. Naturally, they served a variety of Barilla pasta dishes that were light and relatively healthy. Kathy asked about the restaurant and we were told that this is the first one and they are hoping to expand within the next few months/years.

Kinky Boots was amazing! I absolutely loved it and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a fun show the next time you are in New York City. The story was written by Harvey Fierstein and the music by Cyndi Lauper, so how can you go wrong? It won six Tony awards including Best Musical and tells the story of a struggling shoe factory owner who turns around his business with the help of an unlikely person. The show makes you laugh and cry and it was a wonderful message about friendship and acceptance!

On Saturday, I ended up having a nice (but early) breakfast with Kathy before walking to Penn Station for my 9:00 train. Coincidentally, Candace from Beth Fish Reads was on the same train to Harrisburg so we chatted for 3 1/2 hours. It sure made the time go by quickly!

In the chaos that my life was the weeks leading up to BEA, I accidentally scheduled an early morning train so my husband could pick me up before my son's baseball game. About 8:00 on Friday evening, my husband texted me that not only did Booking Son have a 12:00 game but he was also pitching. ACK! I scrambled to find a friend who could pick me up at the train station, and she took me directly to the baseball game where I arrived just in time to see him pitch. I did miss his hit and RBI by a few minutes though!

When I arrived home, I had a big box of books from the Harper Collins Fall Preview event already waiting. It did take until Tuesday to receive my 46 pound box from BEA chock full of all my goodies!

I'm a little sad that this is my final post about the 2014 BEA. This might sound silly, but once I complete my wrap-ups, my trip truly is over! At least I have lots of fantastic books to tide me over for the next year.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

BEA 2014 -- Day 2 (Thursday, May 29th)

As I reflect back on BEA 2014, I realize that it wasn't quite as crazy as last year; however, Kathy and I still managed to get quite a bit accomplished on Thursday. We met with some publicists that we work with and even managed to attend a party and have dinner with a friend!

Both Kathy and I are early birds, so we got up bright and early and headed to a small deli near our hotel for breakfast. As expensive as New York is, I think there are some decent places to grab a quick breakfast that are quite reasonable. And I just love that they offer so many "healthy" options for breakfast. We decided to eat "big" because we needed energy for our long day.

As soon as we finished, we hopped on the shuttle bus for Javits. We arrived very early (almost an hour before the show floor opened) so we could get our BEA badge. We were prepared for a line, but fortunately we walked right up and got them. We then ran into a few blogging buddies like Candace from Beth Fish Reads and Laura from Library of Clean Reads and talked until the show room opened at 9:00.

Kathy and I made a quick visit around the show room floor to get our bearings, but honestly, if you know either one of us, we pretty much have zero sense of direction. For most of the day, we went up and down the aisles and collected some great books. We also found time to meet with Brittany from Big Honcho Media and Barbara and Sarah from Blue Slip Media.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting with Miriam Parker from Little, Brown. Not only did we catch up a little about our personal lives, but she gave us some great insight into what books are coming out in the fall. There are quite a few that excite me including WINTER STREET by Elin Hildebrand and NEVERHOME by Laird Hunt.

Another BEA tradition for Kathy and me is to grab a hot dog from one of the vendors outside the Javits Center. This year, there were some new food trucks including a Macaroni and Cheese one and a Mexican one. Kathy had delicious mac and cheese with bacon and bleu cheese while I tried a burrito bowl (it was okay!) I was shocked by how huge the servings were, but of course, I managed to eat all of mine!

In the afternoon, we managed to get a few signed copies of books including LIAR, TEMPTRESS, SOLDIER, SPY by Karen Abbott which I desperately wanted after meeting her the night before at the Harper Collins party. I also got BIG LITTLE LIES, the new one from Liane Moriarty. I always love her books and can't wait to read this one. Kathy and I both agree that we hate to wait in lines, but very once in awhile, we manage to find a short line and score some terrific autographed books!

We didn't have quite the party line-up on Thursday evening as we have had in prior years, but we still managed to find a few things to do. First, we went to the Kensington party on at the Monarch Rooftop Lounge. It was a huge party with an amazing bar and we met up with Sheila from Book Journey and Candace from Beth Fish Reads. I can't rave enough about how gorgeous the venue was! I wish I had taken some photos. (In fact, I noticed when I went to put together my recap posts that I didn't take one photo the entire trip!)

And last but not least, the best part of the day for me was having dinner with Dawn, owner of the Concord Bookshop and former blogger at She is Too Fond of Books, at Becco. Dawn has been a good friend for years, and I hadn't seen her since we both ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February 2013. I loved Becco and you should make an effort to go there next time you're in the city! It has $25 bottles of wine and all you can eat pasta (three different types!) Of course, I ate and drank too much, but I had a wonderful time!

That was pretty much it for Thursday. It was a fun-filled, action-packed day and one that I will remember for a very long time!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

BEA 2014 -- Day 1 (Wednesday, May 28th)

Once again, I'm very late with my Book Expo America 2014 recaps. It's not an actual excuse, but things have been crazy in my life every since I returned from BEA.

So crazy in fact, that my husband couldn't even pick me up at the train station because my son was pitching for the first time at almost the very same time my train was arriving back in Harrisburg. Thank goodness my friend picked me up at the train station and took me directly to the game. I got there just in time!

Baseball games continued last week with playoffs and a rain delay and a makeup game, and then there was the normal chaos associated with the last week of school... but worse. My son's teacher was retiring after 38 years, and because I'm head room mom, guess who was in charge of the gifts and party? Basically that meant that I was "throwing together" a 40+ page scrapbook for her in three days.  I swear I always find a way to make things more complicated that they need to be!

So... it is with much excitement that this week is a little (scratch that -- a lot) calmer and I can focus on books. I always have a great time at BEA and this year was no exception.

My absolute favorite part of BEA is meeting up with Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) and other friends; and of course, hearing the buzz about books. However, I also love taking the train to New York from Harrisburg. It's a quiet time (especially when I figured out to ride the quiet car!) and I always take along a good book. This year it was Mary Kay Andrews' SAVE THE DATE which I reviewed here. The train ride flew by and I was almost able to finish the book. The same thing happened to me last year -- maybe I need to pick a shorter book next time.

My roommate for the next three days and one of my very best friends in the whole wide world, Kathy, met me at the train station and we walked the mile to our hotel. It was not only unseasonably cool for New York, but my sandaled feet were actually frozen despite our brisk pace! It's been a very rough few months for both of us personally, and Kathy and I weren't sure if we were going to be able to attend BEA this year. Fortunately at the very last minute, things worked out for both of us. I am so glad that were able to continue our yearly tradition and spend some quality time together -- we especially needed it this year!

After checking into The Manhattan in Times Square (early!), Kathy and I headed out for John's Pizza. It's become a tradition for us to eat there on our first day in New York. I rarely get good pizza in Central PA, so I love eating there. This year we decided to go out on a limb and share a salad too. (We never eat enough veggies on our trips!) It was good eatin' and even better conversation.

Then we met up with our friend Candace from Beth Fish Reads at the M&M store. Note: it was still freezing! We walked around for a bit and ended up at the Discovery Times Square because it had a DC Cupcakes Cafe. I had eaten at the one in Georgetown a few years ago (my daughter was obsessed with the show at the time), and I was curious to see if this one was any good -- it was although the selection was very limited. Swapna from S. Krishna's Books also met us there, and the four of us caught up with books and other stuff!

It was then time to head over to The News Corp Building for the annual Harper Collins book preview event followed by their cocktail party. At the book preview, representatives from each imprint at HC list their top 4 or 5 "big" books for the fall! These events are always remembered as two of my highlights from BEA because I can actually hear the publicists talk about the books they are most excited about.  I also love catching up with some of my publishing friends. It doesn't hurt that ship a box of books home to me with many of their recommendations!

There were so many great books presented to me that I have a hard time just picking a few to feature, but here are some I can't wait to read!

US by David Nicholls
CANCEL THE WEDDING by Carolyn T. Dingman
THE QUALITIES OF WOOD by Mary Vensel White
YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler
NOT MY FATHER'S SON by Alan Cumming
THE HURRICANE SISTERS by Dorothea Benton Frank

The next exciting event was the Harper Collins Cocktail Party. The food was terrific and I had a great time catching up with Jennifer Hart, Book Club Girl, along with some other HC marketing folks. Of course, there were authors there too including Kate White, Karen Abbott, Stephanie Evanovich, Yvette, Manessis Corporon, Dorothea Benton Frank, Gail Sheehy, and Adriana Trigiani to name a few! (How's that for a little name dropping?)

After the party, a few of us (Kathy, Candace, Sheila from Book Journey, Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness, Florinda from The 3R's Blog, and me) decided that we still wanted to have a sit-down dinner. We received a few recommendations and ended up at a Belgium Bar called BXL Cafe. While the beer list was okay and the fries were pretty darn good, I think it's safe to say that the company was much better than the food! I'll just leave it at that!

Kathy and I hiked back to our hotel and we promised ourselves that we wouldn't stay up all night talking like we have the tendency to do! We were already tired and knew we had a big day planned for Thursday -- our first day on the Javits floor!