Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: A Life Apart

Summary: Morris Sullivan joins the navy in 1940 with a love of ships and high hopes. Though he leaves behind his new wife, Agnes, and their baby daughter, he is thrilled to be pursuing his lifelong dream—but things change when he is shipped off to Pearl Harbor when the war begins. When he narrowly survives the 1941 attack thanks to the courage of a black sailor he doesn't know, Morris is determined to seek out the man's family and express his gratitude and respect. On leave, he tracks down the man's sister in his own hometown of Boston—and finds an immediate and undeniable connection with the nurturing yet fiercely independent Beatrice, who has left the stifling South of her upbringing for the more liberal, integrated north.

Though both try to deny their growing bond, their connection and understanding is everything missing from Morris's hasty marriage to his high school sweetheart and from Beatrice's plodding life as she grieves the brother she has lost. At once a family epic and a historical drama that brings the streets and neighborhoods of Boston vividly to life from World War II through the civil rights era to the present day, A Life Apart takes readers along for the emotional journey as Morris and Beatrice's relationship is tested by time, family loyalties, unending guilt, racial tensions, death, and the profound effects of war. -- Broadway

A LIFE APART by L.Y. Marlow initially appealed to me because it was a historical novel that took place during World War II. However, once I started reading this book, I realized that it was much more than another love story that took place during the war. Rather, it was a story that dealt with loss, race, and family.

A LIFE APART begins with Morris Sullivan, the father of a baby girl and a husband to Agnes, decides to join the navy. Soon he is sent to Pearl Harbor and fortunately survives the 1941 attack thanks to a black soldier. Morris wants to thank the family and let them know that the soldier died a hero so he wrote them a letter. The soldier's sister Beatrice and Morris begin a relationship through letters, and when they eventually meet, there is a very strong connection.

Fifteen years later, Morris and Beatrice are both living in Boston, and they find it's hard to stay away from each other. Morris realizes that, despite caring about his wife and deeply loving his daughter, he married the wrong woman. The two fall in love and begin an affair; however, both have second (and third) thoughts about what they are doing. As the years pass, Morris and Beatrice find themselves brought together in a different type of relationship -- another one that is forged from tragedy.

As I reread my brief description of the book, I realize that this story primarily sounds like a romance or at the very least a love story. And while the basis of the book is definitely the relationship between Morris and Beatrice and his marriage to Agnes, A LIFE APART was actually so much more than this. It explored some very serious issues, and for the most part, I thought it was a well written novel.

One thing I really appreciated about this story was how well the author brought the various time periods to life. The book began prior to World War II and spanned to the present day. I liked the scenes at Pearl Harbor, but I especially appreciated how our country was portrayed in the 1950s and 1960s. It was interesting to see how both the Mississippi and Boston changed through the years.

Another aspect of this story that really impressed me was how well the author handled the issues of race. She began by showing how black and whites served their country side-by-side in the 1940s and then then had a black man save a white man's life. Furthermore, she showed some of the pressures that Beatrice and Morris faced as a couple. As racial tensions grew more and more tense in our country, she did a great job of chronicling how both the north and the south handled these issues.

If I do have one complaint with A LIFE APART, it was with the length of the novel. I just felt it was a bit too long. Part of the reason I might have felt this way was Morris's character. I actually didn't find him to be as well developed as the other characters in this novel. He went back and forth between Beatrice and Agnes and was so darn wishy-washy about making a decision. While I did respect him for trying to stay with his wife and be a good father and husband, I was also furious with him! He was selfish (although weak might be a better term) and Beatrice (and Agnes for that matter) definitely suffered because of it.

A LIFE APART would make a wonderful book club selection. There truly is so much to discuss beginning with the fifteen questions in this reader's guide. Some of the themes you might want to explore include duty, family, parent/child relationships, obligation, war, sacrifice, love, race, guilt, redemption, forgiveness, friendship, faith, and interracial relationships.

A LIFE APART is a compelling family drama that does a good job of exploring race issues. Recommended to fans of women's fiction.

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: The Never Never Sisters

Summary: An absorbing, highly entertaining novel about family secrets, The Never Never Sisters introduces you to the strong-willed and big-hearted Reinhardt women, as they reunite one summer in New York. Gifted storyteller L. Alison Heller has written another witty and moving page-turner that will captivate readers and keep them guessing right up until the satisfying end.

Sometimes you just need to get away….

Marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt is counting down the days to summer, eager to reconnect with her workaholic husband at their cozy rental cottage in the Hamptons. But soon a mysterious crisis at Dave’s work ruins their getaway plans. Paige is still figuring out how to handle the unexplained chill in her marriage when her troubled sister suddenly returns after a two-decade silence. Now, instead of enjoying the lazy summer days along the ocean, Paige is navigating the rocky waters of a forgotten bond with her sister in the sweltering city heat.

As she attempts to dig deeper into Dave’s work troubles and some long-held family secrets, Paige is shocked to discover how little she knows about the people closest to her. This summer, the self-proclaimed relationship expert will grapple with her biggest challenge yet: Is it worth risking your most precious relationships in order to find yourself? -- New American Library

I am always drawn to books about families, especially dysfunctional families. So when I read the description for THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS by L. Alison Heller, I knew it sounded like a book I'd enjoy. THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS is a story about the Reinhardt sisters Paige and Sloane, two women who haven't seen (or been in contact with) each other since for almost twenty years -- not since Sloane left at 16 for rehab.

Paige is a therapist who helps fix troubled marriages; however, her own marriage seems to be suffering. Her workaholic husband Dave has a crisis at work and he can't leave Manhattan for their summer rental college in the Hamptons. It's obvious to Paige that Dave is hiding something from her, but she isn't exactly understanding about his worries.

And then Sloane mysteriously shows up and throws the Reinhardt family into a tailspin. Mom is hoping for a family reunion of sorts, and Paige discovers that the Sloane isn't the horrible person she thought she was. As Paige is trying to figure out what's going on with her husband, she is also navigating the new relationship with her sister. Through some heartache and pain, Paige learns that, despite being a therapist and working with other people's issues, she doesn't have a grasp on those individuals who are closest to her... or maybe even herself for that matter.

THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS definitely lived up to my expectations. I really enjoyed this story about sisterhood and family and relationships, and I was also impressed with Ms. Heller's writing style. This is the first book that I've read by her and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up her first novel THE LOVE WARS. I found this story to be an entertaining read and I quickly got caught up in these characters' lives.

While I was interested in Paige and Dave's marriage problems, and awfully curious about what was going on in his work life, I found myself really liking the parts of this story that dealt with Paige's relationship with Sloane. Because Sloane left when Paige was so young and her departure was under difficult conditions, Paige had built up this image of Sloane that was larger than life. Her family didn't really handle Sloane's exit, and therefore, Paige allowed her absence to grow into a story of mythical proportions.

When Sloane does show up, Paige learns that Sloane isn't really the horrible person that she thought she was. Sloane seems to be fairly happy and content with her boyfriend and actually has a pretty good grasp on their parents. I found the way these two women bonded, after 20 years apart, to be heartwarming. And truly, it was exactly what Paige needed during this difficult time in her life.

Another aspect of this story that impressed me was Ms. Heller's storytelling abilities. I really liked the characters she created -- for the most part, they were likable and real to me; and the story was both touching and intriguing. I thought the she a great job of focusing on the different relationships in the story, and she also provided enough wit and insight into the novel to keep things interesting. I especially appreciated how these two women forged bonds over various things... like their parents' behavior (talk about some witty scenes!); and how Sloane was able to provide reality checks for  Paige. (For being a therapist, she was a mess when it came to her own issues!)

THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS would be a lot of fun to discuss at your next book club meeting. The author provides a reading guide with 17 fantastic questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, sisterhood, marriage, honestly, trust, love, redemption, second chances, denial, perception, and forgiveness.

I really enjoyed THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS and highly recommend it to fans of women's fiction.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: Bittersweet

Summary: On scholarship at a prestigious East Coast college, ordinary Mabel Dagmar is surprised to befriend her roommate, the beautiful, wild, blue-blooded Genevra Winslow. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the Vermont estate where her family has been holding court for more than a century; it’s the kind of place where children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with midnight skinny-dipping, the wet dog smell that lingers near the yachts, and the moneyed laughter that carries across the still lake while fireworks burst overhead. Before she knows it, she has everything she’s ever wanted: friendship, a boyfriend, access to wealth, and, most of all, for the first time in her life, the sense that she belongs.

But as Mabel becomes an insider, a terrible discovery leads to shocking violence and reveals what the Winslows may have done to keep their power intact - and what they might do to anyone who threatens them. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family’s dark secrets and make Ev's world her own. -- Crown

BITTERSWEET by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is one of those books that has been getting rave reviews this summer. So when I had the opportunity to receive a copy from Blogging for Books, I jumped at the chance. This novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age story, and part gothic tale; and for the most part, I liked it but I didn't love it like I had hoped. Unfortunately, I can't even put my finger on why....

BITTERSWEET tells the story of Mabel Dagmar, a girl on scholarship to a prestigious East Coast college. Her roommate is the beautiful Genevra Winslow who comes from a very wealthy New England family. The two aren't friends at all until one evening when Mabel is invited to Ev's 18th birthday party. Ev ends up inviting Mabel to spend the summer with her and her family at Bittersweet in Vermont.

Mabel is thrilled to be invited and given the opportunity to spend the summer with the Winslows. She immediately falls in love with the run-down cottage that she and Ev fix up, and she's charmed by the quirky Winslow family... and especially Ev's brother Galway. Once she's settled, she finds that everything isn't what it seems for this family. With the help of Aunt Indo, Mabel begins to investigate the secrets of this family and is startled to uncover the truth!

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed BITTERSWEET but I wouldn't go so far as to say it was one of my favorite summer reads. I appreciated quite a bit about the book, namely the writing and the cleverness of the story, but I think the characters just didn't resonate with me. I wanted to really like Mabel, and it wasn't that I disliked her, I just didn't care about her as much as I needed to to love this book.

What I did enjoy about BITTERSWEET, though, was the mystery and intrigue that the author created. I really appreciated the author's writing style and I thought she did a great job of creating suspense with the Winslow family's strange members and their secrets. In addition, I thought there were quite a few surprises and twists thrown in that I'm guessing will surprise most (if not all) readers.

Despite not really feeling an affinity with Mabel, I thought she was a very interesting narrator. Because she was such an outsider, both to the Winslow family and the upper-class, her insights were intriguing. I liked how she decided to track down the secrets of the family, and in the process, discovered not only some horrible things about the Winslows but also some personal surprises.

I also appreciated the setting of the story. Ms. Whittemore gave this book an almost gothic quality in describing the old cabins and the small Vermont town. She did a terrific job of bringing the Winslow estate to life and her descriptions of the area were quite vivid. I could picture everything perfectly in my mind as I read the novel.

Because of the complex characters, I do think BITTERSWEET would make a good book club selection. There is, without a doubt, so much to discuss. In fact, there's a reading guide with fifteen questions (beware: there are spoilers!) that will help get you started. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family secrets, class structure, hopes, dreams, curiosity, love, family dynamics, greed, power, mental illness, and much much more!

BITTERSWEET is getting some rave reviews and I'm certain many readers will love this story. Overall, it was a worthwhile read for me but not a book that lived up to my expectations.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: The Good Girl

Summary: Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life.

Colin's job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems…. -- Harlequin Mira

I've already reviewed a few books that I read while on my beach vacation, but one of my favorites had to be THE GOOD GIRL by Mary Kubica. As few months ago (maybe BEA?), this book got on my radar and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. The description of THE GOOD GIRL sounded fantastic, and I was ready for a good suspense novel with some twists and turns. It ends ups that this was one very well written thriller!

THE GOOD GIRL tells the story of Mia Dennett, the daughter of a wealthy Chicago judge and his wife Eve. Mia had a tense relationship with her family; and against their wishes, she became an inner-city teacher.

One night, Mia goes missing after trying to meet her boyfriend at a bar. Her boyfriend doesn't show (again!) so she heads out with a charming stranger named Colin. All Mia intends is to have some fun for the night, but Mia soon realizes that Colin isn't what he seemed. Colin was actually hired to kidnap Mia and deliver her to his powerful and corrupt boss; however, Colin has a change of heart (or mind) and takes Mia to a cabin in rural Minnesota.

Mia's mother Eve is determined to find Mia with the help of detective Gabe Hoffman, and she finds herself facing her own set of complications. The events leading up to the kidnapping, as well as the ones after, put this seemingly perfect family's world at risk of falling apart.

I found THE GOOD GIRL to be an utterly gripping read! I actually read it in just two sittings while basking in the sun at the Outer Banks -- I think I took a break for a quick lunch. I loved the story and the characters and even the pacing of the story. And the surprise ending actually took my breath away. It was quite the read!

I was surprised to learn that THE GOOD GIRL is Ms. Kubica's first novel. The writing was definitely polished and I thought that writing showed maturity, especially with the character development. I was very impressed with how well she brought the characters to life. I think her decision to tell the story through multiple characters' viewpoints contributed to this. With the exception of a few secondary characters who were kind of one dimensional, all of the major characters were complex. While I expected Mia and even Eve to be fairly well developed because they told the majority of the story, I was surprised by how complicated Colin was. Despite being a kidnapper for hire, I had compassion for Colin's situation and I actually ended up liking him.

Another thing that stood out to me about THE GOOD GIRL was how it explored relationships... on a variety of levels. There book explored parent/child relationships, sibling dynamics, marriage, and even relationship between Eve and Gabe as well as Mia and Colin. The last two relationships were quite complicated, and I thought the author did a good job of making them interesting to the reader.

Finally, I really liked the basic premise of the story. Maybe I should have featured this one first? The story was not only told in the voices of multiple characters including Mia, Eve, and Colin, but it went back and forth between "Before" and "After" Mia's disappearance. The transitions were smooth and this format really intrigued me and made the story more interesting and confusing (in a good way!) Since this book had a few comparisons to GONE GIRL, I figured that there would be a surprise or two along the way. However, I really appreciated the big one in this story! I wouldn't exactly compare it to GONE GIRL, but I would say that it's equally warped!

THE GOOD GIRL would make an interesting book club pick and probably unlike most of what your group reads. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include appearances, amnesia, parent/child relationships, vengeance, love, dependence, and selflessness. Beware: The reading guide has a spoiler or two so don't read it until you've finished the novel!

I found THE GOOD GIRL to be a wonderful thriller. Recommended for fans of psychological suspense with surprise endings!

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, July 26, 2014

Kid Konnection: The Zoo is Closed Today!

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a cute picture book that's a perfect tie-in with National Zookeeper Week.

Summary: It was a warm sunny day
with not much to do.
So Sue and John walked
to the Kalamazoo.

But when John and Sue arrive at the zoo, they are in for a big surprise! What is wrong with all of the animals? From Edward the elephant to Marcel the monkey, the animals have tummy aches and toothaches, runny noses and sore throats. Pete the zookeeper can barely keep up with taking care of them and has to close the zoo. And the next day, John and Sue are in for an even bigger surprise! This charming tale, illustrated with humor and warmth, demonstrates the value of sweet friendship. -- Peter Pauper Press

THE ZOO IS CLOSED TODAY! by Evelyn Beilenson and illustrated by Anne Kennedy is a great way to celebrate this last day of National Zookeeper Week. This adorable picture book shows what happens when the zoo is closed because the animals are ill.

This rhyming book begins when Sue and John decide to visit the zoo. They no sooner get there when they see a sign that the zoo is closed. Pete, the zookeeper approaches them and explains that the animals are all sick. For example, the hippo has tummy issues from eating a bad apple and the tiger has just had a tooth pulled. He details how each of the animals isn't well but will get better quickly with lots of rest, and the kids head home "with tears in their eyes!"

The next day, a letter arrives from Pete saying that they animals were better and the zoo was open. BUT... Sue and John discover that they are the ones who aren't feeling too well now!

I thought THE ZOO IS CLOSED TODAY was a cute story about what happens when all of the animals in a zoo get sick. The story is told in rhyming verses so it's quite catchy, and the illustrations are just precious. Check out this page about the elephant who has a cold in his nose.

I'm certain children will adore these colorful pictures chockfull of animals as well as the rhyming story (which is a little silly!) However, as a mom, I liked that this book gives readers an important less of compassion. You can't help but feel bad for these sweet animals (and Sue and John) as they rest and recover from their sicknesses.

THE ZOO IS CLOSED is a fun book that's both entertaining and educational. Recommended for preschoolers who have an interest in animals and zoos!

Thanks to Media Masters Publicity 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, July 25, 2014

Guest Review: The Ascendant

Summary: Hidden deep within the figures tracking the ups and downs of the stock market lies a terrifying truth: America is under attack. Our government . . . our economy . . . our very way of life are in the crosshairs of a ruthless enemy . . . and no one knows. Except Garrett Reilly. He has a knack for numbers. He sees patterns no one else can. His gift has made him a rising star on Wall Street. But when he notices that two hundred billion dollars’ worth of U.S. Treasury bonds are being sold off at a terrifying rate, his gift makes him the most wanted man alive.

The U.S. military wants him for his extraordinary abilities. They need someone to lead a crack squad of rogue soldiers to act as the last line of defense in a war that could mean the end of everything America holds dear. And everyone else? They just want him dead.

In this explosive debut novel, ranging from the offices of Wall Street to the casinos of Vegas to the back roads of the Chinese countryside, Drew Chapman introduces readers to a new kind of action hero: one uniquely skilled to fight a new kind of war. -- Simon and Schuster

THE ASCENDANT by Drew Chapman seemed like the ideal book for my dad. It has action and suspense and even a little bit of finance. I think it was a great match. Here are his thoughts:

THE ASCENDANT by Drew Chapman is a thriller that takes the reader into an unconventional war that is fought with digital technology instead of weapons and troops. The main character is Garrett Reilly, a Yale dropout, who makes millions trading bonds on Wall Street. Reilly has the unique ability to sort through massive volumes of data and find any logical pattern that may exist in the data. When Rielly’s special gift leads him to discover that billions of dollars of U.S. treasury bonds are being sold off by China at very low rates, the U.S. government becomes very interested in his abilities.

This bond activity and other Chinese actions has convinced the U.S. government that China is waging a digital war against the United States. As a response, the U.S. military has established a secret program called Ascendant and they have been searching for a leader who “thinks outside the military box”. Garrett Reilly appears to be the man they have been searching for to lead the effort.

The U.S. Army sends beautiful (of course) Army captain, Alexis Truffant, to recruit him. In spite of a deep hatred for the military since his brother died in combat and no true loyalty to his country, Reilly reluctantly agrees to take charge of the program. Reilly and his group of misfit Techies are charged with executing a retaliatory stealth war against China.

While executing his digital war against China, Reilly’s efforts are constantly slowed by outside influences. He’s been impeded by the Secretary of Defense; he’s been targeted by a mysterious international character; he’s been severely beaten by a group of Marines in a barroom fight and he’s been tortured by Homeland Security agents. Nevertheless he finds the key to why the Chinese are waging this internet war and establishes his counter attack.

Author Drew Chapman does a creditable job of character development. Reilly and his computer geeks are quite engaging and are easy to cheer for as they try to execute this new kind of war. Chapman delivers a story that is face-paced and suspenseful but could probably be done as effectively in less than 388 pages. The conclusion is left somewhat up in the air which leads me to believe a sequel will soon be on its way. The one thought that remained with me is that the drama played out in THE ASCENDANT is very believable and scary.

If you’re a fan of thrillers I believe you would enjoy THE ASCENDANT.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: The Hurricane Sisters

Summary: Hurricane season begins early and rumbles all summer long, well into September. Often people's lives reflect the weather and The Hurricane Sisters is just such a story.

Once again Dorothea Benton Frank takes us deep into the heart of her magical South Carolina Lowcountry on a tumultuous journey filled with longings, disappointments, and, finally, a road toward happiness that is hard earned. There we meet three generations of women buried in secrets. The determined matriarch, Maisie Pringle, at eighty, is a force to be reckoned with because she will have the final word on everything, especially when she's dead wrong. Her daughter, Liz, is caught up in the classic maelstrom of being middle-age and in an emotionally demanding career that will eventually open all their eyes to a terrible truth. And Liz's beautiful twenty-something daughter, Ashley, whose dreamy ambitions of her unlikely future keeps them all at odds.

Luckily for Ashley, her wonderful older brother, Ivy, is her fierce champion but he can only do so much from San Francisco where he resides with his partner. And Mary Beth, her dearest friend, tries to have her back but even she can't talk headstrong Ashley out of a relationship with an ambitious politician who seems slightly too old for her.

Actually, Ashley and Mary Beth have yet to launch themselves into solvency. Their prospects seem bleak. So while they wait for the world to discover them and deliver them from a ramen-based existence, they placate themselves with a hare-brained scheme to make money but one that threatens to land them in huge trouble with the authorities.

So where is Clayton, Liz's husband? He seems more distracted than usual. Ashley desperately needs her father's love and attention but what kind of a parent can he be to Ashley with one foot in Manhattan and the other one planted in indiscretion? And Liz, who's an expert in the field of troubled domestic life, refuses to acknowledge Ashley's precarious situation. Who's in charge of this family? The wake-up call is about to arrive.

The Lowcountry has endured its share of war and bloodshed like the rest of the South, but this storm season we watch Maisie, Liz, Ashley, and Mary Beth deal with challenges that demand they face the truth about themselves. After a terrible confrontation they are forced to rise to forgiveness, but can they establish a new order for the future of them all?

Frank, with her hallmark scintillating wit and crisp insight, captures how a complex family of disparate characters and their close friends can overcome anything through the power of love and reconciliation. This is the often hilarious, sometimes sobering, but always entertaining story of how these unforgettable women became The Hurricane Sisters. -- William Morrow

A few weeks ago, my family went on vacation to the Outer Banks. I packed a lot of books and actually ended up reading most of them (Now to just write the reviews for them!) One book that I definitely knew I had to read on my beach vacation was THE HURRICANE SISTERS by Dorothea Benton Frank. I knew I'd like the book if I read it on my couch in Central PA; however, I just felt like a book about the South Carolina Lowcountry should be appreciated while surrounded by waves and sand! Little did I know that an Cat 2 hurricane would actually hit the Outer Banks while I was there!

At its heart, THE HURRICANE SISTERS is an entertaining (and touching) story about family, specifically three generations of women. There is Maisie the 80 year old matriarch who is truly a piece of work and always has to be right, her middle-aged daughter Liz who definitely has her own issues with work and marriage, and her granddaughter Ashley who is trying to find her her own way both financially and in her new relationship with an up-and-coming politician.

As if the tensions in their personal lives isn't enough, a hurricane is threatening to hit the family home and threaten everything they hold dear. Fortunately, they find the strength to overcome their adversities by turning to each other and realizing the power of family and love.

Of course, I enjoyed THE HURRICANE SISTERS! It was a terrific beach book with a little bit of everything. Plus, it was written by Ms. Frank. She's just a fantastic writer who always seems to write books that both entertain readers and touch their hearts. I've had the opportunity to meet Ms. Frank a few times, and she's a hoot! Her humor and passion most definitely come through in her characters and writing style. And personally, I think that's why she's so successful!

One thing in particular that I appreciated about this book was that Ms. Frank delved into a very serious topic -- abused women. I remember her telling me that when she was researching the topic, she was surprised to learn that South Carolina is the state with the highest percentage of abused women. I liked that this novel explored the subject matter both from a charity/support side as well as a victim side; and I appreciated that the victims weren't necessarily what comes to mind when many readers think of abused women. I hope that this novel brings to light just how serious an issue this is in our country.

I also really liked the messages in this story. Obviously, the lessons about abuse were important; however, I also liked the messages about family. There is no doubt that the characters in this novel (and the family unit) were quirky -- seriously quirky -- and they had their issues with each other; however, when the going got tough, they realized how fortunate they are to have each other. Call me mushy, but I love stories with positive messages like that!

Finally, I really appreciated Ms. Frank's writing style. While parts of this book were anything but light and fluffy, there was a great deal of humor in the novel. I loved the way she balanced the serious issues with the comic relief -- I suspect that's not an easy task to pull off! She also did a great job of creating memorable characters who were genuine and actually reminded me of people I know.

THE HURRICANE SISTERS would make a great book club selection. I'm scratching my head why there isn't a formal discussion guide, but you definitely don't need one to discuss this book. There are many themes to explore including abuse, marriage, infidelity, control, second chances, friendship, love, parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, forgiveness, and more.

Summer wouldn't be the same without a Dorothea Benton Frank book like THE HURRICANE SISTERS. Make sure this one is in your beach or pool bag!

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: We Are Called to Rise

Summary: Three lives are bound together by a split-second mistake, and a child’s fate hangs in the balance.

What happens next will test—and restore—your faith in humanity.

Far from the neon lights of the Vegas strip, three lives are about to collide. A middle aged woman attempting to revive her marriage. A returning soldier waking up in a hospital with no memory of how he got there. A very brave eight-year-old immigrant boy.

This is a story about families—the ones we have and the ones we make. It’s a story about America today, where so many cultures and points of view collide and coexist. We Are Called to Rise challenges us to think about our responsibilities to each other and reminds us that no matter how cruel life can be in a given moment, it is ultimately beautiful to live, and live fully. -- Simon & Schuster

WE ARE CALLED TO RISE by Laura McBride will probably go down as one of my favorite novels of 2014. I absolutely loved this book! I found the story to be gripping, the characters to be well developed, and it moved me like few books do. I totally understand why Entertainment Weekly (one of my favorite sources for books) gave it an A-.

WE ARE CALLED TO RISE takes place in Las Vegas and tells the stories of four individuals whose lives are brought together by a horrible event. First there is Avis, a woman who is shocked to learn that her husband wants a divorce. In addition, she is also aware that something isn't quite right with her son who has returned from his third tour in Iraq. Then there is Roberta, an advocate for children who sees an entirely different side of Las Vegas than the one that tourists see. There is also Baskim, an 8 year old boy whose parents are Albanian refugees. And lastly, there is Luis Rodriguez-Reyes, a soldier who has returned home after a devastating accident in Afghanistan.

The novel alternates between each of these four characters as they tell their own stories, and believe me when I say, that there is a great deal of sadness in each of their lives. One fateful and tragic day, something occurs that causes their stories to intersect; and this event forever changes their lives in powerful ways.

I'm almost certain that I've scared many of you away with this grim description of WE ARE CALLED TO RISE; however, I actually found this book to be a story about the strength and resilience of the human spirit. While I did find myself tearing up more than once, I eventually was left with the message that people are inherently good rather than bad. And I ended this novel with a feeling of peace and hope.

I am pretty certain that my review won't do justice to this book and how special it was to me. I just loved so much about it. I could go on and on about the beauty of Ms. McBride's writing or the way these individual stories came together, or how the book just resonated with me. However, I will focus on a just few things that really stood out to me!

First and foremost was the way Ms. McBride brought these characters to life. I loved how the story was told through these four characters' voices, and I thought she did an amazing job of making each character's voice unique. She covered a lot of ground with a 50-something wife and mother, to an 8 year old boy immigrant, to a woman helping children in need, to an injured veteran; yet she made each voice entirely believable. I loved how the characters she created were representative of today's society with different ages, different social classes, and different ethnicities, and how she focused on the goodness of humanity through their actions.

In addition, I really liked how much this book made me think. I honestly couldn't put it down because I cared so much about these characters. When tragedy hit each one of them (albeit in very different ways), I appreciated seeing how they handled it. I also loved the messages in this book about how resilient people can be and how they can help others even at the expense of their own lives. WE ARE CALLED TO RISE was, without a doubt, sad. But it was also beautiful -- much like life in general.

WE ARE CALLED TO RISE would make an outstanding book club selection! There is so much to discuss about these well-drawn characters, as well as the messages in the story. Fortunately, there is a reading guide available with fourteen questions along with some ideas for enhancing your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include the effects of war on soldiers, marriage, love, motherhood, immigration issues, abuse, mental health, loss, grief, guilt, forgiveness, and hope.

I adored WE ARE CALLED TO RISE and can't recommend it enough! Don't miss out on this beautiful book!

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Evergreen

Summary: From the celebrated author of The Bird Sisters, a gorgeously rendered and emotionally charged novel that spans generations, telling the story of two siblings, raised apart, attempting to share a life.

It is 1938 when Eveline, a young bride, follows her husband into the wilderness of Minnesota. Though their cabin is rundown, they have a river full of fish, a garden out back, and a new baby boy named Hux. But when Emil leaves to take care of his sick father, the unthinkable happens: a stranger arrives, and Eveline becomes pregnant. She gives the child away, and while Hux grows up hunting and fishing in the woods with his parents, his sister, Naamah, is raised an orphan. Years later, haunted by the knowledge of this forsaken girl, Hux decides to find his sister and bring her home to the cabin. But Naamah, even wilder than the wilderness that surrounds them, may make it impossible for Hux to ever tame her, to ever make up for all that she, and they, have lost. Set before a backdrop of vanishing forest, this is a luminous novel of love, regret, and hope. -- Knopf

I was a big fan of THE BIRD SISTERSRebecca Rasmussen's debut novel -- you can read my review here. She blew me away with her quirky characters and beautiful prose, and I was so impressed with how well she brought the setting to life. So it was with much excitement that I picked up her new novel EVERGREEN. EVERGREEN is once again a beautifully written novel with intriguing characters and a memorable setting. It spans three generations and, at its heart, is about family, love and loss.

EVERGREEN begins in the late 1930s when Eveline moves to rural Minnesota to be with her new husband. Although she has to adjust to living off of the land in a small cabin, she and Emil are very much in love. Things get even better when Eveline discovers that she is pregnant and gives birth to a healthy baby boy Hux.

When Emil learns that his father is very ill, he decides to return to Germany to say good-bye to his father one last time. Eveline is supposed to return to her parents' home while Emil's away, but she decides that she wants to stay with new (and eccentric) friend Lulu and fend for herself. And then Eveline's life takes a tragic turn. A man shows up at her cabin, forces his way in, and rapes her; and Eveline finds herself pregnant. She delivers a baby girl and drops her off at a Catholic orphanage; and Naamah is raised by an abusive nun.

On Eveline's deathbed, she tells Hux that he has a sister. Hux is shaken by the news and sets out to find Naamah and bring her back to live with him. He locates her but soon discovers that Naamah is obviously emotionally damaged. Hux desperately wants to help her and show her his love; however, it might be too late for Naamah to recover and find some sense of normalcy in her life.

I really, really enjoyed EVERGREEN and thought it was a beautifully written story. These characters got inside my head and my heart and I couldn't stop thinking about them even after I finished the novel. (As far as I'm concerned, that's a sign of a very good book!) Once again, I was deeply impressed with Ms. Rasmussen's prose as well as how well she brought the setting to life. And I loved the beauty of the story -- both the tragedies and the joy. EVERGREEN both broke my heart (over and over again), while at the same time leaving me with a sense of hope!

I've been in a bit of a mood at times this summer and I wasn't exactly sure EVERGREEN was a good fit for me. This is nothing against the book, but I had difficulties getting involved in the first half of the story. I don't think it was the characters because I really liked Eveline's story.. especially how much she changed when she first met Lulu. However, once Hux grew up and the story was more about him and Naamah, I found myself glued to this book.

I just loved Hux and I think that's a big reason that I enjoyed this book so much. I liked how kind he was and how much he tried to help his sister. I truly believe he thought he could "fix" her. Hux was extremely likable but he was also complicated, and I found his actions and motivations to be  interesting.

I also found Naamah to be a fascinating character -- probably because she was so incredibly flawed. Her upbringing was tragic to say the least and so complicated, and it's no wonder since she was living with so many scars. When Hux finally found her, I had so much hope that she'd fully recover and find happiness. However, life definitely wasn't simple for these individuals. Naamah was torn between her past and her future and it had devastating effects on those who loved her.

I don't want to give too much away about what happens after Hux finds Naamah, but suffice it to say, I liked it a lot. At first, it appeared that there would be happy endings for these characters. And then, it seemed like there wouldn't be, and truly, my heart broke for them. I seriously wanted something good to happen to these people -- they deserved it! However, ultimately, Ms. Rasmussen didn't disappoint me. The ending of this novel was beautiful and I absolutely loved it. I guess some would say that maybe it was a little too neat and tidy, but honestly, I needed that. I felt so close to some of these characters and this novel needed some sense of hope and redemption!

I think EVERGREEN would make a terrific book club selection. The story and writing are beautiful and the characters are so interesting. Fortunately, there is a reading guide with twenty(!) questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, love, loss, guilt, secrets, regret, abuse, fear, second chances, redemption, friendship, and hope. In addition, there are many symbols in this story that would be interesting to discuss like Lulu's coat and Tuna the bird.

EVERGREEN is just a wonderfully written story that's guaranteed to touch your heart. Highly recommended.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Competition

Summary: In Marcia Clark's most electrifying thriller yet, Los Angeles District Attorney Rachel Knight investigates a horrifying high school massacre.

A Columbine-style shooting at a high school in the San Fernando Valley has left a community shaken to its core. Two students are identified as the killers. Both are dead, believed to have committed a mutual suicide.

In the aftermath of the shooting, LA Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight teams up with her best girlfriend, LAPD detective Bailey Keller. As Rachel and Bailey interview students at the high school, they realize that the facts don't add up. Could it be that the students suspected of being the shooters are actually victims? And if so, does that mean that the real killers are still on the loose?

A dramatic leap forward in Marcia Clark's highly acclaimed Rachel Knight series, The Competition is an unforgettable story that will stay with readers long after the last page has been turned. -- Mulholland Books

THE COMPETITION is the third book in the Rachel Knight series by Marcia Clark, and I think it's safe to say it's the most disturbing one yet... or at least it was for me. THE COMPETITION deals with a very serious issue -- a mass shooting, and much of the story seemed to be ripped from recent years'  headlines.

THE COMPETITION begins with a bang (literally) when a high school shooting occurs which leaves  dozens dead and injured. It appears that the two students responsible for the massacre are dead after apparent suicides. However, when prosecutor Rachel Knight and her best friend LAPD detective Bailey Keller start delving into the shooting, they discover that nothing much is making sense.

While Rachel and Bailey begin a full-scale investigation into the shooting, they quickly learn that those responsible for the shooting might still be out there with the intent to take even more lives. Can Rachel get to the bottom of these shootings and find the individual who is determined to prove that he is smarter than not only the police but many of the prior mass murderers who came before him?

It's hard for me to say that I enjoyed THE COMPETITION because it was an uncomfortable read for me; however, I did appreciate it quite a bit. I actually found this story to be riveting -- maybe because so much of it was based on real-life events, and I couldn't put down this novel. I felt as if the book was set at the perfect pace and even the gathering of data and clues was interesting.

One thing I love about the Rachel Knight book is the character of Rachel. She's tough and smart and persistent, and I just love how much she cares about her cases. I think I always say this in my reviews of this series, but Rachel and her friends demonstrate "girl power" in the very best way! However, I also enjoyed the variety of twists and turns in the story. It seemed like every time Rachel was onto something or someone, she'd hit a dead end.

I actually did figure out the culprit about halfway through the novel, but that didn't affect my appreciation of the way he was eventually discovered. Ms. Clark still managed to put in a surprise or two after the "reveal" that definitely threw me (and Rachel) for a loop and the action and pacing of the novel actually picked up even more after the reader learns who is responsible for the crimes.

Another aspect of THE COMPETITION that I really appreciated was how it explored the minds of the mass murderers. I think each and everyone of us has asked what type of person could go into a school and just randomly kill innocent children. I'm not sure that this book gave me any real answers, but it did delve somewhat into the psyche of these people. Ms. Clark used two psychologist characters to work with Rachel, and they helped analyze various characters' actions and motivations.  Though somewhat disturbing to look at these characters and past real-life murders, I did find it very interesting.

Unfortunately, THE COMPETITION deals with an all too timely issue of mass shootings and it's not always easy to read... especially for this mom! However, the book is suspenseful, intriguing, and a fast-paced thriller. Highly recommended for fans of the Rachel Knight series and those of you who enjoy an action-packed story with many twists and turns.

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, July 19, 2014

Kid Konnection: You Are (Not) Small

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a cute picture book about perspective.

Summary: Two fuzzy creatures can't agree on who is small and who is big, until a couple of surprise guests show up, settling it once and for all!

The simple text of Anna Kang and bold illustrations of New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant tell an original and very funny story about size—it all depends on who's standing next to you. -- Two Lions

YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant is a sweet picture book with an important message! This book pits two furry, yet different-sized animals against each other. The big creature tells the little one that he is small. The small creature comes back by telling him that he's not small -- it's just that "you" are big.  The two argue with each other and even bring backup reinforcement to make their point. Finally, a few creatures come along and settle the disagreement for these two!

I thought YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL is a cute book with an important message about perspective. Naturally, kids (and even some adults) think they are normal and base all of their opinions on their own perspective of things. This picture book points out that their opinions aren't always absolute and that it's important to respect other people's (or creature's) opinions.

This book is geared towards a relatively young audience -- maybe 2-5? There are a few words per page so it will keep the attention of little ones who are reluctant to sit through a long picture book. However, the message is an important one for kids who are a little older and have more interactions with playmates and schoolmates.

One thing that made YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL work for me was the adorable illustrations. I loved the creatures in this book and I couldn't help but smile and their persistence. Of course, I loved the expressions on their faces and even the finger pointing!

YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL is a fun book that also has a great message. Highly recommended to preschoolers and very early elementary age kids!

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

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Have a Nice Guilt Trip Giveaway

Summary: Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella are back with another collection of warm and witty stories that will strike a chord with every woman. This four book series is among the best reviewed humor books published today and has been compared to the late greats, Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron. Booklist raved of the third book in the series, Meet Me At Emotional Baggage Claim, “readers can count on an ab-toning laugh session, a silly giggle, a sympathetic sigh, and a lump in the throat as life’s moments are rehashed through the keen eyes and wits of this lovable mother-daughter duo.” This fourth volume, Have a Nice Guilt Trip, maintains the same sterling standard of humor and poignancy as Lisa and Francesca continue on the road of life acquiring men and puppies. Ok, to be honest, Lisa is acquiring the puppies, while Francesca is lucky enough to have dates with actual men. They leave it to the listeners to decide which is more desirable and/or or easier to train. -- St. Martin's Press

Mother-daughter author team Lisa Scottoline (@Lisa Scottoline) and Francesca Serritella (@Francesca Serritella) have a new essay collection called HAVE A NICE GUILT TRIP. I've read a few of their prior books and I really enjoyed them -- I love their mix of humor and insight!

I just happen to have a copy of this book one set of FIVE books -- plus their FOUR previous books--to give away to one lucky winner. (Yes, the winner gets all 5 books!) But more on that below!

You can also enter to win this awesome "Guilt Trip Giveaway" prize pack worth more than $1,000! Visit this page on Lisa's website for full details and the entry form:

Giveaway alert: Win your very own set of 5 books! I have copies of the following books to share with one lucky reader:
To enter, just fill out the form below before July 30th 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!

Lisa Facebook:
Lisa Twitter:
Francesca Facebook:
Francesca Twitter:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Guest Review: Reagan at Reykjavik

Summary: The dramatic, first-hand account of the historic 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Iceland—the definitive weekend that was the key turning point in the Cold War—by President Reagan’s arms control director, Ken Adelman.

In October 1986, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for a forty-eight-hour summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. Planned as a short, inconsequential gathering to outline future talks, the meeting quickly turned to major international issues, including the strategic defense initiative and the possibility of eliminating all nuclear weapons—negotiations that laid the groundwork for the most sweeping arms accord in history the following year.

Scrupulously researched and based on now-declassified information, Reagan at Reykjavik tells the gripping tale of this weekend that changed the world. Filled with illustrative accounts of the private discussions between Reagan and his team, Ken Adelman provides an honest and up-close portrait of President Reagan at one of his finest and most challenging moments.

Reagan at Reykjavik includes 16 pages of black-and-white photos and 11 illustrations. -- Broadside Books

It's probably no surprise that this is a "guest review" for REAGAN AT REYKJAVIK: FORTY-EIGHT HOURS THAT ENDED THE COLD WAR by Ken Adelman. I'm not exactly into reading history... especially during the summer. However, my dad was more than willing to read another history/Reagan book. I admit that after reading his review, I'm convinced that this book offers a glimpse into a very important event is U.S. history. Here are Booking Pap Pap's thoughts:

In 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev, Premier of the Soviet Union suggested that he and Ronald Reagan meet as a prelude to the major summit scheduled for Washington D. C. in the following year. Reagan agreed and the meeting was set to take place in Reykjavik, Iceland on October 11-12, 1986. Ken Adelman, who was there as Director of U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, delivers a first-hand account of the meeting in his book REAGAN at REYKJAVIK.

Reagan accepted the premise of the meeting as low key and brought along minimum staff and actually left wife Nancy at home because he wouldn’t have time for anything but meetings during the brief two-day conference. Gorbachev, on the other hand, brought along more than 300 staff people and his wife Raisa who made quite a scene while touring Iceland.

Even though the meeting was presented as inconsequential both leaders needed to score big at the conference. Gorbachev understood the need for reform in the Soviet Union and he knew he could no longer spend 30% of GNP on the military and still push reform. Reagan needed a success for his sputtering presidency and always dreamed of creating a nuclear-free world.

In short order what was billed as a short unimportant meeting turned toward the major issues of the day from the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. SDI was Reagan’s “pie-in-the-sky” idea to build a Star Wars type defense system. Although the leaders came very close to agreeing on the elimination of all nuclear weapons, at the end of the meetings no agreement was reached. SDI was the stumbling block. Gorbachev feared SDI and wanted research limited to the laboratories while Reagan would not agree to limit the research in any way and actually offered the system to Gorbachev. It was ironic that a system that only existed in Reagan’s head stopped a major nuclear agreement. The press declared the meeting a total failure and considered it the end of the Reagan presidency.

Adelman delivers a great amount of detail from his own notes as well as declassified notes from Reagan and provides great insight into the character and leadership of two leaders at the peak of their world relevance. Adelman captures particularly well the drama, tension and disappointment that existed during those two days. Adelman claims that the difficult face-to-face discussions between Gorbachev and Reagan at Reykjavik actually changed the relationship between the two world powers and directly led to the successful nuclear pact they signed the following year. Adelman also contends that Reagan’s stand on SDI at Reykjavik led to the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union. This is only one of the many opinions that exists on the reasons for the fall of the Soviet Union.

I would recommend REAGAN at REYKJAVIK to anyone interested in U.S. history or particularly interested in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Thanks to my dad for writing this review and to the publisher for providing a review copy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: The Apple Orchard

Summary: #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs brings readers into the lush abundance of Sonoma County, in a story of sisters, friendship and the invisible bonds of history that are woven like a spell around us.

Tess Delaney makes a living returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners. She loves illuminating history, filling the spaces in people's hearts with stories of their family legacies.

But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, and a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter.

Then Dominic Rossi arrives on the doorstep of the San Francisco shop Tess hopes to buy, and he tells her that the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. Tess has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard in the magical Sonoma town called Archangel.

The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen. A half sister she hadn't heard of.

Isabel is everything Tess isn't: all softness to Tess's hard angles, warm and nurturing where Tess is tightly wound. But against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, with Isabel and Dominic by her side, Tess begins to discover a world filled with the simple pleasures of food and family, of the warm earth beneath her bare feet. A world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep. -- Harlequin

Last month at book club, my friend was talking about the book she was reading and how much she was enjoying it. She couldn't remember the title, but after she started describing it, I thought it sounded awfully familiar. It was THE APPLE ORCHARD by Susan Wiggs and I had just received a copy that very day in the mail.

At its heart, THE APPLE ORCHARD is a story about family bonds. Tess Delaney is an successful woman who works for an antique brokerage firm. She's tough, determined and just a little high-strung! Her work is the main focus in her life, and she's not exactly had a lot of luck in the man department. Tess has continually matched owners with their lost valuables and, as a result, she's expecting a big promotion at her firm. However right before her meeting, a handsome man named Dominic has some shocking news. Her paternal grandfather whom she's never met (she didn't even know her father) had an accident and is in a coma.

As surprising as this news is for Tess, it's even more shocking when she learns that she is supposed to inherit half of his apple orchard in Sonoma and that the other half goes to her half-sister Isabel. (It shouldn't surprise you that Tess had no idea she had a sister either!) For a woman who grew up with only her grandmother and occasionally her mother, she always was attracted to the idea of a family.

So Tess heads to Bella Vista to meet her sister and her grandfather, and truth be told, she wasn't too upset to see Dominic again. Once she arrives at the orchard, she learns to appreciate the simpler pleasures of food and family (and Dominic) while also getting caught up in finding the truth about her family and its past.

In addition, Tess learns that her grandfather is in debt and she and her sister don't have the funds to save the orchard. Thankfully, her experience as an antiques dealer comes in handy as she searches for a lost treasure that might provide the assistance they need, and at the same time, give her an glimpse into her grandfather and her father's pasts.

THE APPLE ORCHARD not only received a positive "review" from my friend, but it also received a starred one from Kirkus. I, too, was very impressed with this novel. It truly had a little bit of everything -- mystery, intrigue, history, romance, family drama, and even recipes! I found the characters to be well-drawn and the descriptions of the setting were terrific. In addition, I liked how much Tess evolved throughout the course of the story and the uplifting messages about family, hope, and love.

I won't go so far as to say that the basic story and ending weren't a tad predictable, especially the romance part between Tess and Dominic; however, I almost expect that in a book like this one. What did impress me though, was how well the author presented the information about Tess's grandfather and father. I found these parts to be both intriguing and a little surprising, and I loved learning about Nazi-occupied Denmark during WWII.

I admit when I picked up THE APPLE ORCHARD, I was expecting a book heavy in the romance department. I wasn't entirely wrong, there was a fair share chemistry between Tess and Dominic, but it definitely wasn't heavy-handed or the focus of the story. In fact, for someone who claims not to enjoy romance stories, I found their relationship to be very sweet and I was definitely rooting for them! I thought Ms. Wiggs did a great job of creating that initial attraction, showing the beginning aspects of a relationship -- both the exciting ones and the challenging ones, and then showing how they actually fell in love with each other.

THE APPLE ORCHARD would make a fantastic book club selection. There is a great deal to discuss and a reading guide with ten interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, secrets, nature vs. nurture, love, marriage, mother/child relationships, loss, and redemption. And because the book includes so many delicious-sounding recipes like Danish Apple Pie and Lavender Scones, it might be fun to serve them at your meeting. Maybe various members could each try a recipe?

I thought THE APPLE ORCHARD was a great read with a little something for everyone. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest Blogger: Kate White & Giveaway

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author Kate White comes a riveting psychological suspense in which a media star must battle a malevolent enemy who may be disturbingly close to her.

After losing her on-air job two years ago, television host Robin Trainer has fought her way back and now she’s hotter than ever. With her new show climbing in the ratings and her first book a bestseller, she’s being dubbed a media double threat. But suddenly, things begin to go wrong. Small incidents at first: a nasty note left in her purse; her photo shredded. But the obnoxious quickly becomes threatening when the foundation the makeup artist uses burns Robin’s face. It wasn’t an accident—someone had deliberately doctored with the product.

An adversary with a dark agenda wants to hurt Robin, and the clues point to someone she works with every day. While she frantically tries to put the pieces together and unmask this hidden foe, it becomes terrifyingly clear that the person responsible isn’t going to stop until Robin loses everything that matters to her . . . including her life. -- Harper

Just yesterday, I reviewed EYES ON YOU by Kate White. I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and it's a summer must-read. Seriously... this book needs to be in your beach or pool bag! I consider myself a big fan of Ms. White's, so I'm very honored that she took time from her busy schedule to share with my readers (and me!) some of her favorites summer reads!

My Secret Summer Reading Habit 

I love reading no matter what time of year it is, but there’s something absolutely delicious about summer reading. The days are longer and so you’re lulled into thinking you have more time on your hands. Plus it’s the lazy season, right? You don’t have to feel guilty about devouring something a little trashy, a book that’s not guaranteed to make you a better person.

I always read more than one book at a time but in summer I often have as many as five going at once because there’s a ton of new releases. Though I read a lot of books on my iPad, I keep a few hardcovers around, and I travel with them on vacation. I don’t want to wait until a plane reaches cruising altitude to start reading!!! 

This summer I've already polished off a few terrific reads. I loved The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Her writing is always rich and provocative. I enjoyed my first Megan Abbot novel, The Fever and I couldn’t put down I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum, a smart, engaging book about a guy who is dumped by his mistress and realizes he wants to fall in love with his wife again and get her to love him back. Good luck with that, buddy! 

The read of the summer for me is I Am Pilgrim, an utterly gripping thriller by Terry Hayes that is over 600 pages so you get to relish it for days. Just hold on tight, okay? 

Here’s one quirky aspect of my summer reading. I often use this time of year to re-read books I loved in the past. I guess I do it because I feel I have a bit more down time, even though that’s not necessarily true. I just finished The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey, one of the great mystery writers of all time. If you haven’t read her, treat yourself. It had been decades since I read it the first time and I realized I didn’t remember the ending, so that made it extra fun for me. The book has very little action compared to contemporary mysteries and yet it’s seductively written and you just can’t stop turning the pages. I’m trying to learn from this for my own writing. 

Speaking of seductive, I just started re-reading Rules of the Game (a Novel of Africa) by Francesca Marciano about a young ex-patriot in Kenya. It’s erotic and lush and it stays with you long afterwards. And it evokes Kenya for me, a country I’ve visited twice but would be reluctant to travel to right now because of the violence happening there. That’s partly why I chose to read it again. 

And at some point this summer I will re-read The Dead by James Joyce, something I do almost every single summer. Even though it takes place at Christmas time and the pivotal memory in the book is a winter one, I love to savor this masterpiece in warm weather. Perhaps because at this time of year, memory seems to play such a significant role. I always find myself stirred by memories of summers past. 

If you haven’t found a book that’s grabbing you right now, why not indulge in a book that moved you long ago. And don’t feel guilty about reading it more than once! 

Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of nine works of fiction—six Bailey Weggins mysteries and three suspense novels, including, Eyes on You (June 2014). For fourteen years she was the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and though she loved the job (and the Cosmo beauty closet!), she decided to leave in late 2013 to concentrate full time on being an author.

Her books have received starred reviews from a variety of publications and she has been covered everyplace from The Today Show to The New York Times. Her first Bailey Weggins mystery, If Looks Could Kill, was named as the premier Reading with Rippa selection and soon shot to number one on Amazon. (And it’s now being made into an opera!). She is published in 18 countries around the world.

Kate is currently editing the Mystery Writers of America cookbook, a selection of recipes from many of the top-selling authors.

Like many mystery writers, Kate fell in love with the genre after reading her first Nancy Drew book, The Secret of Redgate Farm, and she still admires those cliffhanger endings that “Carolyn Keene” created.

She is married and the mother of two children, and once had her daughter stalk her through the woods so she could better describe the sounds of someone being followed.

Kate is also the author of several very popular career books, including I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve, and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do.

Twitter: @katemwhite

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of EYES ON YOU to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 28th 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, July 14, 2014

Review: Eyes on You

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author Kate White comes a riveting psychological suspense in which a media star must battle a malevolent enemy who may be disturbingly close to her.

After losing her on-air job two years ago, television host Robin Trainer has fought her way back and now she’s hotter than ever. With her new show climbing in the ratings and her first book a bestseller, she’s being dubbed a media double threat. But suddenly, things begin to go wrong. Small incidents at first: a nasty note left in her purse; her photo shredded. But the obnoxious quickly becomes threatening when the foundation the makeup artist uses burns Robin’s face. It wasn’t an accident—someone had deliberately doctored with the product.

An adversary with a dark agenda wants to hurt Robin, and the clues point to someone she works with every day. While she frantically tries to put the pieces together and unmask this hidden foe, it becomes terrifyingly clear that the person responsible isn’t going to stop until Robin loses everything that matters to her . . . including her life. -- Harper

I read a lot of very entertaining books when I was at the Outer Banks so expect to see some reviews for some great reads over the next couple of weeks! One of the books I couldn't wait to read was EYES ON YOU by Kate White. I've been a big fan of Ms. White's Bailey Weggins series as well as her stand-along thrillers for years, and I consider myself an even bigger fan after getting to meet Ms. White at the Harper Collins' party at BEA. She was so gracious (and beautiful!), and it was definitely one of my BEA highlights!

EYES ON YOU is her latest thriller and it tells the story of television host Robin Trainer. Robin has worked hard at her career and it's finally coming to fruition with the success of her talk show and the release of her book. Everything is seemingly perfect in Robin's life... until it's not.

Robin has some "strange" things happen to her. First, she finds a mean note in her purse but Robin doesn't think too much of it. Then, she finds her books on the floor with the covers torn and her stage makeup tampered with. Now she's starting to think that someone might really be out to get her. These incidents keep ramping up until Robin feels as if her life is at risk.

At first, Robin isn't sure who would want to harm her; however, the clues seem to point to one of her co-workers. Robin attempts to discover who is responsible for these incidents while at the same time trying to hold on to her success that she's worked so hard for. Can Robin get to the bottom of this before time runs out for her?

EYES ON YOU was the perfect beach read. In fact, I read it in one day because the action was so fast-paced. It's a relatively light thriller in the sense that you are disturbed but not uncomfortably so, and it also keeps the reader guessing with its many twists and turns. I can't say that I was entirely surprised with who was responsible for making Robin's life a nightmare, but I thought the way it was revealed (and by that I mean the rising tension of the scene!) was fantastic.

There were quite a few things that I enjoyed about EYES ON YOU. One thing I especially appreciated was how well Ms. White brought Robin's fear and terror to the reader. This novel wasn't a traditional whodunnit. Rather it was more of a psychological thriller with most of the complexity taking place inside Robin's mind. In addition to being terrified for her life, Robin was having a hard time coping with these scary events because it brought to life things from Robin's childhood that she worked hard to repress. I liked how there was an additional layer of complexity to Robin's character.

Another thing that was really fun about EYES ON YOU was the glimpse it allowed me to have into the lives of the New York media. There were tons of references to not only their rich lifestyles including popular restaurants, shops, and fashion but also to the world of high stakes media... and ratings! It was a new "world" for me to see behind the scenes at a network, and one that I found extremely interesting (albeit a little cut-throat!)

Overall, EYES ON YOU was a fun-filled, action-packed read and perfect for trip to the pool or beach! Definitely recommended for fans of mysteries and thrillers.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for a fantastic guest post from Ms. White along with a chance to win your own copy of EYES ON YOU.

Thanks to the publisher and Saicheck Publicity for 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, July 12, 2014

Kid Konnection: Big Book of Who All-Stars

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a book that is a huge hit in our house with Booking Son!

Summary: From the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids comes The Big Book of Who, a 128-page collection of the brightest stars in sports, past and present. Profiles, facts and stats will bring the best players in pro sports history to life with all of the touches that Sports Illustrated Kids is famous for - terrific, age-appropriate writing and exciting sports photography. Ballfield greats such as, Lebron James, Babe Ruth, Landon Donovan, Michael Jordan, and Sidney Crosby will be profiled. Written in a fun question and answer format, kids will be able to stump their friends.

The Big Book of Who is a book your young sports fans will return to again and again! -- Sports Illustrated Kids

I don't even think I can express the excitement in our house when SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS BIG BOOK OF WHO ALL-STARS: THE 101 ATHLETES EVERY FAN NEEDS TO KNOW arrived on our doorstep. Booking Son isn't exactly a reluctant reader, but he prefers to only read books about sports. And truth be told, he prefers facts to fiction. He is determined to become a sports announcer and he even has the colleges picked out for his undergrad and graduate program. (He researched it on Google!) Needless to say, BIG BOOK OF WHO ALL-STARS is his kind of book!

I have to agree with him. The BIG BOOK OF WHO ALL-STARS is a terrific resource for sports fans of all ages. This book features the best and the brightest of sports. There are current and former players included along with their profiles and career stats. And of course, there are awesome lots of color photographs.

The book is divided into chapters by sports -- Baseball, Basketball, Football, Golf, Hockey, Olympics, Racing, Soccer, Tennis and Xtreme. Within each chapter, there are questions posed like, "Who has the record for the most career saves?" or "Who is the only player to win two Heisman Trophies?" The book not only answers these questions, but it also gives some additional details about the athlete. In addition, there are small octagons throughout the book which are filled with random facts and statistics. For a fact-lover like Booking Son, this book is heaven!

THE BIG BOOK OF WHO ALL-STARS is one of those books that really is perfect for young sports lovers. I love that it features many of the players that Booking Son has followed for the past few years, but that it also showcases some athletes from the past. He obviously has learned about some sports figures that are new-to-him because I'm hearing references to athletes from my childhood and prior.

Booking Son loves THE BIG BOOK OF WHO ALL-STARS and I have to agree. It's a wonderful (and fun!) resource for sports enthusiasts. Highly recommended!

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