Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kid Konnection: Craft Mania

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you two fun craft books that are perfect for elementary age kids!

Summary: Part craft book, part activity book, Rubber Band Mania offers hours of creative fun for boys and girls of all ages!

Now you can make more than just a simple bracelet! This book is packed with ways to use rubber bands to make bracelets, belts, desk organizers, toys, musical instruments, art projects, and much more. Peppered through the pages are fun and interesting facts and trivia about rubber bands. -- Reader's Digest

Summary: Part craft book, part activity book, Duct Tape Mania! offers hours of creative fun for boys and girls of all ages!

This book is packed with ways to create all kinds of accessories, jewelry, bags, decorations, fix-its, and more with little more than a roll of tape. Peppered through the pages are fun and interesting facts and trivia about the amazing duct tape. -- Reader's Digest

I know it's the start of the school year for many kids and they have a lot less free time than during the summer, but I wanted to feature two very cool craft books -- RUBBER BAND MANIA and DUCT TAPE MANIA by Amanda Formaro. I'm a firm believer in kids having fun while demonstrating their creative side, and these two books have loads of activities for boys and girls.

RUBBER BAND MANIA features almost 50 craft ideas made with rubber bands. Now if you're like me, you probably think this book is all about those rubber band bracelets which were all the rage last year. And truth be told, this book does have some of those bracelet patterns included. However, it is so much more than just jewelry. 

The book is divided into the following sections: Stuff to Wear, Stuff for Home, Stuff that Goes, Stuff to Create, Stuff to Play, and Stuff to Try. Naturally the Stuff to Wear section include many bracelet patterns, but it also has patterns for a necklace, ring, earrings, and even a chain belt. (see photo below)
I was definitely impressed with how unique the patterns were. There are many home decorating ideas including a pencil can and a trading card organizer. There are also lots of fun toys to make including (my favorite) a Cup Rocket Launcher. (see photo below), a Bobby Pin Launcher, and a Rubber Band Powered Boat. There are even some cute crafts you can make including Dyed Eggs, Glitter Art, and Easy Tie-Die Designs.
DUCT TAPE MANIA is just as terrific as RUBBER BAND MANIA. My daughter has crafted some very cute things with duct tape, and I love how you can jazz up almost anything with a little duct tape. Duct tape sure has come a long way than just a silver or black multi-purpose adhesive!

DUCT TAPE MANIA has about 40 patterns and is divided into the following chapters: Stuff to Wear, Stuff to Carry, Stuff for Your Room, Stuff for School, Stuff for Fun, and Extra Stuff. There are so many cute ideas in this book that I had a hard time picking out my favorite projects.

Since it's back-to-school time, I decided to take a peek at the Stuff for School section. These patterns include Desk Organizers, Book Jackets, Personalized Pencils (and Pens!), Pencil Toppers, Clipboard, and even Bookmarks. I like that kids can decorate the things they need for school and make them unique!

There is all a fun section on things kids can make for their bedroom. The banner (which I also think could decorate a locker) and the lamp shade are two fun ones. (see photo below)

All of the instructions in both books have full page color photographs and simple step-by step instructions that will definitely appeal to children. In addition, there are fun facts thrown in as well as little hints to make things easier!

I just love RUBBER BAND MANIA and DUCT TAPE MANIA, and I think most kids will agree. There are so many wonderful craft ideas that are sure to keep your kids entertaining. Highly recommended!

Thanks to FSB Associates for providing review copies of these books.

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The House We Grew Up In

Summary: Meet the Bird family. They live in a simple brick house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching just beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together each night. Everybody in town gushes over the two girls, who share their mother’s apple cheeks and wide smiles. Of the boys, lively, adventurous Rory can stir up trouble, moving through life more easily than little Rhys, his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet gangly man, but it’s their mother, Lorelei, a beautiful free spirit with long flowing hair and eyes full of wonder, who spins at the center.

Time flies in those early years when the kids are still young. Lorelei knows that more than anyone, doing her part to freeze time by protecting the precious mementos she collects, filling the house with them day by day. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She insists on hanging every single piece of art ever produced by any of the children, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy occurs. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, found new relationships, and, in Meg's case, created families of their own. Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband, her children, and has been living as a recluse for six years. It seems as though they’d never been The Bird Family at all, as if loyalty were never on the table. But then something happens that calls them home, back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Delving deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the gripping story of a family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home. -- Atria

When I was pitched THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell, I immediately accepted it! I remember reading Ms. Jewell's book years ago and loving them, and I was happy to see that she was still writing. And then I read the review for her latest novel in Entertainment Weekly (one of my go-to sources for book recommendations)... Can I tell you how excited I was for this book?

THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN features a rather dysfunctional family -- and I do love books about messed up families! The Bird family lives in a nice home in the Cotswolds surrounded by lush gardens, and everything appears to be perfect. Lorelei, the mother, is a bit of a free spirit and their father is a nice man. Meg is the eldest and the most pragmatic, while Beth is a bit of a dreamer. The youngest two are Rory and Rhys, twin boys with very different personalities.

Lorelei truly treasures her children and all of their artwork... and basically everything else they collect through the years. Her lovely home becomes a bit of a cluttered mess as Lorelei is unable to throw anything away.

One Easter weekend, a catastrophe strikes the family that has far-reaching effects. The Bird family is never the same again, as each individual goes their own way and struggles to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy. Meg goes off to start her own family, while Beth seems like a lost soul who is afraid to leave her mother. And then there's Rory who travels to far off destinations and finds himself in loads of trouble. However, it's Lorelei who is perhaps the most affected by the tragedy but shows it the least to her family. She becomes a recluse and a hoarder, afraid to even leave her house overnight.

Another tragedy occurs which brings the remaining family members back together to their family home. Secrets are revealed as the Bird family struggles to forgive each other and move on from that terrible Easter weekend so many years ago.

I absolutely loved THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN! Truly, I adored each and every page of the wonderful story about the Bird family. I was totally absorbed in the drama that surrounded their lives, and I couldn't wait to see how the story would end. Naturally, I was hoping for something positive to happen to these folks after having to deal with so much heartache.

I especially loved the premise of this novel -- a major tragedy occurs which causes many ripples in this seemingly normal family. It was fascinating to see how each character reacted not only right away, but many years later once they were adults. I especially appreciated that, like some of the characters in the novel, I wasn't really sure what happened that Easter weekend. I knew it was going to be something awful, but I had no idea how horrible it was. Because the family never really discussed what occurred that weekend, they weren't able to deal with it and ultimately move on. It was all so sad!

Once the family came back together after the second tragedy, I found their lives even more fascinating. I really think Ms. Jewell did a great job of getting inside their skin and defining their relationships with each other. I really appreciated seeing them come back together and begin their healing process.

One very special thing about this novel was how the house itself became a secondary character in the story. I loved the early descriptions and could picture this beautiful house. However, I also could equally picture the disgusting mess it became as Lorelei's hoarding issue took over her life. That the family was able to find some peace and comfort in that very same home was such a great way to come full circle in the novel.

THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN was so smart and insightful and would, of course, make a great book club selection. The story and characters are wonderful, but it also touches upon so many important issues that are relevant to all types of families. There is a reading guide available with seventeen questions. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include mental illness, depression, hoarding, secrets, adultery, escapism, parent/child relationships, family dynamics, addictions, forgiveness, and redemption.

I loved THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN! Highly recommended for fans of family dramas.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Guest Blogger: Darcie Chan

Summary Josie DiSanti is starting over. Recently widowed, she has fled her New York City home with her two young daughters—spirited Rose and shy Emily—in tow. She takes refuge in Mill River, Vermont, to live with her only remaining relative, Ivy Collard, the local bookstore owner and a woman Josie barely knows. There, the young mother and her girls build a new life for themselves—until a shocking tragedy tears the sisters apart. 

Years later, Josie’s still-estranged daughters return to the quiet town for the reading of their mother’s will, which stipulates that they must work together to locate a hidden key to a safe-deposit box containing their inheritance. Even from the great beyond, it seems Josie will do anything to bring about her daughters’ reconciliation. Having no choice but to go along with their mother’s final wishes, Rose and Emily move back to Mill River for the summer to begin the search—discovering that, in the close-knit community known for magic and miracles, an even greater treasure awaits them. -- Ballantine Books
Yesterday, I reviewed THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan. Once again, Ms. Chan has written a book that's not only touching but also compelling. I'm really becoming attached to these Mill River folks!

I am very honored that Ms. Chan has taken time out of her busy publicity schedule to write a guest post for my blog, and I'm even more excited about the topic -- her publication journey. She's got a great (and very unique) story!
My Publication Journey
I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl.  In middle school, after winning a school writing contest, I rushed home with my little trophy and announced to my parents that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.  My mom, an English teacher, said, "Great! Go for it!" My dad, who also worked in education, as an administrator, gave me more realistic advice. It would be hard to earn a living as a writer, he told me, and most writers never find success. He advised me to choose another career, since I could always write on the side. I first followed Dad's advice. After finishing college and law school, I settled into a legal job I loved. Then, I finally decided it was time to heed my mom's suggestion and "go for it." I was ready to attempt a first novel.
Like so many other aspiring writers working on their first books, I poured my heart into mine.  When I felt the manuscript was ready, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful literary agent who was willing to shop it around – to take a chance on it, and me, despite my story being a “quiet” one and me being completely unknown as a writer. My agent valiantly worked for almost two years trying to sell my book. Unfortunately, though, as is the case with many first novels, mine didn’t find a home with a publisher at that point.  I saved the file to my hard drive, and life went on.
Several years later, I began reading articles about the popularity of e-books and how it was suddenly possible for writers to make work directly available to readers.  My first novel was still languishing on my computer, and I felt I had nothing to lose by releasing it electronically.  In fact, when I uploaded The Mill River Recluse to various e-book retail sites in May and June 2011, it was done as an experiment with two goals in mind.  First, I wanted to see what sort of feedback I might get on my story, since I could use that feedback to improve my writing.  And second, I hoped that, over time – what I expected to be months and probably years – I might gradually be able to introduce myself to readers.   If readers liked my novel, maybe I wouldn’t be completely unknown by the time I’d finished a second book.  
At that time, I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me.
During the first month my novel was available, I sold around 100 copies.  I was so excited – to think, 100 people had my book!  And surely, some of them would leave reviews containing the critical feedback I wanted. My husband, son, and I did a happy dance in our kitchen!  But from then on, the sales figures exploded, and we were shocked as we realized what was happening.  
Within three months of hitting the “upload” button, The Mill River Recluse had sold nearly 100,000 copies and landed on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, where it remained for the next seven months.  I started receiving emails from readers praising my novel and asking when it would be made available in print or when I might have a second book available.  In December 2011, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature on my novel and my self-publishing experience, Yahoo! News picked up the feature and ran it worldwide on its homepage. Pandemonium ensued.
My phone began ringing off the hook. Other writers were calling, wanting advice or simply to get together for coffee. Other reporters were calling, wanting interviews. (I changed my number to an unlisted one immediately!) My website email inbox was accumulating emails faster than I could scroll down the page. My attorney colleagues were incredulous, as most of them had no idea I’d written a novel years before and had recently, casually decided to self-publish it. Several of my clients emailed, sending me links to the online article and saying things like, “Oh my God, is this you?” My agent was fielding phone calls from publishing companies and film studios. My family and my closest friends, scattered in a half-dozen states across the country, were calling and emailing ecstatic messages of support. 
I was a quivering mess. All I could do was sit and hug my son. I knew that things had changed permanently for me at that point. 
By the spring of 2012, just a few weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of my novel’s upload date, more than 600,000 copies of my first novel had sold. I’d left the legal job I’d held for more than a decade – the job at which I’d expected to work until retirement – to write full-time.  The Mill River Recluse had been picked up for publication in several foreign markets, and I’d signed a contract for two new Mill River novels with Ballantine Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Ballantine eventually picked up the rights to The Mill River Recluse for publication in the U.S. and Canada as well.
Although my journey to publication took one of those new paths and was far more unusual than any scenario I’d ever imagined, I’m thrilled to be where I am today.  The release day for my second novel, The Mill River Redemption, is finally here, and I've also finished a first draft of the third Mill River novel. I’m a writer.  It still feels exciting and a little strange to say that, and it will be a challenge now to maintain this new writing career, but I’m up for it. I'm also incredibly grateful to have had my childhood dream come true.
Darcie Chan is the New York Times bestselling author of the eBook sensation The Mill River Recluse and the novel The Mill River Redemption. She has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. For fourteen years, Chan worked as an attorney drafting environmental and natural resource legislation for the U.S. Senate. She now writes fiction full-time and lives north of New York City with her husband and son.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: The Mill River Redemption

Summary: Josie DiSanti is starting over. Recently widowed, she has fled her New York City home with her two young daughters—spirited Rose and shy Emily—in tow. She takes refuge in Mill River, Vermont, to live with her only remaining relative, Ivy Collard, the local bookstore owner and a woman Josie barely knows. There, the young mother and her girls build a new life for themselves—until a shocking tragedy tears the sisters apart.

Years later, Josie’s still-estranged daughters return to the quiet town for the reading of their mother’s will, which stipulates that they must work together to locate a hidden key to a safe-deposit box containing their inheritance. Even from the great beyond, it seems Josie will do anything to bring about her daughters’ reconciliation. Having no choice but to go along with their mother’s final wishes, Rose and Emily move back to Mill River for the summer to begin the search—discovering that, in the close-knit community known for magic and miracles, an even greater treasure awaits them. -- Ballantine

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan is the second book in the Mill River series, and it doesn't disappoint. Once again, Ms. Chan has created an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives are touched by their family and friends in Mill River. Fans of the first novel won't want to miss what happens next in this charming and delightful town!

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION has a few stories going on, but the primary one focuses on Rose and Emily, two young sisters who arrived with their mother in Mill River after their father was killed in a house fire. The story fast forwards to the present day when both women come back to Mill River for their mother Josie's memorial service. Rose and Emily are estranged, to say the least; and Josie has made it part of her will that they must work together, while living next door to each other, to find a hidden key. This key will open a safe-deposit box and the women will discover their inheritance.

Of course, Rose and Emily both have their reasons that they have to work together, though neither one is thrilled. In fact, tensions escalate as they individually search for their own clues. Secrets from both women's lives come to the surface as the reader begins to understand why they dislike each other so much; and unfortunately, it takes a serious accident, along with a huge surprise, before the Rose and Emily even think of reuniting.

I really enjoyed THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION and all of the drama between Rose and Emily. Like the first novel in the series, I again fell in love with this close-knit community and its citizens. I was thrilled to see some of my favorite characters, like Father O'Brien and Daisy, return in this book; and their presence made me feel like I was visiting with old friends.

I did like how Ms. Chan created Rose and Emily's back stories and how she gradually revealed them. The book goes back and forth between the present and the past, as well as between the various characters; and it really felt like a mystery of sorts was being unraveled as the event around their break-up was disclosed. While that "event" was tragic to say the least, the real surprise of the novel occurs near the end... and it's one big shocker!

One thing that I really enjoyed about THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION is how it made me feel. I'm pretty sure that I wrote almost the same thing in the first book review of this series too! I love this community and its quirky citizens, and I also like how they come together to help their friends and family in need. It just warms my heart. I am such a sucker for books about redemption, and I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that a major theme of this novel is redemption (it's in the title!)

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION works as a standalone novel with only a few hints as to what happened in THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE. However, I definitely recommend reading them in order. There are a few recurring characters whose stories pick up where they left off in the first novel, and I think learning their background allows the reader to feel more vested in their lives.

Like the first book, THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION would make a fantastic book club pick. The characters in this novel are all dealing with their fair share of baggage which provides a great deal to discuss. Fortunately, there is a reading guide with fourteen questions; however, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have any problems finding things to discuss on your own. Some of the themes you might want to explore include sister relationships, mother/daughter relationships, addiction, grief, secrets, parent/child relationships, forgiveness, love, guilt, friendship, and redemption.

THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION is ultimately a special story about families and forgiveness. Highly recommended.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Phantom Instinct

Summary: When shots ring out in a crowded L.A. club, bartender Harper Flynn watches helplessly as her boyfriend, Drew, is gunned down in the cross fire. Then somebody throws a Molotov cocktail, and the club is quickly engulfed in flames. L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison sees a gunman in a hoodie and gas mask taking aim at Harper, but before he can help her a wall collapses, bringing the building down and badly injuring him.

A year later, Harper is trying to rebuild her life. She has quit her job and gone back to college. Meanwhile, the investigation into the shoot-out has been closed. The two gunmen were killed when the building collapsed.

Certain that a third gunman escaped and is targeting the survivors, Harper enlists the help of Aiden Garrison, the only person willing to listen. But the traumatic brain injury he suffered has cut his career short and left him with Fregoli syndrome, a rare type of face blindness that causes the delusion that random people are actually a single person changing disguises.

As Harper and Aiden delve into the case, Harper realizes that her presence during the attack was no coincidence—and that her only ally is unstable, mistrustful of her, and seeing the same enemy everywhere he looks. -- Dutton

I've been in the mood for a good suspense novel for some time, and Edgar award-winning author Meg Gardiner's latest PHANTOM INSTINCT fit the bill. This novel had some very likable characters   that were put in some interesting situations to say the least, and Ms. Gardiner's writing brought the book to the next level.

In PHANTOM INSTINCT, Harper Flynn is tending bar when men open fire on the bar's patrons. Then one of the men throws a Molotov cocktail setting the entire club on fire. Harper's boyfriend is shot in the crossfire and winds up dead despite Harper's best efforts to save him. Meanwhile, L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison witnesses the shootings prior to having the building fall down on him. Harper has no visible scars, but she is mourning the loss of her boyfriend; while Aiden has some serious neurological damage which affects his ability to be a policeman.

The story picks up a year later when both Harper and Aiden are trying to rebuild their lives. Both claim that they saw a third gunman who escaped, but the police don't believe them. In fact, the investigation is closed. Harper is trying to have the case reopened to no avail, so she asks Aiden for assistance.

Harper and Aiden work together to track down clues, and Harper begins to realize that maybe she was supposed to be a target in the attack or at the very least set up by the gunmen. She learns that the third gunmen in, in fact, very real and someone she knows from her past.

I really enjoyed PHANTOM INSTINCT... especially the first half of the novel. I loved how Ms. Gardiner described the attack in the nightclub in all its horror. She truly did a great job of bringing that horrific night to life for the reader. In addition, I really liked both Harper and Aiden and I felt that they were well developed characters. I appreciated the intrigue around what happened during the attack, and I thought Ms. Gardiner did a great job of building tension as the characters tried to discover the truth behind the shootings.

The second half of PHANTOM INSTINCT was extremely fast-paced, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first half. It was basically one huge action packed sequence after another, and I thought the author did a good job of keeping the story moving while also creating even more excitement. I have to say that there were also a few major surprises that were pretty shocking, and I loved how they were revealed to the reader. While I know that the second half of the story was probably even more interesting than the first half, I actually liked getting to know the characters and the stories around them a bit more than the action scenes.

As far as mysteries go, the identity of the third gunman is revealed pretty early on so I don't know if I'd say that that aspect was a huge secret. There were a few other "mysteries" that were eventually revealed, but I actually considered this novel more of a suspense story or a thriller. Ms. Gardiner definitely had some surprises up her sleeve, and I think most readers will be shocked by what happens to both Harper and Aiden and a few others!

PHANTOM INSTINCT is a fast--paced thriller that sure to be a hit with readers who enjoy action-packed scenes and well-developed characters.

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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kid Konnection: Confessions of a So-called Middle Child Series & Giveaway

Every Saturday (and today on Friday), 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 series for middle grade readers.

Summary: Fans of Harriet the Spy and Mean Girls will cheer when they meet Charlie C. Cooper, reformed bully, gifted hacker, slightly misguided fashionista, and so-called middle child!

This debut tween novel stars the hilariously fresh Charlie Cooper as she tries to ditch her middle-child reputation and make cool friends at her new school in Los Angeles.

But being cool isn't as easy as it looks—especially when her dandruff-ridden psychologist tasks Charlie with finding the biggest loser in school and becoming her friend. In public.

As Charlie says, "Just kill me now, please." -- Harper

Summary: Hilarious tween heroine Charlie C. Cooper—reformed bully, misguided fashionista, and so-called middle child—is back! This sequel to Confessions of a So-called Middle Child will delight fans of Louise Rennison, Mean Girls, and Harriet the Spy.

Charlie's adventures offer a fresh look at middle school, bullying, and mean girls. In Book Two, Charlie navigates sudden celebrity and auditions for a television series, but a little white lie may endanger the one friendship Charlie can truly count on—and her connection to swoon-worthy crush Bobby! Poignant and seriously funny, Charlie's account of her dilemma is one all tweens will relate to.

Charlie knows what it feels like to be stuck in the middle, but it's finally her time to shine. After saving her friend Marta in the old Houdini tunnels of Los Angeles, Charlie's become a local hero, gained sudden celebrity, and *MIGHT* just become a TV star! But will Charlie let her newfound fame go to her head? Watch out, Hollywood! -- Harper

CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD and WATCH OUT, HOLLYWOOD! MORE CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD by Maria T. Lennon are the first two books from a terrific middle grade series. I really liked how entertaining these books, but I also appreciated that they included many life lessons.

You can read the publisher summaries above for a more detailed description of these novels, but I'm just going to give you a quick summary. Charlie C. Cooper is the star of these books and she's obviously a middle child. She's stuck between a do-gooder older sister and an adorable younger brother. At the beginning of CONFESSIONS, Charlie is neither of these! However, Charlie is very witty and sarcastic and insightful (not necessarily in a good way), and I have a feeling that kids will love her!

In the first novel, Charlie moves to a new school after being asked to leave her last one. She's desperate to not only make new friends, but also be popular. With gentle prodding from her psychologist, Charlie reaches out to the most disliked girl in the school and discovers that it's not always easy doing the right thing!

In WATCH OUT HOLLYWOOD!, Charlie learns about mean girls and what it takes to be a good friend as she tries to become the next big Hollywood star. She learns some valuable lessons about honestly, friendship, bullying, and forgiveness.

Charlie is a great narrator! She's incredibly sharp and smart and even a little mean at times. Being nice definitely doesn't come easy for Charlie and she is far from perfect. I'd even say she's a real stinker at times. However, she's ultimately a good kid who does the "right" thing. I actually like that she struggles with being a good kid and peer pressure because I think kids will relate to her. Even better, she eventually does make smart decisions, and the novel shows this without being preachy!

Another fun aspect of these books is the setting -- southern California and Hollywood. The author gives readers a glimpse into the lives of stars (and especially childhood stars), and she also has some great descriptions of fashion and houses. Charlie's father is restoring an old mansion once owned by Harry Houdini, and I loved how Ms. Lennon incorporated Houdini and his secret tunnels into the story.

One of my favorite things about this series are the valuable lessons that are included in these very funny books. These two books seems to cover many of the issues that today's middle school (and younger) kids face. Through Charlie's adventures, readers can see that they aren't alone in dealing with peer pressure and other middle school issues. They can also see that, often times, Charlie doesn't want to do what's good, yet she usually makes the right decision after she thinks things through. As a mom, I not only like the lessons but the honestly of these novels.

I was very excited to discover that there is a reading guide for both CONFESSIONS and WATCH OUT, HOLLYWOOD! Because these books have such a spunky main character, I do think they'd be hits with both boys and girls; and as a result, they'd be perfect for the classroom. This discussion guide includes loads of questions along with other fun (yet educational) activities. Some of the themes you might want to explore include families, jealousy, popularity, bullying, mean girls, sibling rivalry, difficult choices, friendship, loyalty, honesty, and discovering one's true self.

Overall, I enjoyed both CONFESSIONS and WATCH OUT, HOLLYWOOD! a great deal. They are very entertaining books, but they also offer a lot of food for thought for today's kids. Highly recommended!

Giveaway alert: One lucky winner will receive both books featuring Charlie C. Cooper--CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD, new in paperback, and WATCH OUT, HOLLYWOOD! MORE CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD, in hardcover! To enter, just fill out the form below before September 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck! Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copies of these books.

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

Follow all of the stops on Maria Lennon’s blog tour!

Wed, Aug 13 - The Hiding Spot
Mon, Aug 18 - Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tues, Aug 19 - The Book Monsters
Wed, Aug 20 - The Children's Book Review
Thurs, Aug 21 - Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon, Aug 25 - Read Now, Sleep Later
Tues, Aug 26 - Once upon a Story
Wed, Aug 27 - The Late Bloomer's Book Blog
Thurs, Aug 28 - The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Fri, Aug 29 - Beauty and the Bookshelf

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Guest Blogger: Chip Rice

Summary: Daniel Crawford has long admired the tree that stands alone on a hilltop, two farm fields away from his modest home in a sprawling neighborhood. But despite the tree’s alluring qualities, Dan never attempts to see it up close, until a devastating loss leaves him angry and frightened and grasping for peace. Finally standing beneath the giant white oak, he takes comfort in its majesty, and encounters an unlikely friend.

Walter Benning is a wise, quirky, endearing farm owner. And his scholarly insight provides a fresh perspective that contradicts Dan’s drive to ascend the corporate ladder while bolstering his resolve to fight for his crumbling marriage. Although enticed by Walter’s wholesome humility, Dan continues to crave executive status and moreover struggles with violent memories, an abusive father, and recurring encounters with a suspicious stranger. Meanwhile, Dan’s wife clings to signs of positive momentum, dreading divorce and safeguarding news that will forever alter their family.

Through a series of trials, Dan draws closer than ever to Walter, eventually disclosing his most guarded secrets and taking seriously his mentor’s Christian world view. But then a dark chapter from Walter’s past is unveiled, leaving Dan to wonder: Has the revelation diminished Walter’s credibility, or only added to it? As he struggles for answers, Dan’s fragile family, emerging faith, and masculine identity hang in the balance. And in the midst of it all, when his father presents an extraordinary job opportunity, Dan’s changing heart leads him full-throttle down a road of imminent confrontation. Seasoned with suspense, THE TREE is a redemptive, heartwarming tale of one man’s quest to become the husband and father his family so desperately needs. --

I am so happy to welcome author Chip Rice to Booking Mama. Chip is actually a friend of mine who has recently published his debut novel THE TREE! I met Chip a few years back when our sons were on the same baseball team. Chip is a terrific guy and dad (as I'm sure you can tell after reading his guest post), and his novel sounds like a story that will definitely touch your heart. I wish him the best of luck and success with THE TREE.

Time, Love, and Moments

With discordant shouts, my boys stampede the staircase, racing to the Legos. I force a deep breath and another sip of half-caff, massage my eyelids, and calculate the days until school begins. “Dad! Play with us!” Their call is expected, inevitable, and admittedly enraging. I have meals to plan, a chapter to outline. Funny thing, though: I know the day they depart on bus 145, I’ll close the door of my quiet, empty, writer-friendly house, and try not to cry. On vapors of energy, I join them in the playroom. 

After over a decade of at-home fathering, I know that time with young children is priceless, not to be missed. And yet regrettably the passage of time itself is often required to impart this truth, to sink it deep. “They grow up fast,” our elders inform. “Someday you’ll miss this.” Many are the adages thrust upon parents, new to the game. I’d certainly heard them, amid the trials of round-the-clock feedings and diapers and terrible twos (especially threes!). I’d heard them, but failed to listen. They were remarks with face value, a form of well-meaning counsel, understood but never felt. Not completely. Not without time.

My heart finally engaged in the fleeting nature of parenting. It happened sometime between Daddy and Dad, when Thomas and Winnie became suddenly lame and bodily noises achieved LOL status. Innocence, what remained of it, became a dripping candle I could not extinguish. And then came school, Little League, and, dare I say, interest in girls. Children do indeed grow up fast. Too fast. And I sure miss cuddles and nights in the rocker and soft little fingers wrapped tightly to mine.

Perhaps the finest advice I received as a stay-at-home dad was that extremely long days equate to fast years. I’ve found this paradox undeniably true. At-home parenting—a blessing and privilege brimming with precious moments—can sometimes feel like drudgery. It is a job without end, where a day feels like two and there’s no going home because you’ve never left. Friday’s lose their appeal. Weekends, too. Sleep deprivation becomes a sport of endurance, and adult conversation (about anything!) induces an irrational, mild euphoria.

As a forty-something, stay-at-home dad, I find that drudgery lives and even thrives in my ambitious, times-a-wastin’ thoughts. And yet it’s so easily sifted from hindsight. Hence long days and fast years. I need only look back to remember the miracle of birth, to set my mind on things above, perhaps even spill tears for all the endearing quirks and priceless moments tethered to seasons that come once in a lifetime. Seasons now past, gone but not forgotten. I need only look back to abandon my agenda, forsake my flawed sense of purpose, infuse my heart with another dose of eternal perspective, and rediscover youth on a carpet lined with interlocking bricks.

Big brother digs into the Lego tote, determined to locate a microscopic piece. The search is deafening, almost maddening. Finally, it stops. He applies the tiny part to his intricate battle ship. And then younger brother’s eyes find mine. A boxy truck of red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and gray is held aloft for my inspection, for my approval. “Like it, Dad?” His little hand rotates, providing views from all angles. A wheel falls. He recovers it, presses it in place. “I love it,” I say, playfully squeezing his ear lobe, savoring his grin. I absolutely love this moment.

Chip Rice lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife and two sons. He is a former school counselor turned stay-at-home dad and author. His debut novel THE TREE is a suspenseful, redemptive, and ultimately heartwarming tale of one man’s quest to become the husband and father his family desperately needs. Find out more at

THE TREE is available on Kindle, Nook, Apple, and Kobo. Click here to order.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: The Story Hour

Summary: From the critically beloved, bestselling author of The World We Found and The Space Between Us, whom the New York Times Book Review calls a “perceptive and . . . piercing writer,” comes a profound, heartbreakingly honest novel about friendship, family, secrets, forgiveness, and second chances.

An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients. But when she meets a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, Lakshmi is desperately lonely and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store.

Moved by her plight, Maggie treats Lakshmi in her home office for free, quickly realizing that the despondent woman doesn’t need a shrink; she needs a friend. Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient have become close friends.

But while their relationship is deeply affectionate, it is also warped by conflicting expectations. When Maggie and Lakshmi open up and share long-buried secrets, the revelations will jeopardize their close bond, shake their faith in each other, and force them to confront painful choices. -- Harper

I am such a big fan of Thrity Umrigar's. Not only do I appreciate her writing, but I absolutely love how she creates such memorable characters. She also seems to tackle some interesting issues in her stories. In her latest novel THE STORY HOUR, she once again wrote a compelling story with interesting characters, but she also managed to make me both think and feel -- all signs of a fantastic novel.

THE STORY HOUR tells the story of two women, Maggie and Lakshmi. Maggie is a psychologist who takes pride in the way she deals with her clients; however, when she meets Lakshmi, she finds that her professional demeanor is much more relaxed. Lakshmi recently tried to kill herself because she believes her life is hopeless. Her husband is controlling and doesn't seem to love her, and her world is limited to working at their restaurant and grocery store.

Naturally, Laksmi's husband doesn't approve of Maggie; and he quickly informs her that they don't have they money for Laksmi to see Maggie. Maggie then offers to treat Laksmi at her home for free. Laksmi opens up to Maggie and it becomes clear that Laksmi is lonely and needs a friend and personal freedoms... not a psychologist.

Maggie and Laksmi's friendship grows and the two women begin to open up to each other. However, things get complicated when both women have different expectations of the friendship. As they share their "stories" with each other, Maggie begins to question if she really ever knew Laksmi.

Maggie is disgusted after she learns that Laksmi isn't as innocent as she first appeared, and Laksmi tries to get revenge on Maggie by breaking up her marriage. Their trust is broken and the friendship seems broken beyond repair. Maggie and Laksmi both have to face the difficult choices they made as they struggle to fix their own lives.

I really enjoyed THE STORY HOUR and it was everything I hoped for it to be. I love Ms. Umrigar's writing and it was especially smart in this novel. I hope I expressed how interesting the plot was in my description, but it was how she presented these two women's stories that made the book even better.

The chapters alternated between Maggie and Laksmi's stories, and I can definitely say that the author managed to capture the individual voices perfectly. I especially appreciated how Laksmi's stories were told in Laksmi's "voice," and I could almost hear her telling them with her accent and broken English. I also really liked how Laksmi told stories from India -- about the elephant, her sister, and her family. It allowed me to understand her more fully and see how much she was missing by living in the United States.

In addition, I appreciated how THE STORY HOUR managed to delve into some very complicated issues. Maggie and Laksmi were very different women in many ways from culture, to race, to education, to upbringing, to values, and more. By juxtaposing these two women's stories, the book really demonstrated the differences in these two women, but it also showcased some of the misunderstandings and assumptions we all make when it comes to those who are different than us.

I also really enjoyed how the author showed the plight of an immigrant in our country. Like many Americans, I tend to take so much for granted; and I never really think how hard it would be to move here from another country. I loved how, through Laksmi, Ms. Umrigar showed the loneliness and isolation she felt. It was a huge eye-opener and one that definitely made me think.

And that brings me to what I loved most about THE STORY HOUR -- how this book made me think... and feel. I was so touched by both of these women; and while I can't say I always agreed with their actions, they were very genuine and I wanted them to find some peace and happiness. My heart went out to both of these women, but especially Laksmi. She was so lonely and desperate and her lack of self-worth put her on a vicious downward spiral. I could just feel her pain and utter desperation, and it truly broke my heart.

THE STORY HOUR would make an excellent book club pick. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any discussion questions; however, I'm sure you can tell that there are many issues to discuss. Some of the themes you might want to explore include race, cultural differences, friendship, mental health, marriage, adultery, family, betrayal, secrets, memories, love, support, second chances, trust, forgiveness, and redemption.

Update: Here's the link to the discussion questions.

I loved THE STORY HOUR and it's honest portrayal of women, friendship and different cultures. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Announcing: This is Where I Leave You Book Club

Look what I got in the mail yesterday:

It's my THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU book club kit! It includes copies of the novel by Jonathan Tropper, journals, and even a few wine glasses -- almost everything I need to host a book club with my friends.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a TIWILY book club discussion. I'm so excited to read this book again because I absolutely loved it the first time. And I can't wait to hear what my friends think. It truly is a very special novel -- funny, touching, and insightful! We are meeting on September 14th -- right before the movie comes out in theaters on September 19th. Hopefully we can all attend the film together too!

I am a big believer in reading the book before seeing the movie, so you still have time. You can also join Warner Bros. Pictures’ #TIWILY book discussion on the film’s Facebook page each Wednesday, and take part in the conversation for a chance to win signed movie posters and a trip to the premiere in Hollywood! Trust me when I say that you definitely want to take advantage of these opportunities!

Official Links
Visit the official website
Like This is Where I Leave You on Facebook
Follow @wbpictures on Twitter and Instagram

Summary: The dramatic comedy “This is Where I Leave You” is directed by Shawn Levy, and based on the hilarious and poignant best-selling novel by Jonathan Tropper. It features a starring ensemble cast including Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”); Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Tina Fey (“30 Rock”); and two-time Oscar® winner, multiple Golden Globe honoree and 2013 Emmy Award nominee Jane Fonda (“Klute,” “Coming Home,” HBO’s “The Newsroom”).

When their father passes away, four grown siblings, bruised and banged up by their respective adult lives, are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens. Confronting their history and the frayed states of their relationships among the people who know and love them best, they ultimately reconnect in hysterical and emotionally affecting ways amid the chaos, humor, heartache and redemption that only families can provide—driving us insane even as they remind us of our truest, and often best, selves.

Genre: Dramatic Comedy
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard and Jane Fonda
Directed By: Shawn Levy
Screenplay By: Screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, Based on the novel "This Is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper
Produced By: Paula Weinstein, Shawn Levy, Jeffrey Levine; Executive Producers Mary McLaglen, Jonathan Tropper

Check out this trailer to get an idea of how fantastic this movie is going to be!

Post sponsored by Warner Brothers.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: One of Us

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Back Roads comes a fast-paced literary thriller about a forensic psychologist forced to face his own demons after discovering his small hometown terrorized by a serial killer.

Dr. Sheridan Doyle—a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist—is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office whenever a twisted killer’s mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he’s still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.

Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners' deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny—in pursuit of a killer—comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.

In this masterfully told psychological thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the past and present collide to put Lost Creek’s long-lived ghosts to bed. -- Gallery

A few years ago, my sister and I traveled to State College, PA, for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. It was also the weekend for BookFestPa. Naturally, I couldn't miss that so I dragged my sister to a few of the speakers. Fortunately, she didn't mind too much since one of the speakers was Tawni O'Dell. We both had read a few of Ms. O'Dell's novels and really enjoyed them. She tends to write stories that take place in the coal mining regions of PA, and they resonate with my sister and me because many of our relatives worked in coal mines and still live in those areas.

Ms. O'Dell's latest novel is a called ONE OF US and it's a bit of a departure from the other books I've read. While it still took place in a small coal mining town, it was more of a mystery/psychological suspense story. I found the book to be intriguing, if not a little disturbing at times; and I couldn't put it down. I actually received this book late last week and read it in a day!

ONE OF US begins when Sheridan "Danny" Doyle returns to his home town to visit his beloved grandfather after he falls ill to pneumonia. Danny couldn't wait to escape the small town when he left for college, and he has since found much professional success as a forensic psychologist. However, the scars from his childhood are still very much present beneath Danny's smooth exterior. He was abused by his alcoholic dad, teased mercilessly by other kids, lost his sister when his mother murdered her, and handled a mother with mental problems!

When Danny returns home, he finds a dead body at the Lost Creek gallows. The gallows are rumored to be haunted by a band of Irish miners who were executed there for challenging to mine's owner. Danny doesn't believe in ghosts; however, many of the townspeople are certain that the man was killed because of his involvement with tearing down the gallows. Danny and his surrogate father (and police chief) Rafe decide to investigate -- each in their own way; and Danny discovers some dark secrets from his family and his own past.

I really enjoyed ONE OF US! I'm certain that the setting was part of the reason, but I found this story to be so interesting. I loved the complexity of the characters, especially Danny; and I appreciated how Ms. O'Dell managed to include some pretty shocking twists in the story. I won't go so far as to say that I wasn't able to see one of the shockers (maybe I was meant to with a few of the clues?); however, I thought the story was tightly written and moved very well.

Once again, I think Ms. O'Dell nailed the atmosphere of a small coal-mining town. She brought it to life both in the present and the past, and she did an excellent job of showing the tensions between the owners and miners. Furthermore, she showed how tightly-knit (or maybe I should say small?) the community was. Everyone seemed to know everyone else's business... except for a few of the dark secrets.

I absolutely loved Danny and my heart went out to him. I was happy that he was able to "escape" Lost Creek and his sad past, but honestly, I knew he didn't really escape. He was such an interesting character from the profession he chose, to how he handled fame, to how he dealt with his mother... and father, and so on. He was obviously still very affected by his troubled past, and I liked how the author showed this in his character. In addition, I appreciated how he used his skills as a forensic psychologist to read people and eventually solve the crimes. What I really enjoyed the most though about his character is how he evolved through the novel. I'm sure that learning the secrets in his family's past helped give him some closure, but he really seem to grow as a man.

And finally, one of the things I most appreciated about this novel was how Ms. O'Dell tied in the Irish miners who were executed to the present story. The theme of ghosts and haunting ran throughout the story, and I liked that the myth behind these men grew kind of larger than life. However, it was how these men suffered at the hands of the owners that really demonstrated the class differences in these small coal mining towns. There is a part of the book that shows how these men made literally nothing (and sometimes less than nothing) after they paid their bills to the owners. It broke my heart to think that my relatives could have lived this way.

ONE OF US would make a terrific book club pick. I feel as if there are so many issues worth discussing. Fortunately, there is a reading guide available with fifteen questions along with some ideas for enhancing your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, secrets, personality disorders, bullying, and class structure.

I loved ONE OF US and highly recommend it!

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, August 16, 2014

Kid Konnection: Football Then to Wow!

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 Booking Son loved!

Summary: See how all aspects of football have evolved in this highly visual book filled with history and trivia about the game. You'll see a football transform before your eyes from a melon-like ball crudely stitched together to the aerodynamic pigskin it is today; or watch as a quarterback evolves from a scrawny helmetless player of the 1930s to a hulking play caller of the modern era.

From rules to equipment to the all-time greats, this book is a journey through the game spanning the years. -- Sports Illustrated Kids

Surprise! Surprise! Booking Son discovered another fantastic book about sports! This one is called SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS FOOTBALL THEN TO WOW! and it's another fun and educational book about football. Our house is definitely ready for the football season. It's pretty much all my guys are talking about. Last night, we hosted our Father/Son Fantasy draft and next week we host the neighborhood draft party.

FOOTBALL THEN TO WOW! didn't really helping my little guy prepare for his fantasy draft (he does tons of mock drafts on his iPad for that.) However, it did teach him quite a bit about the history of the sport. The book shows what football was like when it first began back in 1869 and takes the reader through the next 140+ years. It shows how the actual football itself changed as well as how the  stadiums grew and the rules evolved. It's a great way to teach kids about the game of football.

The book is divided into fairly simple sections -- The Basics, The Players, The Strategy, and The Fan Experience. It uses terrific full color photos (along with some old black and whites) along with charts, graphs, timelines. Each page looks different from the next and is full of information and trivia. I have a feeling that young sports fans will read this book over and over again and take away something different each time.

I, too, am a pretty big football fan (although I prefer college to professional.) What I found so interesting about FOOTBALL THEN TO WOW! is just how much the game as changed... while still staying the same. I enjoyed seeing how much the athletes (and their uniforms) have changed throughout the years as well as how differently the game is played now. The book even features how technology has changed the game. For example, smart mouth guards can gather data about the impact of a collision on the player's brain. And then, it can send a report to the sideline and maybe help prevent concussions! That must be one of the "wows" that they are referring to in the title of the book!

Booking Son is a huge statistics fan and he really enjoyed seeing the section on records. It was presented in a timeline format with statistics and photos. It's a pretty cool graphic! In addition, he liked learning the old rules of the game -- that was a little bit of a surprise to me. Another section that was fun for him was the one on how much the video games have improved.

FOOTBALL THEN TO WOW! is a must-read for football fans... of all ages. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Goodman Media International, Inc. 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!