Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Discovery Girls Giveaway

Summary: Discovery Girls’ Guide to Growing Up gives girls reliable facts, clear explanations, and helpful tips about what’s going on inside their bodies and what to expect next… all written in a fun and easy-to-understand way. She’ll also learn how to handle her emotions, have strong self-esteem, and love her body so she’ll be confident, empowered, and ready for all the challenges of puberty. With less wondering and worrying about what’s happening to her body, she’ll have more time to enjoy the changes. Thanks to tens of thousands of girls who were brave enough to share their stories about pimples, periods, bras, body image, emotions, and more in this book, your special girl will know she is not alone. -- Discovery Girls

Earlier this year, I reviewed a fantastic book called DISCOVERY GIRLS GUIDE TO GROWING UP. This book is a wonderful resource for girls and their parents as they navigate through the complex changes that tweens experience. I am obviously not alone with my praise for this book because DISCOVERY GIRLS GUIDE TO GROWING UP just received the Mom's Choice Gold Award for 2014 -- you can read more about it here!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Discovery Girls magazine, you can read more about the founder's goals here. Catherine Lee wanted a magazine to help make the transition from tween to teen easier, and she discovered that one didn't exist. So she created Discovery Girls magazine. Since that time, the magazine has expanded into other products including books and apps, and it's truly one of the best resources out there for tween girls!

I think every tween girl should have a subscription of Discovery Girls magazine as well as some of their self-help books, and that's why I'm so excited that I have a coupon code specifically for Booking Mama readers. Use the coupon code "bookingmama" to get 20% off of your entire order!

Thanks to the fine folks at Discovery Girls Magazine, I also have an amazing giveaway! One winner will receive not only a copy of DISCOVERY GIRLS GUIDE TO GROWING UP, but he or she will also receive a copy of DISCOVERY GIRLS COLLECTOR'S EDITION and a subscription to Discovery Girls magazine.
To enter, just fill out the form below before October 13th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Elizabeth is Missing

Summary: In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud’s rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth? -- Harper

When I picked up ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey, I thought the book's description sounded so unique -- an elderly woman with dementia trying to figure out what happened to her best friend. This character gives an all new meaning to the term "unreliable narrator."

ELIZABETH IS MISSING tells the story of Maud, an older woman who is suffering from the affects of memory loss. She believes her best friend Elizabeth has disappeared and she is determined to discover what happened to her. She recognizes that her memory is not the best, so she leaves notes for herself about her investigation. Maud keeps discovering her notes only to realize that she doesn't really understand what they mean.

Maud becomes fixated on Elizabeth and her daughter Helen, the police, and even her caretakers never really take her seriously. As Maud becomes more frustrated, her memory seems to lapse even more; and she begins to confuse Elizabeth's disappearance with a traumatic event from her past -- her sister Sukey's unsolved disappearance right after World War II.

I liked ELIZABETH IS MISSING, but I didn't love it. If you've read my blog over the past few years, I've mentioned on more than one occasion that I think it's hard to effectively use an unreliable narrator to tell a story. Sometimes, I feel manipulated and end up resenting the novel, while other times, I just don't think they work. In the case of this novel, I didn't feel manipulated, but I did feel as if Maud's character wasn't all that convincing. There is definitely a reason for this....

ELIZABETH IS MISSING was the third book in a row that I read last week with a character with dementia. I thought that was pretty odd coincidence since I can't remember the last time I read a book about that condition. The reason I mention this is that I think it affected my overall opinion of the novel. While ELIZABETH IS MISSING had such a great premise, I didn't really appreciate this book like I had hoped. One of the other novels that I read earlier was so well-written and explored the subject of dementia in such an amazing way that I think my expectations for Maud's character might have been too high.

Despite this feeling, I do think ELIZABETH IS MISSING was a clever mystery. I suspected early on what "happened" to Elizabeth so I wasn't really surprised by that outcome; however, I did think the mystery of Sukey's disappearance was intriguing. I appreciated how Maud's mind confused the two major events, and I thought the author did a good job of merging the two stories and transitioning back and forth between them. There were definitely times when I wasn't sure what to think (or believe), and while I wanted to trust Maud, I just couldn't because of her dementia. There is absolutely no doubt that her condition blurred the lines for me and made the mysteries all the more difficult to solve.

One thing that I definitely appreciated about this novel was how it explored some important themes while also providing an entertaining mystery. Obviously ELIZABETH IS MISSING delved into the subjects of memory, loss, and love; however, it also explore friendship, compassion, and grief. Because the author showed so much of what was occurring in Maud's mind, as well as how it affected those close to her, she featured what a horrible condition dementia is. Even though there was definitely some humor and lighter moments in the story, I still think she effectively showed the difficulties of having a loved one with memory loss.

I considered ELIZABETH IS MISSING to be a literary mystery, and I do think it could be discussed by book clubs. Maud, as well as some of the characters from her past, are interesting; and their actions and motivations are definitely discussion worthy. In addition, the themes of memory and loss run throughout the story. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide; however, I don't think one is necessary.

ELIZABETH IS MISSING is an intriguing mystery (or two) with a memorable narrator. Recommended for fans of literary mysteries!

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

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Kid Konnection: The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys

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 middle grade book that's not only fun but also deals with some relevant issues like boys and friendships.

Summary: In Finley’s middle school, kissing frogs might lead to princes—if there were any frogs! Categorizing classmates leads to a battle of the sexes in this M!X novel from the author of Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life.

According to Finley and her BFF, Maya, middle school boys can be put into three separate categories: tadpoles, croakers, and frogs. Per their official Life Cycle of Amphibian Boys, while tadpoles are totally not developed yet (read: boys who still love fart jokes and can’t have a normal conversation with girls without making fun of them), a frog is the top of the boy food chain—evolved and mature. Sadly, not many boys have reached that elusive frog status at Staunton Middle School.

Finley thought she had everyone pegged, until Zachary Mattison enters the picture. After suddenly leaving the year before, Zachary’s surprise reappearance at SMS forces Finley to see him in a new light. And when the official life cycle list falls into the wrong hands, it causes a battle between the boys and girls that turns into an all-out war—one that Finley isn’t sure anyone can really win... -Aladdin

THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS by Barbara Dee is a book that I'm certain Booking Daughter would have loved a few years ago. As a young girl, she was always drawn to stories about friendship... and even crushes; and THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS focuses on those two things.

Finley and her best friend Maya have been keeping a rating system of middle school boys called the Life Cycle of Amphibian Boys. They divided them into three groups -- tadpoles, croakers and frogs, with frogs being the most mature and tadpoles being those boys who are haven't really developed into much of anything. (It's really rather creative if you think about it.) Lately, Maya seems not to be as interested in documenting boys, and Finley doesn't understand why.

Finley keeps up with the guide and is pretty certain she knows how each boy should be classified until Zachary Mattison shows up... again. Zachary left school under some mysterious circumstances and at the time was definitely not a frog. Now, he's actually cute and nice, and Finley has to reconsider!

As if all this isn't confusing enough for Finley, someone finds their rating book; and everything is turned upside down. Boys turn against girls, while girls turn against boys; and even best friends find that their friendship isn't the same.

THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS is a very fun book for middle grade girls, and Booking Daughter would have loved it! This book is actually aimed at kids in fourth through eighth grade, and its over 300 pages; however, I do think girls in upper elementary school will best appreciate this story. The main characters are dealing with some relevant issues (i.e. boys and friends), but I do believe the story will resonate most with a younger tween audience.

Having said that, this 45 year old was definitely entertained by THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS. It's very funny but also touches upon some serious issues. I absolutely loved the girls'  amphibious rating system and how they came up with their classifications (although I had a feeling that they shouldn't be writing all of this down and bringing it to school.) I also enjoyed seeing how the girls navigated through their problems and eventually learned a few lessons.

I suspect that many readers will find that Finley and Maya are fairly "real" characters. By that I mean that they will either recognize themselves or their friends in them. For the most part, these girls were really good; however, they did struggle with some typical middle school issues. As a mom, I appreciated that they made a few mistakes but learned from them. In fact, this novel had more than a few good messages for tweens!

THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS would make an interesting book club pick for mom/daughter groups. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but it wouldn't be hard to come up with a few questions. I really think the friendship issues in the novel are worthy of a discussion along with a few other themes like gossiping, crushes, judgments, and loyalty.

THE (ALMOST) PERFECT GUIDE TO IMPERFECT BOYS is an ideal book for tween girls. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Deb Shapiro & Company for a review copy of this novel.

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Giveaway: Polio Boulevard

Summary: A unique chronicle of childhood polio told with a remarkable blend of provocative reflection, humor, and pluck.

In 1954, Karen Chase was a ten-year-old girl playing Monopoly in the polio ward when the radio blared out the news that Dr. Jonas Salk had developed the polio vaccine. The discovery came too late for her, and Polio Boulevard is Chase’s unique chronicle of her childhood while fighting polio. From her lively sickbed she experiences puppy love, applies to the Barbizon School of Modeling, and dreams of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a polio patient who became President of the United States.

Chase, now an accomplished poet who survived her illness, tells a story that flows backward and forward in time from childhood to adulthood. Woven throughout are the themes of how private and public history get braided together, how imagination is shaped when your body can’t move but your mind can, and how sexuality blooms in a young girl laid up in bed. Chase’s imagination soars in this narrative of illness and recovery, a remarkable blend of provocative reflection, humor, and pluck. -- Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press

As we approach the 60th year anniversary of the polio vaccine, there is a memoir that's especially timely -- POLIO BOULEVARD by Karen Chase. Ms. Chases was a 10 year old little girl living in a polio ward when the vaccine was announced, so unfortunately it was too late to help her.  However, she managed to survive this illness and become an accomplished poet. In POLIO BOULEVARD, she tells her story of growing up while battling polio and provides insight into her very special life.

Thanks to Tandem Literary, I have a copy of POLIO BOULEVARD for one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before October 8th 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 continental U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Giveaway: Gone Girl & $25 Visa Gift Card

Summary: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? -- Broadway Books

As you most of you already know, I loved then novel GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn -- you can read my review here. So it's no wonder that I'm very curious to see how the plot and characters transfer to the big screen. The movie will be released on October 3rd, and I'm having my own personal countdown!
Here are some of the specifics:

GONE GIRL – In Theaters October 3
Official Website | Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | #GoneGirl

About the film
Directed by David Fincher and based upon the global bestseller by Gillian Flynn – unearths the secrets at the heart of a modern marriage. On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Genre: Thriller
Release: October 3, 2014
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn, based upon the novel written by Gillian Flynn
Produced by: Arnon Milchan, Joshua Donen, Reese Witherspoon, Ceán Chaffin
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

Thanks to 20th Century Fox, I have an amazing Gone Girl prize pack! You can win a copy of the movie tie-in edition of GONE GIRL and and a $25 Visa gift card to see the film in theaters. To enter, just fill out the form below before October 7th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with a U.S. address only. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Book of Unknown Americans

Summary: A boy and a girl who fall in love. Two families whose hopes collide with destiny. An extraordinary novel that offers a resonant new definition of what it means to be American.

Arturo and Alma Rivera have lived their whole lives in Mexico. One day, their beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, Maribel, sustains a terrible injury, one that casts doubt on whether she’ll ever be the same. And so, leaving all they have behind, the Riveras come to America with a single dream: that in this country of great opportunity and resources, Maribel can get better.

When Mayor Toro, whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel in a Dollar Tree store, it is love at first sight. It’s also the beginning of a friendship between the Rivera and Toro families, whose web of guilt and love and responsibility is at this novel’s core.

Woven into their stories are the testimonials of men and women who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. Their journeys and their voices will inspire you, surprise you, and break your heart.

Suspenseful, wry and immediate, rich in spirit and humanity, The Book of Unknown Americans is a work of rare force and originality. -- Knopf

Often times, I find myself procrastinating writing a review for a book because either I don't love it or I feel meh about it. The reviews are just too difficult to write and I move other books ahead in the queue. In the case of THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS by Cristina Henriquez, I actually haven't written the review because I'm intimidated by this novel. It was both moving and profound, and it actually blew me away like few books do.

THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS begins with Arturo and Alma Rivera and their 15 year old daughter Maribel. They have recently moved to Delaware from Mexico after Maribel was in a tragic accident that left her brain damaged. Arturo and Alma believed that America could provide hope and opportunities for their daughter that she couldn't get in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Mayor Toro, a teenage boy whose family is from Panama, sees Maribel one day and falls immediately in love with her. Their relationship is prone to rumors with people thinking that Maribel is simpler than she really is and that Toro's intentions are bad. Their families also develop a friendship, supporting each other in a new land that's very different from their homes.

I treasured each and every page of THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS, and I think it's a must-read for anyone who calls themselves an American. This novel managed to make me see immigrants and our country in an entirely new light, and I feel it's especially timely considering the debate going on about protecting our borders and undocumented immigration. I don't know if I can express how much this book moved me.

There are many reasons that THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS was such a powerful story to me. First and foremost were the characters. Ms. Henriquez managed to create some very real and memorable characters that deeply touched my heart. I loved so many of the characters in this novel, and I was able to see their desire for a better life -- something I definitely take for granted. I honestly couldn't stop thinking about a few of these individuals for some time after finishing this book.

The author not only told the story of the Riveras and the Toros through alternating chapters, but she also intermixed stories from their immigrant neighbors about their experiences in the United States. These stories further enhanced the novel for me because she brought the immigrant experience to life -- she made it all the more real to me.  I could see these individuals' hopes and struggles, and my heart broke over and over again for them.

While I find myself repeating how much THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS was an eye-opener for me, I do want to stress that this novel was preachy or "in your face" at all. There were some very important messages in the story; however, they were just part of the story and I felt as if I came to my own conclusions. I think that's a testament to Ms. Henriquez's writing style.

In fact, I really loved how Ms. Henriquez chose to tell these characters' stories. I especially enjoyed the story of the two families; however, I also found the snippets from their neighbors to be fascinating. Not only did these stories put real faces to the problem, but they also challenged readers to rethink their stereotypes about immigrants.

THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS is, without a doubt, an ideal book club selection. In fact, I would definitely consider this novel the next time it's my turn to pick. There is a reading guide available with seventeen (!) fantastic questions. Some of the themes you might choose to discuss include prejudices, bullying, second chances, love, friendships, fears, family, hopes and dreams.

I absolutely loved THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Faithful Place

Summary: Tana French’s In the Woods and The Likeness captivated readers by introducing them to her unique, character-driven style. Her singular skill at creating richly drawn, complex worlds makes her novels not mere whodunits but brilliant and satisfying novels about memory, identity, loss, and what defines us as humans. With Faithful Place, the highly praised third novel about the Dublin Murder squad, French takes readers into the mind of Frank Mackey, the hotheaded mastermind of The Likeness, as he wrestles with his own past and the family, the lover, and the neighborhood he thought he’d left behind for good. -- Viking

Ever since visiting Dublin a few weeks ago, I've been on a bit of a Tana French kick. I read one book on the way over (and back) and then I came home and wanted more. Of course, it's hard not to love a Tana French Dublin Murder Squad novel, but I also was hoping for some name dropping (or rather place dropping) of things I'd seen in Dublin. I think I'm moving backwards in this series, but I decided to read FAITHFUL PLACE next. I'm pretty sure I've read the last three books first, but I'm getting there!

In FAITHFUL PLACE, Frank Mackey (who appears in THE LIKENESS and again in THE SECRET PLACE) goes back home to Dubin's inner city when an old suitcase belonging to his one-time girlfriend Rosie is discovered. Frank hasn't been home for over 20 years and it's only something as major as this that could ever bring him back.

Rosie and Frank had a bit of the Romeo and Juliet thing going on (and to be fair, Frank's family was a bit crazy.) They wanted to be together so they planned to leave for England for a better life. On the night they agreed to meet, Rosie doesn't show but she does leave a letter which leads Frank to believe that she went without him.

Frank has never really gotten over the loss of his true-love Rosie, so he rushes back home to investigate. He discovers a body... which ends up being Rosie's, and immediately finds himself dealing with many difficult things from his past. As he tries to uncover the truth about Rosie's murder, he also has to balance stepping on toes in the police department and finding time to spend with his daughter. However, his biggest challenge just might be navigating the complicated relationships within his family and dealing with his bitter resentment.

FAITHFUL PLACE is a wonderful book! I absolutely loved it! It doesn't really get any better than Tana French's literary mysteries. I loved the mystery aspect of this novel, but it almost seems secondary to the wonderfully complex cast of characters and the writing. Frank Mackey is one of those characters that sticks with you (maybe that's why he's appeared in so many of Ms. French's novels.) And the way Ms. French weaves a story -- from the setting of Faithful Place, to the descriptions of Dublin, to the gradual reveal of the truth -- is just amazing. I was caught up in this story from the first few pages and didn't want it to end.

You can't discuss FAITHFUL PLACE without immediately acknowledging that Frank Mackey is a brilliantly drawn character. He narrates this story and I think that's one of the things that makes this book so special. Ms. French did an amazing job getting his voice just right, and I loved his cynicism and snarkiness. He was gutsy and determined, but also very damaged; and I actually came to appreciate his harshness the more I got to know him.

In addition, I loved the setting of this novel -- Faithful Place in Dublin. Of course, I was reading for a few references to places I had seen or passed while visiting a few weeks ago; and I was treated to a few -- mainly Trinity College and a few pubs. I especially appreciated how she brought this poor neighborhood and its inhabitants to life.

The mystery aspect of this novel was really, really good too. I mentioned earlier that the mystery was almost secondary to the rest of the book for me, but that's probably not true. I definitely was interested in finding out who was responsible for Rosie's murder, as well as a few other things that I can't give away here! As the truth was eventually revealed, I wasn't totally surprised, but that wasn't necessary to appreciate the story. The way everything came together was absolutely perfect!

It's obvious that there were many positives about FAITHFUL PLACE, but one of my favorite things was how this book delved into some complex subjects. If you've ever read a book by Ms. French, then you know she doesn't hesitate to tackle some serious issues. In this novel, she explored class differences, family problems, alcoholism, second chances, resentment, and love; and she manages to do this is such a smart and insightful way.

The novel went back and forth between the mid 1980s and present day, and I can't even explain how well Ms. French does this. I appreciated seeing Dublin when the economy wasn't exactly booming and how the neighborhood looked now. In addition, the transitions between the two stories are natural, and Ms. French never missed a beat with juxtaposing the Frank of today with the Frank of the past. It was easy to see why Frank was holding onto so much pain from his teenage years -- pain that was still affecting his life and his current relationships.

FAITHFUL PLACE would make an excellent book club pick. Because the characters and the story are so complex, there is a great deal to discuss. Heck, Frank is so interesting in his own right that you could analyze him for hours! Some of the themes you might want to explore are trust, betrayal, marriage, family dynamics, abuse, alcoholism, resentment, class differences, poverty, and love.

I adored FAITHFUL PLACE and intend to read the last (or should I say first?) two of Ms. French's books. I love this series, with all of its complexities; and I truly can't get enough of Ms. French's writing. Highly recommended!

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

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kid Konnection: Belches, Burps, and Farts - Oh My!

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a fun picture book that's guaranteed to make your kids smile!

Summary: He's beheld the butt and offered on the scoop on poop. Now Artie Bennett takes young readers on a discovery of those little (and not so little) puffs that exit from our mouths and duffs-the burp, the belch, and the fart!

With Bennett's signature combination of real science and zany rhyme, kids will learn the how, why, and where of gas-tastic eruptions made by people and animals, such as:

why we can't burp while on our backs which animals can't "cut the cheese" how fish communicate via burp bubbles why soda and burps go together who farts more - boys or girls Capped off with a spread on "Fart-tastic Facts & Burp-tacular Bits," this amazing, amusing mix of humor and nonfiction is an ideal draw for reluctant readers, classroom units on body science - and kids who just think burps and farts are funny!

Given visual gas-pression via Pranas T. Naujokaitis's exuberant cartoon-style illustrations, look for this to be a hit with both kids and educators.

For as Mr. Bennett puts it:

Cows and pigs, crude or classy,

Kids, grown-ups, we're all...

GASSY! -- Blue Apple Books

You might be doing a double take right now as you process the title of the picture book that I'm featuring on Kid Konnection this week. The book is titled BELCHES, BURPS, AND FARTS - OH MY! and its written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Pranas T. Naujokaitis. I think I know what you're thinking....

BELCHES, BURPS, AND FARTS - OH MY! talks about the noises our body can make! It is a very funny book especially if you know young boys who are obsessed with these bodily functions -- and what elementary age boy isn't? However, this book isn't too crude or too nasty. Rather, it educates kids about the science involved in belches, burps, and toots (I taught my kids that word when when were little, and quite honestly, I'm a little more comfortable with it!)

Booking Son has been was a big fan of Mr. Bennett's books since he was a little guy because Mr. Bennett covers lots of taboo subjects (or at least somewhat taboo in our house.) I dare say he will love this one too! I even had to chuckle at the adorable illustrations and the fun way that the author handles these subjects.

BELCHES, BURPS, AND FARTS - OH MY! does have some interesting tidbits about our bodies and how we process gas. I know that sentence sounds a little silly, but did you know that you can't burp while on your back? Pretty interesting, right? The author also teaches kids that not every creature can toot. For example, jellyfish, sponges, and anemones can't "cut the cheese!" (His words, not mine!)

This book makes science fun! The book actually demonstrates to kids how a "toot" is made in our body. He also explains the benefits of how our bodies (and other animal's bodies) benefit from gas. While the lesson is done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the author provides many facts and lets kids know that it's normal to be gassy!

One part of this book that is sure to be a hit occurs on the last two pages. The author has collect "Fart-tastic Facts and Burp-Tacular Bits" and it's chock full of fun facts including the loudest recorded burp on record. I still can't believe I'm writing this much about the subject of gas, but I have to say that, as a mother to an elementary age boy, I now get it!

If you're looking for a fun way to teach your kids about the subject of gas in our bodies, then I recommend taking a look at BELCHES, BURPS, AND FARTS - OH MY!

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, September 18, 2014

Announcing: Gone Girl Pinterest Page

I am so excited that GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn is hitting the big screen in just a few weeks -- October 3rd. I absolutely can't wait to see this movie! We all know the story is incredible, but so is the cast. This is going to be one BIG movie this fall!

Of course, there is a lot of publicity surrounding the movie release of Gone Girl, and social media is playing a huge factor in spreading the word. I actually love that there is a Pinterest page for Amy Dunne, the actual "gone girl." How unique is that? Check this out:

Amy Dunne is missing. Her Pinterest page has been found. #GoneGirl 
Gone Girl's Amy Dunne has a Pinterest account you can explore. In the upcoming movie thriller Gone Girl by David Fincher, ‘Amazing Amy’ Dunne (Rosamund Pike) has gone missing and all eyes are on her husband Nick (Ben Affleck.) Everyone is wondering ‘Did Nick kill his wife?’

As evidence mounts and speculation rises, Amy’s past is coming into focus on Pinterest. What was she like? What were her interests? Did she leave any clues? Explore for yourself at http://bit.ly/AmyDunne

GONE GIRL – In Theaters October 3
Official Website | Facebook |Twitter | Google+ | #GoneGirl

About the film Directed by David Fincher and based upon the global bestseller by Gillian Flynn – unearths the secrets at the heart of a modern marriage. On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

Genre: Thriller
Release: October 3, 2014
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn, based upon the novel written by Gillian Flynn
Produced by: Arnon Milchan, Joshua Donen, Reese Witherspoon, Ceán Chaffin
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry

Stay tuned for a fantastic Gone Girl giveaway next week!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Madame Picasso

Summary: Summary: Novelist Anne Girard brings to life the mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time.

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.

A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can't help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso's life.

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the twentieth century. -- Harlequin

When I first read the description for MADAME PICASSO by Anne Girard, the book definitely appealed to me. I enjoy historical fiction based on real-life characters and I didn't know a whole lot about Picasso, so I figured the book might teach me a thing or two. In addition, I liked that the setting of the story was Paris at the turn of the century and included places like Gertrude Stein's salon and the Moulin Rouge.

MADAME PICASSO tells the story of Eva Gouel, a young woman who moves to Paris and gets a job as a seamstress at the Moulin Rouge. She begins to notice a striking man in the audience who happens to be Pablo Picasso, and the attraction ends up being mutual. Even though Picasso is involved with his long-time "wife," he and Eva begin a passionate affair.

The book takes the reader through the ups and downs of their relationship and gives glimpses into Picasso's life and works. Eva is portrayed as the love of Picasso's life and his artistic muse, even though their relationship has an unfortunate end.

I enjoyed MADAME PICASSO but I definitely didn't love it. I had pretty high hopes for the story, maybe unfairly high ones; and the novel just didn't deliver like I had expected. While I can't really say that there were specific problems with the book, I just think that the characters weren't as complex as I had hoped. I wanted to feel like I truly knew Eva and Picasso and the intricacies of their relationship, and that just didn't happen. Since the novel was primarily about their affair, I felt as if something was missing.

What I did appreciate about the novel, however, was how well the author merged fact and fiction. She actually explains some of this in the Author's Notes section at the back of the book. I knew next to nothing about Picasso so I found the bits about his friends and his enemies to be quite interesting. In addition, I liked that the author includes some of the controversies in Picasso's life, especially the hints at his involvement in the heist of the Mona Lisa. I have a feeling that Picasso was a larger-than-life character, and this definitely came out in MADAME PICASSO.

In addition, I really liked how well the author brought to life Paris at the turn of the century. I loved the descriptions of the Moulin Rouge and its famous cast of actors and actresses. The details about the shows and the costumes were interesting too. In addition, I really enjoyed learning a bit about the famous artists, writers, and poets who were living in Paris at that time.

MADAME PICASSO would make an interesting book club discussion. There is a reading guide in the back of the book along with an interview with the author; however, I wasn't able to find the discussion questions on-line. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include art, passion, love, illness, marriage, grief, loss, and religion. In addition, it might be interesting to talk about some of the real characters in the story including Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Toklas, as well Paris at the turn of the century.

Overall, I liked MADAME PICASSO but I didn't love it. It was an interesting look at the relationship between Eva and Picasso; however, I wanted something more from this novel.

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Eggs in a Casket

Summary: The ladies of the Cackleberry Club are always ready to serve—whether they’re cooking up breakfast or sniffing out a bad egg.

While Petra handles the breakfast rush at the Cackleberry Club, the café’s other two owners, Suzanne and Toni, head to Memorial Cemetery to help prepare for its 150th anniversary celebration. But as they search the winding paths for the historical society tent, they discover something else out of place: the body of ex-prison warden Lester Drummond lying facedown in someone else’s freshly dug grave.

In the small town of Kindred, everyone knows everyone, and Lester was no exception. Suzanne knew him as the creepy guy who made unwanted advances on her friend Missy Langston. But now it appears the man was hiding a few secrets…and at least one of them was worth killing for.

As the case cracks open, there are plenty of suspects to consider—from recent parolees to Missy herself, who Suzanne and Toni saw speeding away just before they found the body. Now, with a cemetery celebration in the offing, and the local authorities in over their heads, it’s up to the Cackleberry Club to unscramble the clues and clear their friend’s name. -- Berkley Crime

I realize I'm a little late to the game this week as far as Mystery Mondays is concerned, but I committed to posting about my book club yesterday. As a result, my Mystery Monday feature is being posted on Tuesday!

It's been quite awhile since I've read a cozy, and I actually forgot how much I enjoy these fun and quick reads. Of course, I read a cozy by one of the most successful cozy writers Laura Childs. It's her latest Cackleberry Club Mystery titled EGGS IN A CASKET, and it was a treat to read for so many reasons.

EGGS IN A CASKET features the women of Cackleberry Club, a cafe that serves some amazing dishes! One morning, Petra handles the breakfast duties at the restaurant as Suzanne and Toni, the other two owners, go to the cemetery to help set up for its 150th anniversary celebration. As they are trying to find the historical society tent, they stumble across the dead body of ex-prison warden Lester Drummond who is lying in a freshly dug grave!

Everyone is shocked by Lester's death and gossip starts flying between the residents in the small town  of Kindred. Suzanne's good friend Missy is the prime suspect; however, there are no lack of ideas for who is responsible. The police are working hard on the case, but the women of Cackleberry Club decide to launch their own investigation. As they dig deeper (cute pun, right?) into the murder of Lester and try to help Missy, they uncover a few dark secrets about the man and the reasons for his death.

I found EGGS IN A CASKET to be a very fun read! It's the first book that I've read in the Cackleberry Club Mystery series, but it certainly won't be the last. This cozy was a very quick read and I appreciated how the author included some yummy recipes in the back of the book including ones for Easy Scones, Beer Battered Chicken, and Petra's No-Bake Peanut Butter Fudge. The recipes were a pay-off for all of the delicious descriptions of food!

One of the reasons that EGGS IN A CASKET was so cute was the cast of characters. I thought the three owners of the restaurant were very entertaining, and I loved how they interacted with each other as well as their loyalty to their friend Missy. In addition, their crime-solving skills, especially Suzanne's, weren't too shabby either.

I also enjoyed the mystery aspect of this story. Lester wasn't exactly a likable character so I didn't spend too much time feeling bad that he was face-down in a grave. (Doesn't that sound horrible?) I really didn't know who was responsible for the murder, although I was pretty sure that Missy wasn't the culprit. I was kept guessing until the end although I admit that I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. Honestly, I don't read cozies to test my amateur sleuthing skills.

Overall, EGGS IN A CASKET was an entertaining cozy from a fantastic mystery writer. Highly recommended to fans of light mysteries!

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Club: This is Where I Leave You & Giveaway

Summary: The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she’s pregnant. This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper’s (One Last Thing Before I Go) most accomplished work to date, and a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not. -- Plume

Remember when I received this little goodie box in the mail? 
Last night, my book club finally met to discuss THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper. I absolutely loved this novel (both times I read it), and I couldn't wait to share  to share it with my friends. I wasn't alone in my admiration of this book -- all of my friends loved it too!

Because THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is near and dear to my heart, I thought I should host an event "worthy" of this book. We had an absolute crazy weekend, but I managed to throw together a pretty decent feast if I do say so myself. We had the Barefoot Contessa Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp with vanilla ice cream, pumpkin cream puffs, a variety of cheese and crackers, fresh berries, and a delicious Layered Hot Artichoke and Feta Dip. We also had mint iced tea and wine!
I had the discussion questions available just in case we needed them, but we had no problem finding things to talk about. This guide includes a great interview with the author along with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes we focused on include family dynamics, parenting, love, marriage, tragedies, sibling rivalry, resentment, selfishness, and forgiveness. It was also interesting to discuss Judd's recurring dream sequences although I'm not entirely sure any of us were one hundred percent sure what they meant!

If I'm being honest, my book club tends to get off track quite a bit when we discuss our monthly books. However, our conversation for THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU was really, really good. In fact, we discussed THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU for over two hours and that's a really long time for us. We covered almost all of the topics in the discussion questions, and we managed to have a great time sharing wacky experiences with our own families. I think that's one of the reasons that this book is so perfect for book clubs -- it reminds us of our own families... and makes us feel more normal!

I planned on taking pictures of my group discussing the book or even a group photo of us holding the book, and I totally forgot! So all I have is this picture of me with the book!
Of course, we can't wait to see This is Where I Leave You in the theaters; and fortunately, we don't have to wait very long. This is Where I Leave You is in theaters September 19th -- just a few more days; and this movie is getting some terrific reviews. With a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, and Jane Fonda, there is no doubt that the acting will be a treat. Here's a little more about the movie:

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

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

Giveaway alert: I have a $25 Visa gift card for you to see the film in theaters along with a copy of the book. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 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!

Post sponsored by Warner Brothers.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kid Konnection: Precious Ramotswe Mysteries

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 terrific series for young middle grade readers.

Summary: Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea.

Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn’t it be nice to be a detective?

This is the story of an African girl who says just that. Her name is Precious.

When a piece of cake goes missing from her classroom, a traditionally built young boy is tagged as the culprit. Precious, however, is not convinced. She sets out to find the real thief. Along the way she learns that your first guess isn’t always right. She also learns how to be a detective. -- Anchor Books

Summary: Precious wants to be a detective when she grows up. She is always practicing at being a detective by asking questions and finding out about other people’s lives. There are two new students in her class, a girl called Teb and a boy called Pontsho. She learns that they are brother and sister, and—even more exciting—that Pontsho has a clever pet meerkat named Kosi.

One day, Teb and Pontsho’s family’s cow disappears. Precious helps them look for clues to find the cow. But getting the cow back home will require some quick thinking and help from an unexpected source. -- Anchor

Summary: Young Precious gets a very special treat. She gets a trip to visit her Aunty Bee at a safari camp. While there she makes a new friend, a boy named Khumo, and meets an actor-lion named Teddy, who is starring in a film. When Teddy disappears, Khumo and Precious will brave hippos and crocodiles as they search for the missing lion. -- Anchor

I have been meaning to share my thoughts about the Precious Ramotswe Mysteries by Alexander McCall Smith and illustrated by Iain McIntosh for some time, and since the third book is coming out next month, I figured now is as good as a time as any! I have read all three books in this series, THE GREAT CAKE MYSTERY: PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE'S VERY FIRST CASETHE MYSTERY OF MEERKAT HILL, and THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING LION; and I have to say that these books are positively delightful for young middle grade readers. Of course, I'm a huge fan of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books that are written for adults, so it's not a stretch to think I'd like reading about Precious when she was a budding childhood detective!

There are many things that make the books in this series special so it's hard to focus on just a few; however, Precious is certainly one of them. Precious is a wonderful character. She is extremely likable and I'm certain kids will enjoy her insights as well as her ability to think through problems and solve mysteries. It's just adorable to see Precious developing her detective skills, and I can see all of her adult personality traits being formed. I especially loved Precious's compassion towards others which is evident in all three books.

In addition, I love how educational these books are. Maybe that's the mom in me talking, but these books definitely teach children about Africa and its culture. The actual story has some interesting tidbits thrown in about Botswana, and kids won't even notice that they are actually learning something! However, there is also a section in the back of the books that explains things about the geography, people, and animals of Botswana.

I also appreciate the artwork in these books. The pictures are terrific and a perfect complement to the stories, but they also serve another purpose as far as I'm concerned -- they break up the text for readers who might be intimidated by all of the words. I remember when Booking Son was afraid to read anything without pictures and would get bored with this type of book.

The mysteries in these books are too cute and perfect for young readers -- no murder mysteries here! One has cakes that mysteriously disappear, one has a cow who is missing, and one has a lion that goes missing. Booking Son read THE GREAT CAKE MYSTERY and was able to figure out the mystery given the clues, so I suspect that most kids, especially those who appreciate mysteries, will have fun figuring out what happened in these books.

One of the best things about these books, though, is that there are discussion questions available for all of them. The Great Cake Mystery Guide is available on-line, but the other guides are included in the back of the books. In addition to the questions, there are pre-reading activities, recipes, and curriculum connections. For example, there are questions and suggested activities tied to Geography, Science/Biology, Language Arts, and Social Studies. These books are a natural fit for mother/daughter book clubs, and they are also perfect for classrooms!

I truly can't rave enough about the Precious Ramotswe Mysteries for Young Readers. Highly recommended for children interested in mysteries as well as African culture.

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, September 12, 2014

Giveaway: The Partner Track

Summary: Ingrid Yung’s life is full of firsts. A first-generation Chinese American, the first lawyer in her family, she’s about to collect the holy grail of "firsts" and become the first minority woman to make partner at the venerable old law firm Parsons Valentine & Hunt. Ingrid has perfected the art of "passing" and seamlessly blends into the old-boy corporate culture. She gamely banters in the corporate cafeteria, plays in the firm softball league, and earnestly racks up her billable hours. But when an offensive incident at the summer outing threatens the firm’s reputation, Ingrid’s outsider status is suddenly thrown into sharp relief. Scrambling to do damage control, Parsons Valentine announces a new Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, commanding Ingrid to spearhead the effort. Only she’s about to close an enormous transaction that was to be her final step in securing partnership.

For the first time, Ingrid must question her place in the firm. Pitted against her colleagues, including her golden-boy boyfriend, Ingrid begins to wonder whether the prestige of partnership is worth breaching her ethics. But can she risk throwing away the American dream that is finally within her reach? -- St. Martin's Griffin

THE PARTNER TRACK by Helen Wan is now available in paperback -- isn't the cover gorgeous? This novel follows Ingrid Yung, a young lawyer at a renowned NYC law firm who must play games with the “old-boys network” to become partner. When an incident at the summer outing, Helen finds herself at odds with her colleagues, including her golden-boy boyfriend, and must choose between becoming a partner and doing the right thing.

I can't wait to read this book -- it sounds terrific, but in the meantime, I have a copy of THE PARTNER TRACK, courtesy of the publisher, to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 25th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Safe With Me (Audio)

Summary: The screech of tires brought Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it to a devastating end. A year after she signed the papers to donate her daughter’s organs, Hannah is still reeling with grief when she unexpectedly stumbles into the life of the Bell family, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Maddie, survived only because Hannah’s daughter had died. Mesmerized by this fragile connection to her own daughter and afraid to reveal who she actually is, Hannah develops a surprising friendship with Maddie’s mother, Olivia.

The Bells, however, have problems of their own. Once on the verge of leaving her wealthy but abusive husband, Olivia now finds herself bound to him in the wake of the transplant that saved their daughter’s life. Meanwhile, Maddie, tired of the limits her poor health puts upon her and fearful of her father’s increasing rage, regularly escapes into the one place where she can be anyone she wants: the Internet. But when she is finally healthy enough to return to school, the real world proves to be just as complicated as the isolated bubble she had been so eager to escape.

A masterful narrative shaped by nuanced characters whose delicate bonds are on a collision course with the truth, Safe with Me is a riveting triumph. -- Simon & Schuster Audio

I actually listened to SAFE WITH ME by Amy Hatvany a long time ago and forgot to write a review. I probably shouldn't admit that to you, but I think what's important here is that I still remember enough details about this novel to sit down a few months later and write my thoughts. As far as I'm concerned, that's a sign of a powerful story.

At its simplest, SAFE WITH ME is a story about women, friendship, and other relevant issues. Hannah Scott is a young mother who lost her daughter in an accident about a year ago. She decided to donate her organs to help others, but she's still unable to handle the grief (and guilt) of losing her only child. And then she meets the Bell family. Hannah immediately develops a friendship with Olivia, a woman who seemingly has it all, and her 15 year old daughter Maddie. Olivia is beautiful and financially secure; however, it's apparent that she has some dark secrets concerning her marriage. Maddie also has some problems with her father, her constant struggle with her health, and her re-entry into the real world of high school.

As Hannah becomes closer to the Bells, she begins to realize that Maddie is alive because of her daughter. She suspects that Maddie's organ transplant was actually her daughter's liver, yet she's not willing to share her thoughts with either Olivia or Maddie.

All three of these women are dealing with some very serious issues, and they try to handle them in the best way they can... which, of course, isn't always the ideal way. Despite keeping secrets from each other, they discover the importance of friendship and safety.

I thought SAFE WITH ME was a very good book, but I've come to expect that from Ms. Hatvany. I always seem to enjoy her novels which explore female relationships and give insight into some complicated (and relevant) issues. I especially appreciate her character development, and I like how she manages to create some very real characters that also manage to capture my heart.

Ms. Hatvany is not afraid to take on some complicated and controversial issues in her books -- that's for sure. This novel actually did take on quite a bit... organ donation, social media, loss of a child, and domestic abuse to name a few, and I admit that I was concerned that it might be too much for one book. However, I can now say that the author did handle all of these issues in a compassionate and fair manner. I was impressed that she could pull it off!

One thing in particular that I appreciated about this novel was the recurring theme of safety. She did a marvelous job of exploring this theme through many of the characters' actions and motivations. For example, Hannah was distraught with grief for not being able to keep her young daughter safe; and Olivia was dealing with trying to protect her daughter, and at the same time, deal with an abusive husband. Maddie was attempting to reconnect with society not only at school but also through social media -- which as you know has its own share of risk for teens. I really liked how all of these women's stories tied together and had the idea of safety/security running through them.

The audio version of SAFE WITH ME was read by Joy Osmanski, Cassandra Campbell and Rebekkah Ross. I thought it was very, very good. Since the story was written with through the three main characters' viewpoints, the audio book alternated between these three narrators. I thought they did an outstanding job... enough so that I would search out other audio books that they've written.

SAFE WITH ME would make a wonderful book club selection especially for groups made up of women! Not only is it a touching story that is also very readable, but there are many things to discuss.  There is a reading guide with eleven questions as well as a few ideas for ways to enhance your book club. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include friendship, grief, loss, secrets, marriage, domestic abuse, technology, death, illness, organ donation, and parenting.

Overall, despite the predictable ending, I really enjoyed SAFE WITH ME. Recommended for fans of women's fiction.

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: The First Affair

Summary: The #1 New York Times bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries return with “a convincing portrait of a damaged young woman whose head is turned by the attentions of a dashing and powerful political figure.…An utterly absorbing page-turner” (Booklist).

I was twenty-two years old only three weeks out of college.
I thought my whole life was beginning...then he kissed me.

Jamie McAlister has resigned herself to the fact that in this job market, her painfully expensive degree might only get her a position at Starbucks, when she suddenly lands a prestigious internship at the White House. Although she doesn’t hit it off with the other interns—who come from so much money that ten weeks without a paycheck doesn’t faze them—she is eager to work hard and make the best of the opportunity while it lasts.

An unexpected encounter late one evening with the charismatic President Gregory Rutland seems like just a fleeting flirtation, but when he orchestrates clandestine meetings and late-night phone calls, their relationship quickly escalates. Jamie knows what she is doing is wrong: he’s married, he has kids, he’s the President. Yet each time she tries to extricate herself, Greg pulls her back in.

With the conflicted desires of the most powerful man in the world driving her to her breaking point, Jamie can’t help but divulge intimate details to those closest to her. But she must have confided in the wrong person, because she soon finds herself, and everyone she cares about, facing calculated public destruction at the hands of Greg’s political enemies, and—perhaps no matter how much he cares about her—at the hands of Greg himself. -- Atria

I don't know what made me pick up THE FIRST AFFAIR by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. When I look back on the description, it's not a book that I normally would read. All I can figure is that I was in the mood for a light, chick-lit type of story; and these two authors have written a few books that I've enjoyed in the past so I figured, "Why not?" After reading THE FIRST AFFAIR, I have to say that I didn't love it. I think maybe it just wasn't a good fit for me.

THE FIRST AFFAIR tells the story of Jamie McAlister, a recent college graduate who found herself interning at the White House when she couldn't get a "real job" because of the stagnant economy. She doesn't really fit in with the other interns, but she's determined to make the best of it.

When the government shuts down due to a budget impasse, Jamie finds herself working late nights at the White House. One evening, she finds herself alone with the President and there is a mutual attraction. The flirting begins and it turns into a full-fledged affair. At this point, the story should sound somewhat familiar, right?

Jamie knows what she's doing is wrong but she can't seem to separate herself from the charismatic president. Of course, their secret is eventually revealed (you really can't trust anyone!) and Jamie's life is turned upside-down and never the same!

THE FIRST AFFAIR wasn't my cup of tea. I can't say that anything was wrong with the novel, but I just didn't love the story. In fact, I can't even tell you why I didn't appreciate this novel like I had hoped. It definitely wasn't the writing or the character development -- I just think this book wasn't for me. As a result, I waited months to write this review and wasn't even sure if I should write it. I'm not entirely sure my opinion is a fair one!

One of my main problems with this story was that I didn't really like Jamie. She wasn't a character that garnered my sympathy, and I don't think I cared about her enough to become fully vested in her story. I wanted to like her (and even root for her) when everything went down, but I just wasn't able to feel that way. I do believe that if she had resonated with me more, I probably would have ended up liking this novel.

Having said that, I did find Jamie kind of interesting and I think the authors did a good job of creating a complex character. Jamie was a tough nut to crack for me and I didn't always understand her, but I appreciated that about her in an odd way. Naturally, I couldn't help but compare her to Monica Lewinsky, and I admit that this novel caused me to see a few things differently about that whole situation.

Lastly, I did like that this novel was deeper than your typical chick-lit story. I was pleasantly surprised by how the authors handled the relationship and the eventual fall-out. And I do think, they gave readers some food for thought.

THE FIRST AFFAIR might make an interesting book club selection for some groups. There is a reading guide with twelve questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include adultery, secrets, trust, relationships, honestly, power, and sex.

While THE FIRST AFFAIR wasn't a book that I loved, there are definitely readers out there who will appreciate this story. Recommended to fans of chick lit and readers who were interesting in the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: Dollbaby

Summary: When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts. -- Pam Dorman Books

DOLLBABY by Laura Lane McNeal is being compared to two fantastic books, SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE HELP. On one hand, that will definitely pique many readers' interest because those books were huge; however, on the other hand, that sets expectations for DOLLBABY mighty high. While I enjoyed DOLLBABY quite a bit, I'm not sure I rank DOLLBABY up there with those books, but it is a good one and a very worthwhile read.

DOLLBABY is an insightful look into New Orleans, the South, and the Civil Rights Movement, but it's also a heart-warming story about family and friendship. The novel begins when Ibby Bell, a twelve year old girl whose father has recently died, is dropped off at her grandmother Fannie's house with little explanation. Fannie is quite the woman and some might say a little strange. She lives in an huge house in New Orleans that has its fair share of secrets, and she also tends to "visit" the local asylum on a pretty regular basis. Ibby is fortunate to have Fannie's black cook Queenie and her daughter Dollbaby to watch out for her and teach her the ways of the South.

Ibby learns to follow Fannie's rules (even if they don't always make sense), and she also becomes friends with Birdelia, Dollbaby's daughter. Ibby quickly learns that things are different in the South especially as it pertains to the differences between how blacks and whites live. As Ibby grows into her teenage years, she sees how the South changes -- lunch counter sit-ins, the Vietnam War, and even the passing of the Civil Rights Act. However, she also begins to understand Fannie's quirky behavior and even appreciate her eccentric grandmother.

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed DOLLBABY but I don't know if I loved it like I had hoped. I did appreciate that this was the author's debut novel, and it definitely shows that Ms. McNeal has a lot of promise as an author. The story was interesting, as were the characters; and I loved how well the author brought the South, and especially New Orleans, to life.

I don't know if what I'm going to say next will make much sense, but I almost think DOLLBABY just had too much going on. There were a lot of historical issues, along with the many family secrets; and they didn't always flow smoothly. While I did appreciate the pace of this novel (it was a very quick read for me), I just felt as if a lot of the events were skimmed over.

Having said that, I think what I enjoyed most about DOLLBABY was how it made me feel. This book certainly delves into some complicated (and not altogether happy) issues, but it still managed to have a heartwarming message about family and friends. I would consider DOLLBABY to be a coming-of-age story, and I admit I'm a sucker for those types of books, especially when they take place in the South during a time when so much was going on. Ibby learned so much about her family, her friends, and even herself; and it was touching to see how much she grew throughout the course of the novel.

DOLLBABY would make a wonderful book club selection especially for those groups, like mine, who enjoyed discussing SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT and THE HELP. There is a reading guide available with nine thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family, secrets, race, class, change, risk, and friendship. I could also see many groups turning the meeting into a themed one with southern food and drinks!

DOLLBABY is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate stories about the South and the Civil Rights Movement.

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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: The Secret Place

Summary: The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption saysI KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. “The Secret Place,” a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series. -- Viking

Last week at this time, I was vacationing in Dublin, Ireland. Prior to leaving, I decided to pack Tana French's new novel THE SECRET PLACE. I knew I had a lot of travel time on planes, trains, and buses; and I figured a novel that is written by a writer who lives in Dublin and a book that takes place in that city would be perfect for the trip. Plus, how could I go wrong with Tana French?

Truth be told, the book pretty much takes place in a 24 hour period on the grounds of a boarding school, so I didn't get a "taste" of Dublin in this story like I was hoping; however, it was still a great choice to pack if I do say so myself. Ms. French has done it again. She's managed to write a riveting literary mystery that kept me guessing until the very end, and she successfully delved into some complex themes including friendship and loyalty. I think it's safe to say that I'm a bit in awe of this woman and her writing skills!

THE SECRET PLACE is another novel in the Dublin Murder Squad series and feathers Detective Stephen Moran as the narrator. Moran is desperate to get into the Murder Squad and sees his chance when Holly, a student at St. Kilda's School and a blast from Moran's past, brings him a card that was anonymously posted in "The Secret Place." "The Secret Place" is a bulletin board at the school where girls can post photos, pictures, etc. and allows them to vent; and this particular posting claimed that someone out there knew who murdered Chris Harper, a popular teen from a neighboring school. Chris' murder occurred about a year ago and was now considered a cold case, so Moran reckoned if he could solve Chris' murder, he just might be accepted on the Murder Squad.

He approaches the prickly Antoinette Conway, the woman who was in charge of the investigation; and she agrees to let him help her interview the girls at St. Kilda's. Once Moran arrives at the school, he quickly realizes that it's not going to be easy to get anything helpful from the girls. Holly and her friends have ties to Chris, but their rivals do as well. No one is willing to give much, and the detectives aren't sure who or what to believe.

Moran and Conway attempt to get to the bottom of this murder mystery, but everything they learn seems to lead to more questions. They begin to doubt everyone (even each other) as they encounter eight teenage girls who are willing to say anything to protect those they love... and hurt their rivals.

THE SECRET PLACE is nothing short of amazing! I truly am blown away by Ms. French's ability to not only create an intriguing mystery, but also her character development and literary skills. She manages to provide almost a two-in-one deal for her books, pleasing both fans of mysteries and literary novels. I am almost embarrassed to say that I've only read two of her novels, but I'm more certain than ever that I need to remedy that immediately. (Plus, I want to read more stories that take place in Dublin!)

Truly, THE SECRET PLACE kept me guessing and had more than it's fair share of twists. Like the detectives in charge of the case, I had absolutely no idea who was responsible for Chris' murder. It could have been any of them; and at times, I thought maybe none of them or even a combination of a few girls. While I appreciated being surprised by the culprit and the intricacies of the murder, I have to say that it was how the author told this story and her ability to explore some very serious issues that brought this book to the next level for me.

One thing I absolutely loved about THE SECRET PLACE was how Ms. French delivered the story. For half the story, Moran was the narrator of the novel and I really appreciated his character. He was both intelligent and rather complex with his insecurities and his desire to prove himself. The other half of the story was the girls' viewpoints on the events leading up to the murder and even what happened after the murder. I loved how she juxtaposed Moran's story and the girls', and it was an excellent way to receive the information from all sources.

In addition, I loved how the author created some very memorable characters. I really liked Moran and his "issues," and I thought the relationship between Moran and Conway was interesting to say the least. I also liked how Moran interacted with his other co-worker (Holly's father) as well as how he managed to get close to the girls for information purposes. However, I also really appreciated the eight girls that the author created. A few of these girls give new meaning to the term mean girl; and unfortunately, I could see realistic aspects of teenage girls (good and bad, but mainly bad) in each of them.

What really impressed me about THE SECRET PLACE was how it explored relationships, especially friendships. The two groups of teenage girls both had solid friendships that were very different from each other, so I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed. In addition, Moran and his fellow police officers also had some intriguing aspects of "friendship" that often times mirrored the girls' relationships. I loved how the theme of friendship was explored with all of its complexities as well as how loyalty and betrayal were presented.

I can't think of a better book to select for your next book club that THE SECRET PLACE. Fortunately, I found this reading guide with eleven questions. Some of the things you might want to discuss include friendships, relationships, parent/child relationships, secrets, loyalty, betrayal, mean girls, peer pressure, jealousy, and wealth. My book club is made up primarily of mom to teenage girls, so I can only imagine how much fun we'd have discussing this novel!

THE SECRET PLACE is a must-read for fans of literary mysteries. Highly recommended!

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

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.