Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kid Konnection: Lowriders in Space

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 wonderful graphic novel that's the first in a series.

Summary: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team's favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure. -- Candlewick

LOWRIDERS IN SPACE by Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raul the Third is a very special graphic novel and unlike any book I've ever read. It's very entertaining and even a little crazy; however, I'm certain that kids will love it.

LOWRIDERS IN SPACE tells the story of three characters who love to fix cars. There's Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria; and between the three of them, they can fix, detail, and clean any car they come across although their preference is low-riders.

When a competition is held for the best car around and the prize is a trunkful of cash, the three definitely want to win so they can use the money to start their own repair shop. The three set out to repair an old Impala that's seen its better days, and each character uses their skills to fix up the car. When they use some rocket parts as part of the repair, the car is launched into space; and Lupe, El Chavo, and Elirio have a wild and crazy ride!

I am the first to admit that I haven't read many middle grade/young adult graphic novels; however, I feel that LOWRIDERS IN SPACE is something special... and very unique . First of all, the book is geared towards the 9-14 audience. As a mother to a 10 year old boy, many of the graphic novels are either too young or too old. That isn't the case with LOWRIDERS IN SPACE.

In addition, these characters and the plot are definitely unlike any I've ever encountered. All three characters all have their special skills (for example, Elirio is a mosquito who details cars!), and they use their talents to fix cars. As if that's not crazy enough, they end up in space when the rocket parts on the car malfunction (or maybe function properly?). Pretty darn unusual, don't you think?

Another wonderful thing about LOWRIDERS IN SPACE is that it is actually fun and educational. The book has many Spanish terms and a glossary explaining them in the back of the book. Also, the author explains the history of "lowriders" which was especially important for someone like me who had no idea why the even existed. I have to say that it really was very interesting!

And then there's the artwork. It's absolutely amazing! I only say this because I read it in the back of the book and in the description, but the artist uses red. blue, and black ball-point pens and Sharpies to make his sketches. They are extremely detailed and almost look a bit like graffiti. I loved them!

I was so excited that the publisher has included a Common Core Aligned teacher's guide on their website. I don't pretend to understand all of the common core curriculum, but this packet seems to cover all its bases. There are an explanation of graphic novels, some great discussion questions, writing prompts, and ideas for linking the common core standards with LOWRIDERS IN SPACE.

LOWRIDERS IN SPACE is terrific and I'm so glad it's the first book in a new series. Highly recommended!

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Sol Republic PUNK Wireless Speaker & Giveaway

Summary: Beware of PUNK. Smaller, tougher and louder than you would expect. Play it everywhere and take it anywhere. PUNK is fearless. Not afraid of water, dirt, or getting kicked around and gutsy enough to play music loud. If you won’t break the rules, PUNK will.

I am so excited to tell you about the new Sol Republic PUNK Wireless Speaker! Talk about the perfect gift for the holiday season! I absolutely love this product and can't believe my family has been living without one for this long. Trust me.... once you have one of these, you won't get over how wonderful it is.

Prior to receiving my PUNK, I had been checking out various wireless speakers; and I knew I wanted to get one for my husband for Christmas. The PUNK has everything I wanted. It's a very small speaker that packs a powerful punch. It literally fits in the palm of my hand (see photo below for exact size.) It has some fantastic features, and I love that it comes bright colors including blue, green and red!

Fortunately for my husband, I received a black PUNK like the one pictured below. (He's not exactly into the bright colors, but my teenage daughter and I love them!) The PUNK might be small but it definitely can project sound. Plus, it's both dust and shock resistant and has an all day 8-hour battery life which is 50% more than other speakers its size. There is a one year warranty too.
PUNK is so easy to use and pairs easily with any Bluetooth™-enabled audio device. You can connect it to your home or car stereo with the 3.5mm jack and it becomes your Bluetooth hub, enabling you to control any stereo wirelessly from up to 60 feet away.

My family prefers to listen to music with it, although I've been using it to listen to audio books (I'm such a book geek!), and I'm certain this will be a staple outdoors when the weather gets warmer. In the meantime, we have been using to in our kitchen, family room and pretty much anywhere we go. Because it's so small, it really can travel with you anywhere... not just the house or backyard!

The PUNK Wireless Speaker retails for $69.99 at retailers like Best Buy, and I think it's well worth it. Make sure you check out the reviews for this product because they are all extremely positive. Our family loves the PUNK Wireless Speaker and I highly recommend it this holiday season!

Giveaway alert: I have a Sol Republic PUNK speaker to share with one lucky Booking Mama reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 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 U.S. or Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Social Media links: @SOLREPUBLIC (, and

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Her

Summary: You don't remember her--but she remembers you.

On the face of it, Emma and Nina have very little in common. Isolated and exhausted by early motherhood, Emma finds her confidence is fading fast. Nina--sophisticated, generous, effortlessly in control--seems to have all the answers.

It's easy to see why Emma is drawn to Nina. But what does Nina see in her?

A seemingly innocent friendship slowly develops into a dangerous game of cat and mouse as Nina eases her way into Emma's life. Soon, it becomes clear that Nina wants something from the unwitting Emma--something that might just destroy her. -- Little Brown

Recently Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) reviewed HER by Harriet Lane, and I was so intrigued that I decided to read it right away. This book won't be released until early January, but I decided to review it right away so it doesn't get lost in the excitement of the holidays. (The truth of the matter is that I was worried I'd forget to review it with all of the chaos!)

Even though HER isn't a traditional whodunit, I decided to review it as part of Mystery Mondays. This novel is definitely a literary novel of suspense and there is an element of mystery to the story. The story alternates between two women, Emma and Nina, in a bit of a cat and mouse game; and the reader is definitely left scratching his or her head as to how these women are related.

HER is not only a suspense story. It also explores the unique relationship between two mothers. Despite being close to the same age, Emma is just starting her life as a mother with two young ones; and she's quickly discovering that it's very hard work. She doesn't quite feel like the accomplished woman she once was when she was leaving the house every day for her job. Nina, on the other hand, has an adult daughter who can be a typical teenager at times; however, for the most part, her hands on parenting days are behind her. When the two women have a "chance" encounter in a park one day, their friendship is formed.

Nina is definitely very interested in Emma's life and begins creating reasons to run into her. It's more than a little creepy at times, and honestly, I felt a little disconcerted (in a good way!) while reading this novel. It's apparent that Nina knows Emma from her past, although the reader isn't sure about the how or why; and she definitely has a bitter taste in her mouth. The tension builds and things escalate when the two women and their families end up vacationing together a Nina's father home...

And that's all I'm going to say because the ending of this book is quite the jaw-dropper. It's also rather ambiguous and you might find yourself wanting to discuss it with a friend. As a result, I'm going to go out on a limb and say HER would make a great discussion book for book clubs! Given how troubled these two women are, both in very different ways, there would be a lot to analyze about them individually as well as their relationship together.

There are very many things about HER that make it a great psychological thriller. First of all, this book will most definitely mess with your mind. It will also make you uncomfortable, especially if you are a mother. I read this book while also holding my breath because I just had a feeling that something big was going to happen. The way the author quietly created the tension in the story is absolutely fantastic!

So as far as psychological suspense novels go, this was a good one. However, it was also a very well written book; and I'd go so far as to say the writing is even better than the storyline. As a mom, I definitely appreciated how the author explored motherhood through the characters of Nina and Emma and I loved how she juxtaposed their lives. It's easy to get lost in the ending of this book, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how insightful this book was on mothering and parent/child relationships.

HER is a wonderful novel and sure to keep readers guessing until the very end... and maybe even longer. Highly recommended.

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, November 22, 2014

Kid Konnection: Autumn Falls

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 YA book by a popular teen actress.

Summary: Filled with personal elements from Bella’s own life, AUTUMN FALLS is the first book in Bella Thorne’s new series! It has everything readers will love and relate to: a real girl trying to find her own inner strength and be the best she can be, with a hint of magic and mystery, and a steady stream of OMG-I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened fun.

With her fiery red hair, new-girl outsider status, and tendency to be a total klutz, Autumn Falls definitely isn’t flying below the radar at Aventura High. Luckily, she makes some genuine friends who take her under their wing. But she also manages to get on the wrong side of the school’s queen bee, and then finds out the guy she’s started to like, funny and sweet Sean, hangs with the mean crowd. Now her rep and her potential love life are at stake.

When Autumn vents her feelings in a journal that belonged to her late father, suddenly her wildest wishes start coming true. Is it coincidence? Or can writing in the journal solve all her problems? And if the journal doesn’t work that way, is there a bigger purpose for it—and for her? -- Delacorte Press

I rarely read YA but for some reason, AUTUMN FALLS by Bella Thorne caught my eye. It probably was the adorable cover with the irresdescent glitter nail polish! However, I'm happy to say that I found the book as adorable as the cover.

This book also caught the eye of my teenage daughter. While I was appreciating the nail polish, she noticed that AUTUMN FALLS was written by Bella Thorne. Initially, the name didn't ring a bell with me, but she informed me that this was CeCe from the Disney Channel show called Shake It Up. And then I got it! My daughter religiously watched this show about two teens who were also fantastic dancers!

AUTUMN FALLS has a little bit of something for every type of reader. It's part coming-of-age story, part mystery, and part magical. This novel tells the story of Autumn Thorne, a teenage girl who moves to a new school and instantly sees herself as an outsider. Autumn does manage to make some pretty amazing friends, but she also finds herself in a "battle" with one of the popular girls... especially when it comes to Sean.

Meanwhile, Autumn's grandmother gives her a journal that was once her father's; and it has a drastic impact on her life. August discovers that her wishes start coming true. At first, this seems like a great thing; however, Autumn quickly realizes that it can be both helpful and dangerous. As Autumn tries to cope with her new school, a new boyfriend, and frenemy problems, she also has to come to terms with the loss of her dad and the meaning of this journal.

AUGUST FALLS is a very sweet story that is perfect for those tween and teen girls that aren't interested in dystopian or supernatural stories. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Booking Daughter will enjoy this one! The main character of Autumn is so darn likable. (In fact, I think she's partially based on the author.) She's a bit of a misfit with a huge heart, and I suspect girls are going to relate to her!

I also appreciated that this story had some powerful messages about family, friends, and growing up. Autumn has to deal with so much in such a short period of time -- losing her dad, moving to a new town and a new school, finding herself at odds with the popular girls, and more. I really enjoyed seeing how she handled all of this, both her accomplishments and her missteps; and I do think she's somewhat inspirational.

In addition, I felt as if this book was very entertaining. Autumn was a funny character, despite all the bad that happened to her; and she had some great relationships in her life. Some of the scenes with her friends and even her grandmother are very cute; and I found myself laughing quite a bit. It probably won't surprise you that I think this book would make a cute movie or even a television series.

I was excited to learn that AUTUMN FALLS is the first book in a series. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel and hopefully many books after that! Make sure you check out the website for AUTUMN FALLS.

Overall, AUTUMN FALLS was a fun and sweet story that's perfect for older tweens and young teens. I can't wait to share it with Booking Daughter!

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: The Invention of Wings (Audio) & Giveaway

Summary: Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved. - Penguin Audio

I actually listened to THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd some time ago and forgot to write a review. And that's a shame because I loved this novel. Initially, I kept procrastinating because I didn't know if I could write a review that expressed my thoughts and feelings, and then, as time passed, I truly forgot. Fortunately, I had a bit of a reminder yesterday when I was offered the chance to giveaway a copy of the book!

THE INVENTION OF WINGS tells the story of two very different women -- Handful, a slave in early 19th century Charleston for the Grimke family, and Sarah Grimke, a young woman who aspires to be a lawyer. The novel begins when Sarah is eleven years old and she's given Handful for her handmaid. Sarah doesn't feel right about "owning" Handful, yet they develop an unusual relationship.

The book follows these girls over the next five years as they grown into women. Handful definitely faces some difficult times, as does Sarah; and eventually, Sarah leaves Charleston to work with her sister Angelina for abolition and women's rights.

I know my summary didn't do justice for the complexities of THE INVENTION OF WINGS; however, I wanted to tempt you without giving away too much. So much of this book was touching and also extremely interesting. In fact, this novel is actually based on real-life figures Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two pioneers for slaves' and women's rights. I had never heard of either of them, but evidently, they were quite notorious in their time. Handful, on the other hand, is a character created by the author.

The story is told in alternating points of view by both Sarah and Handful, and I loved this format. It was wonderful getting insight into both of their stories and I truly think the novel benefitted from this.  Personally, I found Sarah's story to be fascinating on a historical level -- I enjoyed seeing how she became an abolitionist and women's rights advocate. However, I enjoyed the "feel" of Handful's story even more. Her saga was so difficult and troubling, but I thought her character came to life beautifully.

There were so many great things about this novel, but I think what I liked the most was Ms. Kidd's writing style. It's no surprise that I loved THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES like many of you, however, this book was equally compelling to me. I found THE INVENTION OF WINGS to be incredibly well written from the character development, to the exploration of relationships, to the historical aspects. There is no doubt that Ms. Kidd did some major research prior to writing this story.

Another thing that really stood out to me was how the theme of freedom rang through the novel. Of course, Handful wanted her freedom as a slave, but Sarah was also "bound" by society at this time. She realized she was put on this earth for big things, but she was constrained by being a woman. In addition, the author included some beautiful symbols into the story like birds, flying, and a special quilt. It was all so well done!

THE INVENTION OF WINGS is read by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye, and I thought they did an outstanding job. I just love when there are multiple narrators of a novel and the audio version reflects it with different readers. I am far from an expert of accents, but I did feel as if theirs were pretty good. In addition, I really enjoyed the emotions they were able to portray.

I think this novel is a perfect selection for book clubs. The publisher has put together a fantastic book club kit which includes a reading guide and a conversation with the author. There are seventeen discussion questions and I'm confident your group will find even more to discuss. Some of the topics that you might want to explore include sister relationships, parent/child relationships, slavery, the role of women, faith, racism, and freedom. In addition, you will want to discuss the imagery of birds and flying.

I adored THE INVENTION OF WINGS and highly recommend it for fans of historical fiction.

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE INVENTION OF WINGS (not audio!) to share with one very lucky reader courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 3rd 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. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Vision Gift Catalog & Giveaway

I'm sure that many of you have already started your holiday gift shopping! If your friends and family are anything like mine, then I'm sure they really don't need much of anything. However, a catalog I recently received had some things that definitely caught my eye. The World Vision Gift Catalog has some beautiful items available this year... and even better, your gift will be helping out those in need!

The 2014 Christmas Season marks the 19th annual edition of the World Vision Gift Catalog. There are more than 100 gifts available ranging in price from $16 to $39,000 so there's definitely something for everyone on your list. Here are some fun facts about World Vision gifts:

- In 2014, donations for over 400,000 animals were given to World Vision with goats being the most popular.

- In 2014, more than 140,000 donors purchased more than 417,000 items from the Gift Catalog that helped more than 822,000 people around the world, raising $33 million!

I picked out a few of the items in this catalog that really captured my eye. I absolutely love the Silver Vines Cuff that is designed by artisans in Old Delhi, India and free for a donation of $85. I received one of these bracelets and I can assure you it's both gorgeous and high quality. I also love the Royal Silk Scarf that is yours with a gift of $95 and the Balinese Multi-strand Necklace which is free with a gift of $85. Make sure you check out all of their handcrafted gifts here.

Silver Vines Cuff

Royal Silk Scarf

Balinese Multi-strand Necklace
I would pretty much love anything I received from this catalog whether it be one of the handcrafted gifts that you receive for a donation or even a donation in my name for ducks, goats, chickens, etc. You can also purchase a share of a hand-drilled well, medicine, clothes, and more for people who really need assistance. My family has been a supporter of World Vision for years, and it's always nice to give back... especially this time of year.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the wonderful folks at World Vision, I have a Silver Vines Cuff to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 2nd at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guest Review: Suspicion

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

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

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

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

I was happy to receive a book review from my dad yesterday only to discover that it's for a book I already reviewed. After reading SUSPICION by Joseph Finder, I thought my dad might enjoy the book so I passed it along to him. He read it on his recent trip to Italy and provided me with a review -- he's good that way. Even though I already posted a review for SUSPICION on this blog, I decided it wouldn't hurt to post another one. Here are my dad's thoughts:

SUSPICION by Joseph Finder opens with main character Danny Goodman in a financial dilemma. Danny, a widower and father of a teen age daughter, finds himself without sufficient funds to cover her tuition at a pricey Boston exclusive girls’ school. In order not to disappoint his daughter, Danny borrows $50,000 from Thomas Gavin, a wealthy Boston money manager and father of his daughter’s best friend. At this point Danny’s life dramatically changes.

Danny immediately becomes the target of two DEA agents. He learns that Gavin handles billions of dollars for a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. Danny must decide to co-operate and cope with the risk of the drug cartel finding out or face an indictment for money laundering. Danny decides to cooperate. He’s first task for the DEA is to plant a listening device in Gavin’s office and later he downloads information from Gavin’s phone. Danny finds himself in a constant state of anxiety and having to regularly lie to both his daughter and girlfriend. His assignment is further complicated when he and Gavin become friends. Danny finds the determination to calm himself and devises a plan to end this nightmare and salvage the relationships with his girlfriend and daughter.

SUSPICION is a typical thriller where ordinary people are put into heroic situations; there’s plenty of violence and death; and the ending is a surprise after following the mandatory twists and turns. The author does differentiate himself from other thrillers with his strong character development and a well-paced and suspenseful storyline.

Although SUSPICION offers nothing particularly unique to the thriller genre, it’s a good page turner that will be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good suspense thriller.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: The Forgotten Girl

Summary: The past has arrived uninvited at Jason Danvers’s door…

…and it’s his younger sister, Hayden, a former addict who severed all contact with her family as her life spiraled out of control. Now she’s clean and sober but in need of a desperate favor—she asks Jason and his wife to take care of her teenage daughter for forty-eight hours while she handles some business in town.

But Hayden never returns.

And her disappearance brings up more unresolved problems from Jason’s past, including the abrupt departure of his best friend on their high school graduation night twenty-seven years earlier. When a body is discovered in the woods, the mysteries of his sister’s life—and possible death—deepen. And one by one these events will shatter every expectation Jason has ever had about families, about the awful truths that bind them and the secrets that should be taken to the grave. -- New American Library

I first heard about the novel THE FORGOTTEN GIRL by David Bell at this year's BEA. I was fortunate enough to attend a Speed Dating event where I learned about loads of fantastic book club possibilities, and THE FORGOTTEN GIRL was one of them. Since I am always on the lookout for book club recommendations and mysteries, I thought I'd give this one a try.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL tells the story of Jason Danvers, a middle-aged man whose life is turned topsy-turvy when his long-lost younger sister Hayden and her Sierra daughter arrive on his doorstep.
Jason and his wife have returned to Ednaville, Jason's hometown, after a stint in New York. They have no children and they are hoping that a simpler life can help save their marriage.

Jason hasn't seen his sister Hayden in almost five years. She has had a very troubled past including her drinking problems and general lack of responsibility. When she shows up to Jason's house, she appears to be clean and sober; however, she leaves her daughter Sierra and asks that Jason watch her for 48 hours while she takes care of some business in town. Unfortunately, Hayden doesn't return.

Jason finds himself not only looking for Hayden but also discovering some troubling things about his past -- namely the mysterious disappearance of his best friend twenty seven years ago on the night of their graduation. As Jason tries to help Hayden, he ultimately ends up uncovering a series of events that makes Jason question everything he's ever believed about family and friendship.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL definitely had an intriguing premise, and I was pretty certain that I would enjoy it; however, I actually found that it was a bit predictable. Don't get me wrong. The book was good and had some highlights. It just wasn't great. Maybe it's a case of me just not being in the mood to read over the past few days, but I had a hard time focusing on the story. I felt as it the book was too long at over 400 pages, and it just dragged in a few spots for me.

One thing that I definitely appreciated about the story was the character development. I liked that the novel delved into Jason's personal life, including his past friendships as well as his marriage; and I really felt as if I got to know and understand his character. I also liked how the book explored a variety of relationships between the characters, and some weren't what they seemed. In addition, there was definitely some insight into Hayden's character and her issues with alcohol.

Another aspect of the story that I liked were how the various "mysteries" were connected. It wasn't any secret that Hayden's reappearance and then disappearance was somehow connected to Jason's high school friend's disappearance; however, there was some surprise by how the events were related. As the story unfolded, there were a few twists, but I could kind of see where it was all going. I wish there had maybe been something more... if that makes sense.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL would make an interesting book club selection because it is a mystery with some great character development. There is a reading guide with thirteen questions, and I thought quite a few of them were intriguing. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, love, addiction, forgiveness, trust, secrets, grief, and redemption.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL is a good book with a few surprises. Recommended for fans of literary mysteries.

I received a review copy of this novel at the 2014 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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kid Konnection: Rhyme Schemer

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 book that just happens to be written in verse.

Summary: Kevin has a bad attitude. He's the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way—and he's even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on? Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader's journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people's lives. -- Chronicle Kids

I probably should have written my review for RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt last month -- October is National Bully Prevention Month. However, I figure it's better late than never!

RHYME SCHEMER is a special book and really unlike anything I've ever read. The entire story is written in first person verse by a twelve year old boy named Kevin. Kevin isn't exactly a nice kid. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. He relentlessly picks on Robin, the class runt; and nothing is sacred when it comes to making fun of his teacher. Kevin even uses his creative talents by writing mean-spirited poems about others.

Kevin's life at home is vastly different from the one he portrays at school. His parents are preoccupied with his four brothers and their demanding jobs, and his brothers do their fair share of picking on Kevin. As a result, Kevin feels alone and uses his journal to write poems describing his insecurities.

Things change for Kevin when Robin gets his hands on the journal, and for once, Kevin is actually the one getting bullied at school. Both boys have to come to terms with their behavior, and Kevin begins to realize important life lessons about family, friends, and his poetry.

I found RHYME SCHEMER to be a wonderfully entertaining book with some very important messages. While I've read a few stories about bullying in the past, I can't remember ever reading one written in the words (or poetry) of the bully. It was very interesting to see Kevin's response to being bullied, and I appreciated how much he learned about his past behavior.

In addition, I really enjoyed that the book was written in verse. The poetry was very easy to read and I think even reluctant readers will like the pace of the story. It was a quick read that was also funny (and very wrong!) Kevin could be pretty cruel with his words, and I liked that this book demonstrated how damaging words can be. RHYME SCHEMER clearly showed that bullying doesn't have to be a physical action!

RHYME SCHEMER is a unique book. It both entertains and gives middle grade readers some food for thought. Definitely recommended.

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: Eat the Year

Summary: Everyone loves food.

But did you know that every day is a national food or drink holiday? It’s true! There’s National Bloody Mary Day, National Cheese Lover’s Day, and even National Blueberry Pancake Day—just to name a few.

Based on the popular blog Almanac of Eats, Eat the Year is a tribute to food-lovers everywhere that introduces a national food or drink holiday for every day of the year. From National Martini Day to National Chip and Dip Day, this book includes tasty recipes, food history, and a variety of food holidays that are as diverse as they are delicious! -- Running Press

I guess I'm really getting in the holiday spirit... albeit a little early for some of you! I am now in the mode of looking for gift ideas for the holidays, and I'm so happy to say that I have found a great one for the food lover in your life. It's a new calendar/cookbook titled EAT THE YEAR: 366 FUN AND FABULOUS FOOD HOLIDAYS TO CELEBRATE EVERY DAY by Steff Deschenes, and I think it's terrific!

EAT THE YEAR is perfect for foodies who love celebrating food holidays. This 400+ page book is chockfull of national food and drink holidays. In fact, there is one for every day of the year. Naturally, I had to see what the food holiday is for my birthday, April 20th. It's National Pineapple Upside Down Cake! It's also National Lima Bean Respect Day, but that's not as fun. (I guess that's why we "need" a National Lima Bean Respect Day.)

The book is set up by date so it's very easy to reference. There are fun quotations for each day as well as an explanation of the holiday and what it means to the author. In addition, there are fun trivia-like facts thrown in. Finally, there are recipes included for many of the food holidays. I'm telling you... EAT THE YEAR is so much fun!

I swear that there is a food holiday for pretty much everything and anything I could ever think of! Of course, some are more appealing than others like National Lobster Day, National Grilled Cheese Day, and National Drink Beer Day. The list could go on! However, there are some pretty strange ones too like National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, National Cabbage Day, and National Grape Popsicle Day. I can pretty much guarantee that there is a little something in this book for everyone!

EAT THE YEAR is based on the popular blog Almanac of Eats. I probably shouldn't say this, but I wasn't familiar with this blog until recently; and it's a really fun and interesting site. You should definitely check it out. I am really enjoying all of the interesting tidbits about official (and not-so-official) state foods.

I highly recommend EAT THE YEAR for foodies!

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: Winter Street

Summary: Kelley Quinn is the owner of Nantucket's Winter Street Inn and the proud father of four, all of them grown and living in varying states of disarray. Patrick, the eldest, is a hedge fund manager with a guilty conscience. Kevin, a bartender, is secretly sleeping with a French housekeeper named Isabelle. Ava, a school teacher, is finally dating the perfect guy but can't get him to commit. And Bart, the youngest and only child of Kelley's second marriage to Mitzi, has recently shocked everyone by joining the Marines.

As Christmas approaches, Kelley is looking forward to getting the family together for some quality time at the inn. But when he walks in on Mitzi kissing Santa Claus (or the guy who's playing Santa at the inn's annual party), utter chaos descends. With the three older children each reeling in their own dramas and Bart unreachable in Afghanistan, it might be up to Kelley's ex-wife, nightly news anchor Margaret Quinn, to save Christmas at the Winter Street Inn.

Before the mulled cider is gone, the delightfully dysfunctional Quinn family will survive a love triangle, an unplanned pregnancy, a federal crime, a small house fire, many shots of whiskey, and endless rounds of Christmas caroling, in this heart-warming novel about coming home for the holidays. -- Little, Brown & Co

I know! I know! It's still too early to be reviewing Christmas books, but hear me out! I love Elin Hilderbrand and her new book WINTER STREET came out last month. I actually waited a few weeks to read and review the book, so I don't feel as if I'm rushing the holiday season. Plus, you might have started your shopping, or at least getting together your gift ideas; and I wanted to share my thoughts about this book sooner rather than later!

WINTER STREET takes place at Nantucket's Winter Street Inn where Kelley Quinn's life is turned upside down... right at Christmastime. Kelley is busy preparing for the inn's annual party, but the amount of guests is drastically down this year. He's wondering what the future of the inn might be. In addition, he has just discovered that his wife Mitzi has been having a long-time affair with Santa Claus!

Add to this already crazy mix Kelley's four children... each of whom has their own set of issues. There's Patrick, the "perfect one" who is in trouble for insider trading. Kevin is having an affair with the French housekeeper; and Ava is a teacher who is desperate for her boyfriend to propose this holiday season. Finally, there is Bart, a Marine, who has recently been stationed overseas in Afghanistan.

Things have never been more of a mess at the inn, so Kelley's ex-wife Margaret, the most popular nightly news anchor in the country, arrives in the nick of time to try and save the day. Can she keep things together long enough for the Quinn family to have a special Christmas?

I am a very big fan of Elin Hilderbrand's novels, and while WINTER STREET was a fun Christmas book, I didn't feel as if it were up to her normal standards. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did; and there were definitely moments where her great sense of characters and prose shone through. However, I did think the story was a bit predictable (but what Christmas story isn't?), and I had some issues with the abrupt ending.

WINTER STREET was an entertaining book though. It was a quick read for me, and I was definitely engaged for the entire story.  I loved the descriptions of the inn and could picture the decorations and tree perfectly. In addition, I liked the humor that was woven into the story. In fact, WINTER STREET would probably make a great holiday movie.

One thing that I did enjoy about WINTER STREET was the theme of family. Goodness knows, many of us have dysfunctional (or at least quirky) family members, and this novel had more than its fair share of them. However, the book showed the importance of family and coming together for the holidays. It was a sweet message and one that I will never tire of hearing/reading during Christmastime.

I think it's best to pick up WINTER STREET just expecting an entertaining and sweet holiday story. And you know what? That's exactly what many of us need this time of year.

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: Early Decision

Summary: In Early Decision, debut novelist Lacy Crawford draws on 15 years of experience traveling the world as a highly sought-after private college counselor to illuminate the madness of college admissions.

Working one-on-one with Tiger-mothered, burned-out kids, Anne “the application whisperer” can make Harvard a reality. Early Decision follows five students over one autumn as Anne helps them craft their college essays, cram for the SATs, and perfect the Common Application. It seems their entire future is on the line—and it is. Though not because of Princeton and Yale. It’s because the process, warped as it is by money, connections, competition, and parental mania, threatens to crush their independence just as adulthood begins.

Whether you want to get in or just get out, with wit and heart, Early Decision explodes the secrets of the college admissions race. -- William Morrow

I don't even want to think about this, but Booking Daughter is a sophomore in high school. Naturally, she's thinking about college and grades; however, I'm not sure I'm ready to admit that in less than three years she will be leaving us to pursue a college degree. It's all so overwhelming and more than a little scary for kids and parents. Maybe that was part of the initial appeal of the novel EARLY DECISION by Lacy Crawford.

EARLY DECISION tells the story of Anne, a young woman who helps high school seniors write the "perfect" essay for college applications. This book follows Anne as she works with five Chicago-based kids. It shows the "highs" and especially the "lows" of this critical time in their lives, and it definitely features the parental involvement in the process.

I enjoyed EARLY DECISION and understand why it's getting so many positive reviews; however, I actually had mixed feelings about the book. One on hand, I found Ms. Crawford's account to be very interesting, and I have a feeling that more than one or two situations in the story are based on her personal experiences as a private college counselor. I thought she did a terrific job of showing the stress and tension between the kids and their parents, as well as the joy and heartache of the entire process. However, I also felt uncomfortable reading this novel. As a mother of a fifteen year old girl, I felt sick about what she and her friends might be going through in a few years. It's all so complicated... and very different from what I experienced almost thirty years ago when I applied to college.

One thing I enjoyed very much about this book was that it wasn't just a "tell all" about college admissions. While I did appreciate that aspect of the book, I really liked how this novel delved into many different complex relationships. It probably won't surprise you that the interactions between Anne and the high school seniors was interesting, or that there was a lot of tense moments between Anne and the parents as well as the kids and their parents. However, it might come as a bit of a surprise that the book juxtaposes what's going on in Anne's life with the kids' lives.

Anne's parents aren't exactly proud of her career choice. They feel as if she could do so much more than just help kids write better essays. In addition, Anne is at a cross-roads of sorts with her boyfriend. They have a long-distance relationship and, while Anne desperately wants a commitment, her boyfriend seems to be less sure about their future. I actually appreciated Anne's character, even though there were times when I thought she made some bad choices; and I really liked how she helped these kids get to the bottom of what was special to them. I feel as if her guidance provided them with so much more than just well-written essays.

EARLY DECISION would make an interesting book club selection. My group in particular would probably appreciate it because we all have kids in high school. There is a reading guide with ten interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, choices, ambition, college admissions, wealth, social class, love, disappointment, and destiny.

EARLY DECISION is a unique look at the college applications process and parent/child relationships. Recommended for fans of literary fiction and especially parents of high school students.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: One Kick

Summary: From the author of the critically acclaimed NewYorkTimes bestselling Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thrillers: The first in a nail-biting new series featuring Kick Lannigan, a young woman whose complicated past has given her a very special skill set.

Famously kidnapped at age six, Kick captured America’s hearts when she was rescued five years later. Now, twenty-one, she finds herself unexpectedly entangled in a missing child case that will put her talents to the test.

Trained as a marksman, lock picker, escape artist and bomb maker by her abductor, Kick could not return to the life of the average young girl after her release. So, in lieu of therapy, she mastered martial arts, boxing, and knife throwing; learned how to escape from the trunk of a car, jimmy a pair of handcuffs, and walk without making a sound—all before she was thirteen.

Kick has trained herself to be safe. But then two children go missing in three weeks, and an enigmatic and wealthy former weapons dealer approaches her with a proposition. John Bishop uses his fortune and contacts to track down missing children. Not only is he convinced Kick can help recover the two children—he won’t take no for an answer.

With lives hanging in the balance, Kick is set to be the crusader she has always imagined herself. Little does she know that the answers she and Bishop seek are hidden in one of the few places she doesn’t want to navigate—the dark corners of her own mind.

A heart-stopping, entertaining thrill ride, OneKick announces the arrival of a blistering new series by a stunning talent in the thriller realm. -- Simon and Schuster

Chelsea Cain has written some fantastic thrillers in the past, but sadly, I haven't read one of her novels for some time. I hate when I get behind in series, and while I've a little more flexible with having to read every book... in order, I admit that I stopped reading Ms. Cain's books because I missed too many. However, her latest novel ONE KICK is the first in a new series, and I thought now is the perfect time to start reading her again!

ONE KICK tells the story of Kick Lannigan, a young woman who had a very troubled childhood. She was kidnapped at six years old by a child pornography ring and help captive for the next five years. She was eventually rescued by the FBI, but her life was never the same.

Her abductor taught her many skills like shooting, bomb making, and lock picking; and after her escape, she continue to hone self defense skills like martial arts, boxing, knife throwing, anymore. Kick was determined to never be a victim again! When two children go missing in a short period of time, Kick is approached by a former weapons dealer named John Bishop. Bishop is a wealthy man with a mysterious past who uses his money and contacts to track down missing kids, and he wants Kick's help in finding them. Kick is reluctant at first, but she begins to trust Bishop, and together they work to find the abductors.

Kick's search takes her back to a very difficult time in her life. She is forced to visit places she was once held captive and meet again with her abductor. In addition, her life is at risk as she gets to close to uncovering the truth behind this powerful childhood pornography ring.

ONE KICK is a terrific "kick-off" to a new series (I know! I couldn't resist the pun!) I absolutely loved this book! Not only was it a suspenseful mystery, but it was also action-packed. I also really enjoyed that the characters were so interesting, especially Kick and Bishop; and I loved the dynamics between the two. And the ending.... well, let's just say it left me scratching my head... in a good way. This book was really well-written and I honestly can't think of anything about it that I didn't enjoy.

I think it's very important for the main character in a crime series to be intriguing and Kick definitely fit the bill. She was tough as nails and certainly trained for a life in crime-fighting; however, she was also extremely complex because of her childhood. She was basically used by a child pornography ring, and her images are still the top-viewed ones on the Internet. She can never really escape from the past. In addition, Kick has a difficult relationship with her mother who trashed in on her fame, as well as a very complicated relationship with her abductor who is dying from kidney failure.

I also really appreciated the character of Bishop. He was handsome and smart, but he also had a very mysterious past. I loved how this character was never quite what he seemed, and like Kick, I wasn't sure what to make of him. I have a feeling that Bishop will be back in future installments of this series, and I have to admit his character is definitely one of the reasons that I'm anxiously awaiting the next book.

The mystery aspect of ONE KICK was outstanding. I loved the many twists and turns, and the scenes were action-packed and suspenseful. I probably shouldn't admit this, but I often times don't love action scenes and get bored with them. However, in the case of ONE KICK, I thought the writing was  stellar and I appreciated her descriptions. I've alluded to the fact that the ending was a good one, and I'm still reeling from it!

All in all, ONE KICK is a must-read for fans of thrillers and suspense books. Ms. Cain definitely has mad writing skills! Highly recommended!

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, November 8, 2014

Kid Konnection: Snowman's Story & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a delightful picture book that's perfect for the upcoming holiday season!

Summary: One wintry day, a hat lands on the head of a newly made snowman and brings him to life. Hiding inside the hat is a rabbit, who listens to the snowman read a story to some animal friends. When the snowman falls asleep, the rabbit hops away with the book. But the snowman isn't about to let his story—or the mischievous rabbit—get away. The chase is on! Filled with charm and fun, this wordless picture book from a beloved illustrator lets kids tell their own version of the story, even as they delight in the action-filled pages. -- Two Lions

SNOWMAN'S STORY by Will Hillenbrand is a beautiful picture book that's guaranteed to capture the hearts of young and old readers alike! SNOWMAN'S STORY is a picture book in the truest sense of the word -- there are literally pictures only, no words. And those pictures are gorgeous!

SNOWMAN'S STORY tells (or should I say shows?) the story of a snowman who comes to life after a hat lands on his head. The snowman reads a bedtime story to his animal friends and then falls asleep. A rabbit who was hiding in his hat sneaks out, grabs the book, and hops away. The snowman awakens and sets out after the rabbit. He chases the rabbit through the winter wonderland and eventually discovers a surprise!

SNOWMAN'S STORY is just adorable and I couldn't help but fall for the snowman and his forest friends. The pictures are not only beautiful, but they also convey the entire story. There is no doubt that kids will want to describe the pages and tell their own version of the book. I have a feeling that children will love the chase scenes but also appreciate the sweet ending!

There is a free downloadable game -- Help Snowman Find His Story -- which is a great complement to the book. Just check out this book trailer. You will quickly see how wonderful these illustrations are.

Follow all the stops on the SNOWMAN’S STORY blog tour!

Mon, Nov 3
As They Grow Up
Tues, Nov 4
Cracking the Cover
Wed, Nov 5
Geo Librarian
Thurs, Nov 6
5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Nov 7
Momma Drama
Sat, Nov 8
Booking Mama
Mon, Nov 10
Just a Little Creativity
Tues, Nov 11
Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Nov 12
Children's Book Review
Thurs, Nov 13
Displaced Yinzer
Fri, Nov 14
Once Upon a Story

Unleashing Readers

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of SNOWMAN'S STORY to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before November 21st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: You (Audio)

Summary: How far would you go for the perfect love?A young man’s dark obsession with an enigmatic, gorgeous writer leads to murderous consequences in this erotic psychological thriller. 

You walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. You’re so clean that you’re dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello. 

When aspiring writer and recent Brown graduate Guinevere Beck strides into the bookstore where Joe works, he’s instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: she’s gorgeous, tough, razor-smart, and sexy beyond his wildest dreams. Joe needs to have her, and he’ll stop at nothing to do so. 

As he begins to insinuate himself into her life—her friendships, her email, her phone— she can’t resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom-made for her. So when her boyfriend, Benji, mysteriously disappears, Beck and Joe fall into a tumultuous affair. But there’s more to Beck than her oh-so-perfect façade, and their mutual obsession quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences… 

Dark, masterful, and timely, debut novelist Caroline Kepnes’s You is a perversely romantic thriller that’s more dangerously clever than any you’ve heard before. A chilling account of unrelenting passion, this tale of love, sex, and death will stay with you long after the story ends... -- Simon and Schuster Audio

I started to see a little buzz for YOU by Caroline Kepnes a few months ago, and quite honestly, I wasn't sure it was a book that I'd enjoy. I like suspense novels and thrillers, but this book sounded more like a horror story to me. YOU basically tells the story of a stalker who will do anything to get the woman of his dreams. I don't know what this says about me, but I couldn't stop listening to this book.

YOU was probably the most disturbing book I've ever read, and yet, I totally enjoyed it -- if that's the right word. Joe is a bookstore manager who falls head over heels with aspiring writer Guinevere Beck after she visits the store one day. He is determined (and I really need a stronger word here) to "get" Beck, so he starts finding ways to insinuate himself into Beck's life like stealing her phone, hacking into her Twitter and email accounts, and more. It's not exactly an easy path because Beck has friends and a boyfriend who are in the way; however, Joe does what it takes to eliminate all of those problems... if you get my drift!

Despite many setbacks, Joe and Beck eventually start a relationship (of sorts), and you might think that Joe became more comfortable with the idea of Beck; however, that wasn't the case. If anything, he became even more obsessed with her. When Joe finds out that Beck isn't exactly the woman he thought she was, things take an even more drastic turn.

As I look back on this description, it doesn't really say much or even convey the intensity of YOU. I probably should have done a better job, but I didn't want to give away too much about this book. Suffice it to say, it's not for the faint of heart or those who are easily offended. And I had, without a doubt, one of the most uncomfortable reading experiences ever! This book is like nothing I've ever read, and yet, I was as obsessed with this book as Joe was with Beck!

I'm not exactly sure why YOU worked so well for me, but there were a few things that really stood out to me. I rarely say this, but I think my reading experience benefitted from listening to this book. Since the entire book was in Joe's first person voice, it just seemed like I was living inside his head. Hearing his insane thoughts was so real to me, and I'm not entirely sure I would have had the same effect from reading the book.

YOU was read by Santino Fontana and he did an outstanding job. His voice was haunting, but he also had perfect timing with Joe's sarcastic tone. I can't imagine a better narrator for this book. Here's an interesting tidbit that I found when researching Mr. Fontana. He was actually Hans in the Disney movie Frozen. It's a little hard for me to comprehend Joe singing "Love is an Open Door!," but it's true!

I have to give huge credit to Ms. Kepnes for writing YOU. In many ways, I have to wonder about her sanity to write such a twisted novel (just kidding!). It's apparent that she some major skills in bringing characters to life, but she also has enough of an edge to get inside the mind of a psycho!

I don't think YOU is the right book for everyone, but if you aren't easily offended and like to be scared then I highly recommend this book!

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Guest Review: Wayfaring Stranger

Summary: In his most ambitious work yet, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man's unforgettable life—connecting a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.

In 1934, sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends with Weldon firing a gun and being unsure whether it hit its mark.

Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland barely survives the Battle of the Bulge, in the process saving the lives of his sergeant, Hershel Pine, and a young Spanish prisoner of war, Rosita Lowenstein—a woman who holds the same romantic power over him as the strawberry blonde Bonnie Parker, and is equally mysterious. The three return to Texas where Weldon and Hershel get in on the ground floor of the nascent oil business.

In just a few years’ time Weldon will spar with the jackals of the industry, rub shoulders with dangerous men, and win and lose fortunes twice over. But it is the prospect of losing his one true love that will spur his most reckless, courageous act yet—one that takes its inspiration from that encounter long ago with the outlaws of his youth.

A tender love story and pulse-pounding thriller that crosses continents and decades of American history, Wayfaring Stranger“is a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream” (Benjamin Percy, Poets & Writers). -- Simon & Schuster

When my dad was reading WAYFARING STRANGER by James Lee Burke, I wasn't entirely sure he liked it. However, I noticed that he kept telling me about this book. I think once he got past his initial skepticism about the novel (maybe it was the love story angle?), he ended up appreciating it. Here are this thoughts:

Author James Lee Burke begins WAYFARING STRANGER in the 1930s when 16 year old Weldon Holland and his grandfather, a legendary lawman, encounter Bonnie and Clyde hiding on their property. Even though he was smitten with Bonnie Parker, Weldon finds a reason to fire a shot into the back window of their stolen car as they drive off. This encounter has a lasting impression on Weldon’s life.

The novel quickly moves to 1944 where Weldon, serving as an infantry lieutenant survives the Battle of the Bulge with Sergeant Hershel Pine and rescues Rosita Lowenstein from near death in an abandoned Nazi concentration camp. They fall in love and get married.

After the war, Weldon and Rosita join Hershel and his wife, Linda Gail, in a business welding pipe in the booming Texas oil industry. Up to this point, the novel is a little sappy for my taste but because of Burke’s wonderful writing style I was drawn in to continue. I wasn’t disappointed. The characters are now beset with problems that include dangerous business rivals, the lure of Hollywood and anti-communist pursuers. Characters such as Roy Wiseheart, the son of an evil oil baron, his wife, Clara, a wealthy snob and anti-Semitic, unsavory insurance man, Lloyd Fincher and brutal police detective Hubert Timmons, make life miserable for Weldon and Rosita. They are exposed to blackmail, beatings, arrest and betrayal. Weldon’s Texas spirit, the love for his wife and an unusual tie to Bonnie and Clyde work together against the evils that have entered their lives.

WAYFARING STRANGER can be loosely classified as a thriller but it is much more. It’s a love story. It’s a story of good versus evil and of loyalty and integrity versus wrongdoing. It’s also a journey through several historic events including the Bonnie and Clyde era, the Holocaust, World War II, 1950s Hollywood and the mid-20th century Texas oil boom. Somehow Burke was able to meld all these disconnected themes into a terrific cohesive novel. The authors character development and scene descriptions are the strengths of the novel along with a wonderful writing style that brings alive both the characters and the historic scenes. His use of Weldon as the narrator of the story also has a nice effect.

Although not the type of book I would typically read, I thoroughly enjoyed WAYFARING STRANGER.

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Giveaway: Genesis Code

Summary: Blue Magic, the latest designer drug linked to a rash of overdoses, might explain the needle mark on the arm of a young woman found dead in her Kansas City apartment. But when Star reporter Rich Azadian digs deeper, the clues point to a far more explosive story: MaryLee Stock was a special protégée of evangelical megapastor and power broker Cobalt Becker, who is poised to deliver his followers and the presidency to a firebrand right-wing senator in the next election. When Azadian sets out to prove that MaryLee’s death was no accident and she may have been carrying Becker’s genetically enhanced baby, the stakes become life itself. 

In 2023 America—bankrupt, violently divided by the culture wars, and beholden to archrival China—the rules of the game are complicated. With the danger mounting, the dead bodies of young women piling up, Chinese agents circling, and the US Department of National Competitiveness moving in to quash his investigation, Azadian’s only option is to go rogue, assemble a team of brilliant misfits like himself, and begin the fight of his life to find out who is killing these women and why, and if any others like them may still be alive. -- Arcade/Skyhorse Publishing

GENESIS CODE: A THRILLER OF THE NEAR FUTURE by Jamie Metzl sounds like a very unique (and scary!) thriller. Fast forward to 2023 when America is indebted to China (which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility) and they learn that China has a secret genetic enhancement program. The Americans believe they have to stay competitive with the Chinese; however, the US has restrictions on the rules. As a result, someone in power devises a secret plan to impregnate women with genetically enhanced embryos... without their knowledge.

While you might be thinking that this book sounds a little far-fetched, there is evidence out there that China might actually have a program similar to the one described in GENESIS CODE. Last year, Wired ran an article on a young entrepreneur in China moving ahead on this type research. This definitely opens the door the some of the questions raised in this novel.

I have a copy of GENESIS CODE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before November 17th 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!

Originally from Kansas City, MO, Jamie Metzl is a Partner in a global investment firm and a Senior Fellow of the Asia Society. He previously served as Executive Vice President of the Asia Society, Deputy Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senior Coordinator for International Public Information at the U.S. State Department, Director for Multilateral Affairs on the National Security Council, and with the United Nations in Cambodia. He appears regularly on national and international media discussing Asian economic and political issues and his syndicated columns and other writing on Asian affairs, genetics, virtual reality, and other topics is featured in publications around the world. He is the author of a history of the Cambodian genocide and the novel The Depths of the Sea (both published by St. Martin's Press). Jamie is a founder and Co-Chairman of Partnership for a Secure America, a board member of the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Jewish refugee agency HIAS, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former White House Fellow and Aspen Institute Crown Fellow. An avid ultramarathoner and Ironman triathlete, he holds a Ph.D. in Asian history from Oxford, a JD from Harvard Law School, and is a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University. He lives in New York City.