Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: This Dark Road to Mercy

Summary: Hailed as "mesmerizing" (New York Times Book Review) and "as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird" (Richmond Times-Dispatch), A Land More Kind Than Home made Wiley Cash an instant literary sensation. His resonant new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, is a tale of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, a story that involves two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins.

When their mother dies unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Easter Quillby and her six-year-old sister, Ruby, are shuffled into the foster care system in Gastonia, North Carolina, a little town not far from the Appalachian Mountains. But just as they settle into their new life, their errant father, Wade, an ex–minor league baseball player whom they haven't seen in years, suddenly reappears and steals them away in the middle of the night.

Brady Weller, the girls' court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and quickly turns up unsettling information linking him to a multimillion-dollar robbery. But Brady isn't the only one hunting him. Also on the trail is Robert Pruitt, a mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, a man determined to find Wade and claim what he believes he is owed.

The combination of Cash's evocative and intimate Southern voice and those of the alternating narrators, Easter, Brady, and Pruitt, brings this soulful story vividly to life. At once captivating and heartbreaking, This Dark Road to Mercy is a testament to the unbreakable bonds of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go. -- William Morrow

I absolutely loved Wiley Cash's debut novel A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. You can read my review here. Not only did I treasure this book for its complex characters, but Mr. Cash's writing was spectacular!

Fast forward a few months and I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Cash at the Harper Collins' offices during BEA week. He is positively charming and so genuine -- exactly what I'd expect him to be based on his writing. (Yes. I realize that sounds weird but it's true!) As I sat down to write this review, I stumbled upon this essay he wrote yesterday comparing his wedding day to the launch day of his new novel THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY (Hint: Snow!); and I just had to share it because it's so sweet. Make sure you watch the entire video! His caption says, "The best vows ever. Get your tissues." And boy is he right!

But I digress....

A few weeks ago, I sat down to read THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY. I'm not going to lie when I say that I had big expectations for this book.... reading big. I think that's sometimes the problem when an author writes such a fantastic first book. Readers expect the next one to be just as good -- maybe even better; and often times they are disappointed.

Well I'm thrilled to say that Mr. Cash did not let me down! THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY is another wonderful book. I absolutely loved it. Once again, he created some memorable characters and he definitely captured the essence of the South (or should I say the mountain region of North Carolina?); and I thought his prose-- and by that, I mean his descriptions, his dialogue, etc. -- were outstanding. He is just so darn talented!

THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY tells the story of two sisters Easter (twelve) and Ruby (six). They are currently part of the foster home system after the death of their mother; however, their long-lost father Wade, an ex-minor league baseball player, arrives back in town and kidnaps them!

The court appointed guardian Brady Weller takes his job very seriously and sets out to find the two girls. In the process, he discovers some startling clues that links their father to a high stakes robbery. In addition, another man is also racing to find Wade to claim what he feels he is owed.

I really, really liked THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY; and it's exactly what I need to get me out of my reading slump. Even though I was busy with the holidays, I still managed to make time to read bits of this novel. I quickly became caught up in Easter and Ruby's story, and I appreciated how the tension of the story kept building. I had a feeling something major would happen. I just didn't know when or what!

I think I've mentioned (at least once!) how much I appreciate Mr. Cash's writing style. In this novel, he chose to tell much of the story in Easter's voice; however, he also told the story through the eyes of other supporting characters. I loved how he captured the essence of Easter -- which I might add is pretty darn impressive for a man to successfully write a young girl's voice; and I thought he balanced her youthful innocence with her wisdom and feelings of hope so well. Of course, he also did a great job with they other characters' voices, and he made each one seem very unique.

In addition, I really appreciated the pacing of the story. As I read more and more of the novel, I found that the pace kept building; and I began having a hard time putting it down. In fact, I think I read the last half of the novel in just one or two sittings because I was so curious about how the story was going to end.

And that brings me to my next point -- the story didn't have a neat and tidy ending. Much like the characters, their experiences, and ultimately their futures, are complex. I'm not entirely sure how I wanted to book to end, or what (if anything) would constitute a "happy" ending; however, I can say that this ending did make me think... and that's always a good thing.

Finally, as a longtime baseball fan, I loved how he incorporated that theme into the story. Wade was an ex-ballplayer so that was part of the book, and he wanted to use his experiences to help Easter become a better player. And Wade and his daughters also attended a pretty important baseball game towards the end of the novel. However, I appreciated it for more than just that! I loved how he used the home run battle as a theme, and how he juxtaposed the tension between the ballplayers' chase with the tension of actual chase in the story.

There is no doubt that many book clubs will enjoy discussing THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY in upcoming months. It really is an ideal book club pick. I was so happy to see that the publisher has a terrific reading guide posted with thirteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, responsibility, redemption, forgiveness, laws that protect children, love, and second chances.

I adored THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY and can't recommend it enough! Mr. Cash has written another winner!

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Giveaway: The Comfort of Lies

Summary: Five years ago . . .

Tia fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. When she became pregnant, Nathan disappeared, and she gave up their baby for adoption.

Caroline reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. Now she’s ques­tioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.

Juliette considered her life ideal: solid marriage, two beautiful sons, and a thriving business. Then she discovered Nathan’s affair. He promised he’d never stray again, and she trusted him.

Now . . .

When Juliette intercepts a letter to her husband that contains pictures of a child who deeply resembles him, her world crumbles once more. How could Nathan deny his daughter? What other secrets is he hiding? Desperate for the truth, Juliette goes in search of the little girl, and before long the three women are on a collision course with consequences that none of them could have predicted. -- Washington Square Press

Today is the paperback release date of THE COMFORT OF LIES by Randy Susan Meyers. I read and reviewed this novel last year, and I was very impressed with Ms. Meyers' writing. She has a unique ability to create extremely complex characters who manage to get under your skin and really make you think.

I mentioned in my review that THE COMFORT OF LIES deals with some difficult issues and isn't a light read. As a result, this novel would make an excellent discussion book for book clubs. There is a reading guide with fifteen thought-provoking questions as well as some ideas to enhance your discussion!

I have a copy of the new paperback version of THE COMFORT OF LIES to share with one lucky reader. To enter, fill out the form below before Monday, February 10th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is good for those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Sycamore Row (Audio)

Summary: John Grisham's A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial-a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history. 

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County's most notorious citizens, just three years earlier. 

The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row? 

In Sycamore Row, John Grisham returns to the setting and the compelling characters that first established him as America's favorite storyteller. Here, in his most assured and thrilling novel yet, is a powerful testament to the fact that Grisham remains the master of the legal thriller, nearly twenty-five years after the publication of A Time to Kill. -- Random House Audio

I wouldn't claim to be the biggest fan of John Grisham; however, I have found some of his books to be highly entertaining. When I learned that his latest novel SYCAMORE ROW had many of the same characters as my all-time favorite Grisham novel A TIME TO KILL, I knew that I wanted to read it. I definitely had mixed emotions about this one.

SYCAMORE ROW picks up with Jake Brigance three years after his success in the Hailey trial. Despite his huge win, Jake's life hasn't changed all that much. He is still a small town attorney struggling to make ends meet, and he has problems finding good help. In many ways, his life might be worse... or definitely more dangerous. His family is renting a small house after the KKK torched their home, and Jake has resorted to carrying a gun for protection.

And then one day, Jake receives a letter from Seth Hubbard, a very wealthy man who has just committed suicide because he has terminal lung cancer. In this letter, Hubbard has written a will that leaves almost his entire estate to his black housekeeper Lettie... and leaves out his children and grandchildren. He asks Jake to represent his estate because he knows there will be some questions and controversy surrounding his hand-written will. Jake finds himself caught up in a family dispute as well as a racially tense situation as he not only tries to carry out Hubbard's last wishes but also as he learns the truth behind this act.

I mentioned earlier that I had mixed feelings about SYCAMORE ROW. There weren't that mixed. I just had some issues with the legal minutiae of the story. Mr. Grisham is obviously a lawyer who knows the laws and understand the way a courtroom (not to mention small town law) works. While that definitely lends a piece of authenticity to the novel, I found that his descriptions of the legal situation bordered on boring at times. While I have no doubt that lawyers probably feel the same way, I found myself drifting a few times during the explanations.

Having said that, I can now address what I really enjoyed about the novel because there were definitely many positives. The story itself in SYCAMORE ROW was extremely interesting. As the author set up the mystery surrounding Jake's will -- basically why would he leave millions to his maid? -- I was definitely hooked. It took awhile for the truth to be revealed, and I can't say that I didn't sense that something major was coming down the road; however, the ending of this novel blew me away. It was extremely powerful and made listening to everything else worth it!

In addition, I appreciated how this novel addressed race in the South in the late 1980s. This story took place about thirty years ago -- in my lifetime, and it's amazing how prejudice people still were. Even though this story was supposedly about a will, it really delved into small town life and the divide between blacks and whites.

Furthermore, I enjoyed how this story addressed money, and by that I mean greed too. Hubbard's children, who wanted virtually nothing to do with him during his life, sure came out in droves to prove that they were worthy of his estate. They surrounded themselves with cut-throat lawyers to challenge their father's mental competency and prove that he was coerced to change his will. Hubbard's children were extremely unlikable to me and, at times, were so ridiculously self-centered that they almost seemed like one-dimensional characters.

Finally, I appreciated the complexity of the story. This wasn't an edge-of-the-seat mystery. Rather it was a slow-moving story, with quite a few minor twists and turns, that really made me think. Many of the characters, were especially deep; and I liked that their actions weren't always predictable. Also, I liked how this book demonstrated how complex the legal system, and how it didn't shy away from the harsh realities of racial tensions in the South.

I listened to the audio version of SYCAMORE ROW read by Michael Beck. I thought he did an excellent job! This book had so many characters and Mr. Beck was able to capture different voices and versions of Southern accents for each one. I enjoyed listening to the entire audiobook, and it was a very long one coming in at almost 21 hours. However, the last hour or so of the performance (because that's what it was) was outstanding! You can listen to a short except below:

Overall, I appreciated SYCAMORE ROW, especially the audio version; and I highly recommend it to fans of Mr. Grisham.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this audio 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, January 25, 2014

Kid Konnection: The World According to Humphrey

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 very fun book that Booking Son and I both enjoyed.

Summary: You can learn a lot about life by observing another species. That’s what Humphrey was told when he was first brought to Room 26. And boy, is it true! In addition to his classroom escapades, each weekend this amazing hamster gets to sleep over with a different student, like Lower-Your-Voice-A.J. and Speak-Up-Sayeh. Soon Humphrey learns to read, write, and even shoot rubber bands (only in self-defense, of course). Humphrey has friends, adventures, and a cage with a lock-thatdoesn’t- lock. His life would be perfect, if only the teacher, Mrs. Brisbane, wasn’t out to get him! -- Puffin

Our school district decided to try something new this year. On the day we returned from Christmas vacation, they announced that all of the elementary students (Kindergarten through 5th grade) would be participating in the "One District, One Book" program. Basically, every child would receive a copy of the book from the school district, and there would be a variety of events during the month of January to encourage school spirit and a feeling of community.  Since many of the kids can't read an entire book to themselves, family members were encouraged to read the book to the child... no matter the age or grade.

As you already know, I'm a major book geek and could hardly wait for the big announcement. For the first "One District, One Book" selection, they chose THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY by Betty G. Birney. I was somewhat familiar with the Humphrey Hamster series; however, I had never read any of the books.

So for the past few weeks, Booking Son and I have spent a few minutes each evening reading THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, and I have to say we both enjoyed it quite a bit. This novel was extremely cute and funny, but there were also some valuable lessons that Humphrey and his human friends learned. Overall, I'd say this book was a hit on many levels.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY is actually the story of Humphrey the hamster's time spent in Room 26. Humphrey is a very smart hamster who can not only read but also write!

When the story begins, Humphrey is sad because his favorite human in the whole wide world (who just happened to be a substitute teacher) has just left and Mrs. Brisbane, the regular teacher, is back. Mrs. Brisbane isn't fond of Humphrey and considers him to be a lot of work.

Fortunately, the students love Humphrey and they decide to take turns taking him home on weekends. Each Friday, Humphrey leaves with a different child and leans something about the kids and their families when they are away from school. In addition, Humphrey finds ways to teach the kids (and their parents) a thing or two about life!

Even though Humphrey eventually wins over all of the kids, he's still afraid of Mrs. Brisbane. When Thanksgiving comes and he has to go home with the teacher, he ends up not only discovering more about the very interesting Mrs. Brisbane and her husband but also himself!

I was very excited to discover this series because Booking Son tends to only read non-fiction. He swears he doesn't like fiction (unless it's realistic fiction), and a Hamster who writes in a journal isn't exactly real-life. However, he loved this book and has shown interest in reading more books from the Humphrey series.

As part of the "One District, One Book" initiative, the school district had lots of fun things planned. The kids had the opportunity to make their own Humphrey, dress up as a favorite character from the book or something they want to be when they grow up, and Skype with a family member to share a chapter of the book. The kids (and their parents) also were encourage to "unplug" a day or more during the second week. In addition, each morning the kids participated in a trivia quiz with a question about the chapter that was read the night before -- Booking Son won one day but hasn't received his prize yet. Any my personal favorite, Humphrey had his own Twitter account.

Not surprising, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY has won tons of awards! As a mom, I loved that it was a book that parents and kids both appreciated. In addition, I have a feeling that teachers might like it quite a bit too. There is a curriculum guide and a teacher's guide with some interesting questions and activities

I really enjoyed the entire "One District, One Book" program, and I hope it continues for at least the next two years that Booking Son is in elementary school. Not only was THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY a cute story with some terrific life lessons, but I loved how we looked forward to reading together each evening!

Thanks to the Cumberland County School District for providing a copy of this novel... to Booking Son and every elementary student in the district!

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!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Guest Blogger: Jack Hyland & Giveaway

Summary: Modern-day Rome: Two American archaeologists suddenly die in an underground passageway in the Roman Forum leading to the buried rooms of Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace. The Italian authorities conclude the deaths were caused by a devastating and highly contagious virus. Tom Stewart, an NYU forensic archaeologist who was present when the deaths occurred, becomes entangled in the race to find the supply of the virus—a race involving many powerful players desperately seeking the deadly contagion. Stewart must find and destroy the virus before others harness its sinister power.

The Vatican, foreign groups, the world’s largest genetic seed manufacturer—all have their reasons, and none will stop until they succeed, no matter the cost or risk to millions of people if the virus escapes and causes a pandemic. -- Taylor Trade Publishing

I am so excited to welcome author Jack Hyland to Booking Mama. His novel THE MOSES VIRUS is now available and it's sure to appeal to fans of Dan Brown and Robin Cook. Check out his interesting essay about the real-life incident at the Sistine Chapel that became a scene in the book.

Under the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

In my new book, The Moses Virus, the main character Tom Stewart is confronted about a trip he had taken some years earlier to the Sistine Chapel during the restoration project to its famed ceiling. I based this incident on my own experience to show just how carefully the Vatican watches what happens. Here is my experience:

I received permission from the Vatican, through the good offices of the American Academy in Rome, to visit the restoration work underway in the Sistine Chapel. Here, for the first time in 500 years, a crew was very carefully cleaning Michelangelo’s most famous fresco.

Cleaning anything so prized in the world raised strong objections from many sources. What if mistakes were made? Would any changes at all be better than the way things are now? Very few people were crying out for restorative work. But, as the Vatican scholars pointed out, there was an accumulation of wax drifting upward from candles to light the chapel. This had gone on since Michelangelo had finished painting the ceiling in 1512, until the discovery of electricity made use of candles obsolete.

Watchful guards checked everyone who had a pass to enter the elevator to take a visitor up sixty feet to the scaffolding held by pegs placed in holes in the walls of the chapel, placed there to secure Michelangelo’s own platform.

When the elevator door opened, I stepped out onto a flat area that looked somewhat like a bleacher allowing someone to stand at different heights. In front of me was an area that had just been finished. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The snake who had tempted Eve to eat the apple of knowledge was wrapped around the core of the tree. I saw for the first time that the snake had been somewhat human in Michelangelo’s mind—from the waist down, the snake was divided into two tails, each wrapped around the tree truck, like two legs of a human. And, they were wrapped like the coils of a DNA molecule.

John W. Hyland, Jr. (Jack) born in Detroit in 1938. Lived in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Philadelphia before moving to New York City where he has been since 1961, with the exception of four years living in Paris and London. Graduated high school in 1955 (The Haverford School, outside Philadelphia), Williams College (1959, majoring in theoretical physics) and receiving a master’s degree from Harvard Business School, 1961.

His career has been in investment banking with Morgan Stanley & Co for 18 years (partner after eight years) followed by Warburg Paribas Becker (vice chairman), and PaineWebber (vice chairman) for ten years and the balance spent in a boutique investment banking firm (McFarland Dewey & Co.) until the last four years with Media Advisory Partners (founding partner) (

Besides The Moses Virus, he wrote a biography, Evangelism’s First Modern Media Star, The Life of Reverend Bill Stidger ( as well as articles syndicated by Hearst and The New York Times on his travels in India, Libya and Bhutan. He also has written articles in “Fine Gardening” magazine on his garden at his weekend house in Millerton, NY.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE MOSES VIRUS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before February 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Thanks to Tandem Literary for sponsoring this giveaway.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Flowers in the Attic

Summary: A major Lifetime movie event—the novel that captured the world's imagination and earned V.C. Andrews a fiercely devoted fanbase. Book One of the Dollanganger Family series.

At the top of the stairs there are four secrets hidden. Blond, beautiful, innocent, and struggling to stay alive…

They were a perfect family, golden and carefree—until a heartbreaking tragedy shattered their happiness. Now, for the sake of an inheritance that will ensure their future, the children must be hidden away out of sight, as if they never existed. Kept on the top floor of their grandmother’s vast mansion, their loving mother assures them it will be just for a little while. But as brutal days swell into agonizing months and years, Cathy, Chris, and twins Cory and Carrie realize their survival is at the mercy of their cruel and superstitious grandmother…and this cramped and helpless world may be the only one they ever know.

Book One of the Dollanganger series, followed by Petals in the Wind, If There be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows. -- Penguin Pocket Books

When I heard that FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by V.C. Andrews was being made into another movie -- one that stays true to the original novel, my intentions were to first re-read the book and then watch the movie. Well, you know what they say about best laid plans...

Like many women my age, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC was huge when I was in middle school and high school. All of my friends were reading the Dollanganger Family series and I remember being thrilled when I received the boxed set for Christmas one year. (Obviously my parents were no longer previewing what I was reading!) I was caught up in Christopher and Cathy's story and couldn't get enough of their horrible grandmother. These books were like crack for me!

So fast forward almost thirty years when I decide to re-read FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. When I sat down a few days ago to read this novel, I admit that I didn't remember many of the details. That's not to say that I didn't remember the big themes of the book, namely a mother who abandons her children, an abusive grandmother who locks them in an attic, and a not-so-normal relationship between a brother and sister. However, I didn't remember many of the specifics until I actually read them again. And then I was like, "Oh yeah!"

For those of you not familiar with the novel FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, I can provide a brief summary. Basically the Dollanganger family has it all -- beautiful parents and four beautiful children -- until one day when the father dies in an accident. Corrine, the mother, returns to her childhood home in the hopes that she can inherit the family fortune, but she must keep her children a secret from her father. The grandmother reluctantly agrees to let the children live in the attic of their mansion; however, the mother's visits become less and less frequent; and the days become months and then years.

I have to say that I think my reading tastes have changed quite a bit since I was a teenager. That's probably an understatement. As I re-read FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, I quickly realized that the writing wasn't so hot and that they dialogue was even a bit forced. Furthermore, I saw how outrageous the storyline was and much of the story was almost laughable.

Having said all that, I still enjoyed FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and wanted to keep reading it. I think that says something to the staying power and fan obsession with this series. I can't even explain why I kept reading, but I did. There is just something about this novel that makes it hard to put down. Maybe it's the portrayal of evil? Maybe it's the sheer thought of being at the mercy of a monster with no alternatives? Or maybe it's the idea of an incestuous relationship? It's probably a mix of everything, but FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC draws in readers and causes some very intense reactions.

Remember when I said that I intended to watch the movie? Well, it was on last Saturday and I missed it. Fortunately, it is on again this Saturday and Sunday; and I have already set up my DVR. Check here for more details.

The movie has a great cast. It stars:
Heather Graham as Corrine
Ellen Burstyn as Olivia
Kiernan Shipka as Young Cathy
Dylan Bruce as Bart
Mason Dye as Christopher
Chad Willett as Christopher Sr.
Ava Telek as Carrie
Maxwell Kovach as Cory

It's difficult for me to highly recommend FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC for many of the reasons I mentioned above, but for some reason, I do think it's worth reading just for the experience of being part of the FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC craze!  I also suggest a re-read for those of you, like me, who loved this book as a child! There's just something about it!

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Kid Konnection: Baby Penguins Love Their Mama & 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 precious picture book about penguins and their moms.

Summary: When you're a mama penguin with lots (and lots) of little ones to take care of, the days can melt together in a blur. Monday: swimming lessons. Tuesday: sliding. Wednesday: waddling. And on and on. Mama loves her babies so much. Do they know, she wonders, just how much?

As it turns out, they do--because they love her just as much! And to show it, they surprise her with a thoughtful gesture of their own on Sunday.

In her companion to Baby Penguins Everywhere! Melissa Guion offers another adorable book for sharing between mother and child. A perfect Valentine's Day, Mother's Day—or any day—gift for the person who is always there for us. -- Philomel

Oh my goodness! BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA! by Melissa Guion is positively adorable! Mama penguin is kept busy taking care of her baby penguins. Every day, they do an activity -- some more fun than others; and mama penguin can finally rest on Sunday. She does a fine job preparing her babies to be good adult penguins, but she wonders what will happen when her babies won't need her anymore. Thankfully, the baby penguins remind her that she will always have a role as their mother!

I adored BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA. It's a cute book with sweet illustrations and is perfect for even the littlest of listeners. There are only a few words per page and the story moves quickly. There is even some humor thrown in. However, it's the sweet ending that really touched my heart. What mother doesn't love the message that she's appreciated?

I truly can't recommend BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA enough. It's a winner for parents and children alike, and it's the perfect gift for Valentine's Day (which is right around the corner) or Mother's Day.

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

Giveaway alert: One lucky winner will receive a deliciously-scented mama and baby penguin goat's milk soap (for preening practice, of course!) and a signed copy of BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA.  (U.S. addresses only.) To enter, just fill out the form below before January 25th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. Good luck!

Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour:

Monday, Jan 13 Susan Heim on Parenting
Tues, Jan 14 The Children's Book Review
Wed, Jan 15 Once Upon a Story
Thurs, Jan 16 Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Jan 17 Momma Drama

Mon, Jan 205 Minutes for Books
Tues, Jan 21 Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Jan 22 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Thurs, Jan 23 Geo Librarian
Fri, Jan 24 As They Grow Up
Sat, Jan 25 Obsessive Mommy

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, January 16, 2014

Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating (Audio)

Summary: The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time

When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Light is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France. -- Random House Audio

I normally listen to audiobooks which are mysteries or thrillers, but every once in a while, I enjoy a good memoir. MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING: LESSONS IN FOOD AND LOVE FROM A YEAR IN PARIS by Ann Mah isn't a traditional memoir in that it tells the author's life story. Rather this book is part travelogue, part cookbook, part history book, and part coming-of-age story. It's not something I'd normally pick up, but I'm sure glad I did.

MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING is Ms. Mah's story about a year she lived in Paris. When her diplomat husband was assigned to Paris, Ms. Mah was absolutely thrilled. She pictured them discovering the sights and sounds of France... together. However, he was immediately transferred to Iraq and she found herself all alone in Paris. It wasn't exactly what she had in mind!

As a way to deal with her disappointment (and loneliness), her husband suggested that she start traveling a little and trying out some of the foods for which France is known. Ms. Mah begins a year-long quest to sample and learn the history behind many traditional French foods including Boeuf Bourguignon, crepes, and andouillette sausage (YUCK!) In the process, she also learns some very important things about love, marriage, friendship, and herself.

I thought MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING was delightful albeit it probably wasn't the best book to listen to while working out! I loved "discovering" France along with the author, and she did a fabulous job of bringing the country and it's food to life. In addition, I enjoyed the parts where Ms. Mah discussed her personal life and the struggles she was experiencing. I guess I'd say that I appreciated the balance between memoir, food, and history!

Each chapter was about a different traditional French food. Ms. Mah not only went into detail about describing the food but she also provided a recipe at the end of each chapter for those readers daring enough to try them! In addition, she provided a great deal of background about the region where the food was initially created and the history of the recipe. I found it all to be very interesting, but I'm still reeling from the sausage chapter!

The audio of MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING was read by Mozhan Marno, and I thought she did a fabulous job. She had no problems going back and forth between English and French phrases and her voice was just pleasant -- if that makes sense. I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another audiobook read by her.

If you think you might be interested in MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING on audio,  you can take a quick listen:

Overall, I found MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH EATING to be a fun listen. I actually was surprised by how much I learned about France and its food, but I also enjoyed learning about Ms. Mah's personal journey. Highly recommended to fans of memoirs and foodie books!

Thanks to BermudaOnion for sharing her review copy of this book.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Giveaway: Winter Sky

Summary: Sirens! A scary sound, especially to Siria, whose brave pop is a firefighter. Siria loves everyone at Pop's city firehouse. She also loves to study the stars. Her mother named her after the brightest start in the winter sky.

When Siria hears sirens, she sneaks out to chase the trucks, to bring Pop and the other firefighters luck. She'd be in big trouble if she ever got caught. Good thing her best friend, Douglas, is always by her side.

As Christmas approaches, Siria suspects that someone in the neighborhood is setting fires. She has to find out who's doing it. When clues point to a surprising suspect, she realizes that solving this mystery will take all kinds of courage.

Patricia Reilly Giff, the author of many beloved and award-winning books, is at her best in this action-packed story. In Winter Sky, friends, family, and a very special dog help Siria see how brave she really is. -- Wendy Lamb Books

Just a few days ago, I raved about a new middle grade novel called WINTER SKY by award-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff. I thought this book was extremely entertaining, and it was full of wonderful messages -- a great combo for young kids... and moms too!

I am extremely excited that the publisher has offered to giveaway two copies of WINTER SKY to two very lucky Booking Mama readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before January 28th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: Someone Else's Love Story

Summary: I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K

For single mom Shandi Pierce, life is a juggling act. She's finishing college; raising her delightful three-year-old genius son, Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo; and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced Christian mother and Jewish father. She's got enough to deal with before she gets caught in the middle of a stickup in a gas station mini-mart and falls in love with a great wall of a man named William Ashe, who steps between the armed robber and her son to shield the child from danger.

Shandi doesn't know that her blond god has his own baggage. When he looked down the barrel of the gun in the gas station he believed it was destiny: it's been exactly one year since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn't define destiny the way other people do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in science and numbers, destiny to him is about choice.

Now, William and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head-on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

Someone Else's Love Story is Joshilyn Jackson's funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness; about falling in love and learning that things aren't always what they seem—or what we hope they will be. It's a story about discovering what we want and ultimately finding what we need. -- William Morrow

I've always loved Joshilyn Jackson's books; and after meeting her at last year's BEA, I couldn't wait to read her new one SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY. I knew this novel was a little different from her previous books, but I was still looking forward to Ms. Jackson's unique ability to write terrific southern fiction with interesting characters.

SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY tells the story of Shandi Pierce, a single mom who is raising her three year old son Natty. (I was introduced to these characters a few months ago when I listened to the short story MY OWN MIRACULOUS -- my review.) Like single moms everywhere, Shandi has a full plate -- going to college, raising her son, and keeping the peace with her divorced parents. 

One day, Shandi finds herself smack dab in the middle of a hold-up at a gas station; and she immediately falls in love with William, the man who saves her life.  William is just plain hot and it's no wonder Shandi is attracted to him; however, William is still reeling from a tragic event that occurred exactly one year prior to the hold-up.  As a thank-you (and a way to get closer to William), she decides to take care of him; and at the same time, he helps her discover a secret from her past.

I enjoyed SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY, but I'm not sure it lived up to my expectations. (Having said that, they were pretty high!) I read this book some time ago, and as I look back, there were many positive things about it. I especially loved how many "big" issues Ms. Jackson was able to  cover in this story as well as the book's ending. My only issue was that I found the pace of the first half of the novel to be kind of slow. The second half of the book was terrific -- I just think it took a long time to set up the story.

It's funny to say this about a book, but I think I enjoyed what this book accomplished more than the actual story. I loved how Ms. Jackson delved into the subjects of science and miracles, and I thought William's character was an excellent way to demonstrate how science works in our society. I appreciated how she showcased the usefulness of facts and choices while balancing that with the benefit of intuition and feelings. 

In addition, I liked how Shandi discovered things not only about herself but also about her family and friends. Shandi might be an adult, but in many ways, this novel was a coming-of-age story for her. She learned that what she thinks she wants isn't always what she really wants, and that sometimes what we need to most is right in front of us. I loved how much Shandi grew as a character throughout this novel and how she eventually realized what she needs for happiness and contentment.

Finally, I loved how the theme of surprises, both good and bad, were woven into the story. The story itself has its share of twist and turns -- as does life; and Shandi had to learn to deal with these changes. I especially appreciated how this novel was full of surprises and never predictable!

Because there are so many pertinent themes to life, I think SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY would make a great book club pick. There are thirteen discussion questions which will help facilitate conversation. I've mentioned a few of the themes but you also might want to discuss family, parenting, forgiveness, acceptance, faith, choices, secrets, goodness, regret, and fate.

I recommend SOMEONE ELSE'S LOVE STORY to fans of Ms. Jackson's as well as readers who enjoy southern fiction and heart-warming stories.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher at last year's BEA.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: The Lowland (Audio)

Summary:From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of The Namesake comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death.

Born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other in the Calcutta neighborhood where they grow up. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead. It is the 1960s, and Udayan—charismatic and impulsive—finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty; he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America.

But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he goes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind—including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Masterly suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland is a work of great beauty and complex emotion; an engrossing family saga and a story steeped in history that spans generations and geographies with seamless authenticity. It is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers. -- Random House Audio

If  you are a regular follower of my blog, then you know that I haven't been posting as regularly as normal. It's not that I haven't been reading books (although my reading is way down!) Rather, it's that I haven't been finding the time to write reviews. I could probably write an entire post on what's going on with my interest (or lack thereof) in blogging, but I'll leave that to another time!

What I do want to share with you are my thoughts about the audiobook version of THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri. I was already a big fan of Ms. Lahiri's; however, this novel really demonstrated just how skilled of an author she is.

THE LOWLAND is an intricate story about about two very different brothers who grew up in India during the 1960s. The novel begins when the boys, only eighteen months apart, are young; and in many ways is a coming-of-age story for them. Subhash is the more obedient son and becomes a researcher who eventually leaves for America, while Udayan joins the Naxalite movement to fight against inequity and poverty.

Tragedy strikes the family when Udayan is killed in a lowland near their home, and Subhash returns to India to help his family and his brother's wife. The story then follows Subhash as he returns to America with his new wife and attempts to move on with his life... without his brother.

As I re-read the summary I just wrote, I realize that I didn't do a very good job of summarizing the novel. Truly, my description for THE LOWLAND is a very simplistic look at the story. Trust me when I say that this novel is a very complex story, and everything about it is extremely well done. Over and over again, I was blown away by the beauty of Ms. Lahiri's prose. However, I was also fascinated by the historical elements of the story (I didn't know anything about the political climate in India during this time), and I was equally impressed with the depth of the characters.

THE LOWLAND is one of those books that almost haunts you -- does that make sense? At times, I found it to be gut-wrenching, and the pain these characters experienced stayed with me even when I wasn't reading the novel. It is because this novel was so thought-provoking (in so many ways) that I found it to be such a unique and special story.

It's difficult for me to focus on just a few specific things to address in this review (like I normally do) because the scope and, at the same time,  the intricacies of this novel blew me away. Suffice it to say that it was how everything came together in this story that really makes it stellar. Of course, I loved Ms. Lahiri's writing style and how she decided to tell the brothers' story -- she went back and forth between the present and the past. However, I might have been even more impressed by her character development and the portrayal of the complex relationships between them.

As a result, THE LOWLAND would make an outstanding book club selection. There are so many topics to discuss that I hardly know where to start! Thankfully, there is a reading guide with nineteen questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, sibling rivalry, marriage, loss, grief, guilt, obligation, politics, duty, parent/child relationships, and love.

I actually listed to the audio version of THE LOWLAND and thought it was very good. Having said that, it's possible that I might have enjoyed the written version more because of how I process words. I would have loved seeing Ms. Lahiri's prose and being able to go back and re-read certain portions of it. The story was narrated by Sunil Malhotra, and I thought he did an excellent job with the various accents as well as the emotion of the story.

Here's and excerpt of the audiobook:

I thoroughly enjoyed THE LOWLAND and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction.

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

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kid Konnection: Winter Sky

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 newly published middle grade book by an award winning author.

Summary: Sirens! A scary sound, especially to Siria, whose brave pop is a firefighter. Siria loves everyone at Pop's city firehouse. She also loves to study the stars. Her mother named her after the brightest start in the winter sky.

When Siria hears sirens, she sneaks out to chase the trucks, to bring Pop and the other firefighters luck. She'd be in big trouble if she ever got caught. Good thing her best friend, Douglas, is always by her side.

As Christmas approaches, Siria suspects that someone in the neighborhood is setting fires. She has to find out who's doing it. When clues point to a surprising suspect, she realizes that solving this mystery will take all kinds of courage.

Patricia Reilly Giff, the author of many beloved and award-winning books, is at her best in this action-packed story. In Winter Sky, friends, family, and a very special dog help Siria see how brave she really is. -- Wendy Lamb Books

If you enjoy middle grade fiction, then you've probably read a novel or two by Patricia Reilly Giff. She's a two-time Newbery Honor winner and author of more than 60 books! Her latest book is called WINTER SKY, and I think she has another winner on her hands.

WINTER SKY tells the story of Siria, a young girl whose father is a firefighter. Siria loves learning about stars -- she's even named after one. However, Siria also is very interested in fires. When Siria hears sirens, she sneaks out of her apartment and chases down the fire. She desperately feels the need to keep watch over her father and protect him from danger -- he's all she has left.

Siria realizes that some of the fires in her neighborhood seem to be related, and she begins to suspect that someone might be deliberately starting them. As she tracks down the clues, she unfortunately discovers that the information leads to a close friend. Siria decides to put aside her feelings and track down the person setting these fires even though it might cost her a valuable friendship. And in the process, she learns some important things about her friends and herself.

I really enjoyed WINTER SKY, and while I don't think it's my favorite book by Ms. Giff, it's still a wonderful read. There are just so many fantastic things about this novel that make it ideal for young readers from the characters, to the writing, to the lessons. Overall, it is an entertaining story that will warm your heart.

One of the things that I loved about WINTER SKY was the character of Siria. She was such a sweet girl, and she discovered so many valuable lessons about friendship, love, and responsibility. I especially appreciated that the entire story was told in her voice. Ms. Giff did a remarkable job of capturing her personality and making her a very real character.

I also liked the supporting characters including Siria's father, her friends, her caretakers, the firemen (and firewoman!), and even the dog. All of the individuals in Siria's life were important to her and helped to make Siria who she was. By using this cast of characters in the way, I think the author also demonstrated the importance of community.

I mentioned earlier that Ms. Giff did a great job with Siria's voice, but she also wrote some beautiful prose. I especially appreciated how she incorporated Siria's book about stars into the story. Not only was it used as a way for Siria to remember her mother, but it also served to tie together stars and constellation lore with certain aspects of what was happening in Siria's life.

And since I am a mom, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how many valuable lessons were part of this novel. Siria was already a terrific girl at the beginning of the story, but she grew even wiser (and happier) by the end. Because this novel dealt with parent/child topics, friendship issues, and even self-discovery, I think it would make an excellent discussion book. Some of the themes you might want to explore include assumptions, guilt, forgiveness, acceptance, fear, secrets, and love.

Overall, WINTER SKY is a fantastic middle grade book! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing 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!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: Just Like Other Daughters

Summary: Alicia Richards loved her daughter from her very first breath. Days later, when tests confirmed what Alicia already knew—that Chloe had Down syndrome—she didn’t falter. Her ex-husband wanted a child who would grow to be a scholar. For Alicia, it’s enough that Chloe just is.

Now twenty-five, Chloe is sweet, funny, and content. Alicia brings her to adult daycare while she teaches at a local college. One day Chloe arrives home thrumming with excitement, and says the words Alicia never anticipated. She has met someone—a young man named Thomas. Within days, Chloe and Thomas, also mentally challenged, declare themselves in love.

Alicia strives to see past her misgivings to the new possibilities opening up for her daughter. Shouldn’t Chloe have the same right to love as anyone else? But there is no way to prepare for the relationship unfolding, or for the moments of heartbreak and joy ahead.

With grace and warmth, Colleen Faulkner tells an unflinching yet heartrending story of mothers and daughters, and of the risks we all take, both in loving and in letting go. -- Kensington

I could be totally shallow and admit that one of the reasons that I picked up JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS by Colleen Faulkner was the cover. (Doesn't it just look like it belongs on Target's shelves?) However, it didn't take me long to realize that this novel also had some substance to it... and by that, I mean it dealt with some very difficult (and even uncomfortable) situations.

JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS tells the story of Alicia and her adult daughter Chloe who has Down syndrome. Alicia deeply loves Chloe and always put her daughter first, especially after her husband left her after realizing that he couldn't handle parenting a mentally challenged child. (He also wasn't one for honoring his marriage vows when it came to faithfulness but that's another story.)

When Chloe meets a young man named Thomas at her adult daycare center, she is immediately enamored by him; and it appears that Thomas feels the same way. They decide that they want to get married, and Thomas's mother fully supports them. Naturally, Alicia has her concerns but she decides that her daughter has a right to be happy just like any other young woman.

Alicia agrees that Chloe and Thomas can live with her; however, things become hard for the young couple pretty quickly. While Alicia knew there would be challenges in taking care of two mentally challenged adults, she had no idea just how complicated things could get.

Overall, I enjoyed JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS, and I especially liked how much it made me think. That's always a sign of a good book to me if I think about it even when I'm not reading it. JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS had interesting characters in Alicia and Chloe, and it also brought forth many ethical questions about parenting an adult with Down's syndrome. I also liked that while parts of the story were predictable, the story did have some twists and the ending wasn't wrapped up nicely with a big, fat bow.

In addition, I liked how Ms. Faulker decided to tell this story. She wrote both Alicia and Chloe's version of the story in their words. I commend her for tackling Chloe's portion because I suspect it was difficult to capture the voice of a young woman with Down's. However, I admit that I enjoyed Alicia's sections much more. I appreciated how well developed Alicia was, and I liked the honestly that was conveyed in her character.

I don't have a lot experience with mentally challenged adults (or kids for that matter), but I feel as if Ms. Faulkner offered a realistic portrayal of many situations. What I really appreciated was the look she gave me into not only the day-to-day issues, but many of the ethical concerns a parent could have. All I can say is "Wow!" And I certainly have an even greater appreciation of these parents.

JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS would make an ideal book club selection. The book deals with so many wonderful issues about mothers and daughters. Plus there are many ethical issues to debate. The publisher posted a reading guide which explores some of the topics including love, intimacy, relationships, marriage, grief, and guilt.

JUST LIKE OTHER DAUGHTERS is a thought-provoking read. Recommended to fans of women's fiction.

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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Stella Bain

Summary: Stella Bain has no memory of her past when she wakes up in a hospital bed in Marne, France. It is 1916, and she wears the uniform of a British war nurse but speaks with an American accent. As soon as she is able, Stella sets out for London, where she hopes to find answers. What she discovers-with the help of Dr. August Bridge, who takes an interest in her case-both shocks and startles. As Stella's memories come racing back, she must undertake a journey across the ocean to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In this gripping historical drama that transports us from Europe to America and back again, Anita Shreve weaves an engrossing tale about love and memory, set against the backdrop of a war that devastated an entire generation. -- Little Brown

When I learned that Anita Shreve had a new novel out called STELLA BAIN, I immediately added it to my must-read list. I have read many of Ms. Shreve's novels (including a few for my book club), and I've always appreciated not only her writing style but her ability to create thought-provoking characters. Needless to say, I had high expectations for STELLA BAIN.

STELLA BAIN tells the story of a World War I nurse who awakens after an accident and has no memory of her past. She is dressed as a British war nurse; however, she speaks with an American accent. Once Stella recovers, she heads to London for some answers, and there she meets Dr. August Bridge, a doctor who wants to help her learn about her past. Stella's memories begin coming back to her in bits and pieces, and she is amazed by her complex past.

As I try to gather my thoughts about STELLA BAIN, I realize that I could have used this review as part of my Mystery Mondays post. However, I'm not entirely sure that I'd classify it a traditional mystery. While there are definitely elements of a mystery surrounding Stella's past, I think this novel was more of character driven story -- one that focused on Stella's self discovery. (Or, should I say her rediscovery?) As a result, I decided to not treat this book as a "mystery."

Had it been more of a mystery, it might have worked better for me. If I'm being entirely honest, I had mixed feelings about STELLA BAIN. On one hand, I did enjoy Ms. Shreve's writing and character development as well as the historical elements of the story. But on the other hand, I wanted a bit more from this novel. I just felt as if I were waiting for something big to happen, and it never did. That's not saying that I can't appreciate a quiet, character driven novel. It just means that I didn't feel as involved in the story as I would have liked.

There were definitely some things I did like about STELLA BAIN though. First and foremost was the way Ms. Shreve decided to tell Stella's back story. Like Stella, the reader is initially very confused about her past; however, Ms. Shreve uses flashbacks of Stella's memory to clue the reader (and Stella) about her background. I liked how Stella's past gradually unfolded and it did keep me interested in the novel. You have to admit that it's quite a stretch for an American woman to end up a British nurse during a war.

Another aspect of STELLA BAIN that I found to be intriguing was how it delved into the history of World War I. I'm not sure that I ever realized just how huge this war was to England's past until I read the Maisie Dobbs books, and I appreciated that this novel continued educating me about the atrocities of this time period.  (You know how I love to get my history through fiction!) I thought Ms. Shreve did an outstanding job of writing about the war and making it very real for her readers.

And finally, I really liked the various themes that the book explored.  While the novel wasn't exactly "exciting" for me, I did appreciate the quiet nature of the story and even the eventual love story that took place. In addition to touching upon the effects of war, this novel also explored love, family, marriage, and memory. It was the theme of memory that I found the most fascinating and probably the topic that book clubs would most enjoy discussing.

Overall, I do think STELLA BAIN is worth reading despite my mixed feelings about it.  Recommended for fans of historical fiction and especially readers who enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books.

Thanks to Tandem Literary for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Guest Review: The Heart of Everything That Is

Summary: The great Sioux warrior-statesman Red Cloud was the only American Indian in history to defeat the United States Army in a war, forcing the government to sue for peace on his terms. At the peak of Red Cloud’s powers the Sioux could claim control of one-fifth of the contiguous United States and the loyalty of thousands of fierce fighters. But the fog of history has left Red Cloud strangely obscured. Now, thanks to the rediscovery of a lost autobiography, and painstaking research by two award-winning authors, the story of our nation’s most powerful and successful Indian warrior can finally be told.

Born in 1821 near the Platte River in modern-day Nebraska, Red Cloud lived an epic life of courage, wisdom, and fortitude in the face of a relentless enemy—the soldiers and settlers who represented the “manifest destiny” of an expanding America. He grew up an orphan and had to overcome numerous social disadvantages to advance in Sioux culture. Red Cloud did that by being the best fighter, strategist, and leader of his fellow warriors. As the white man pushed farther and farther west, they stole the Indians’ land, slaughtered the venerated buffalo, and murdered with impunity anyone who resisted their intrusions. The final straw for Red Cloud and his warriors was the U.S. government’s frenzied spate of fort building throughout the pristine Powder River Country that abutted the Sioux’s sacred Black Hills—Paha Sapa to the Sioux, or “The Heart of Everything That Is.”

The result was a gathering of angry tribes under one powerful leader. “The white man lies and steals,” Red Cloud told his thousands of braves at council fire. “My lodges were many, now they are few. The white man wants all. They must fight for it.” What came to be known as Red Cloud’s War (1866–1868) culminated in a massacre of American cavalry troops that presaged the Little Bighorn and served warning to Washington that the Plains Indians would fight, and die, for their land and traditions. But many more American soldiers would die first.

In The Heart of Everything That Is, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, the New York Times bestselling authors of Halsey’s Typhoon and The Last Stand of Fox Company, restore Red Cloud to his rightful place in American history in a sweeping and dramatic narrative based on years of primary research. As they trace the events leading to Red Cloud’s War they provide intimate portraits of the many and various men and women whose lives Red Cloud touched—mountain men such as the larger-than-life Jim Bridger; U.S. generals like William Tecumseh Sherman who were charged with annihilating the Sioux; fearless explorers such as the dashing John Bozeman; and the warriors whom Red Cloud groomed, the legendary Crazy Horse in particular. And residing at the heart of the story is Red Cloud, fighting for the very existence of the Indian way of life.

This fiery narrative, fueled by contemporary diaries and journals, newspaper reports, eyewitness accounts, and meticulous firsthand sourcing, is a stirring chronicle of the conflict between an expanding white civilization and the Plains Indians who stood in its way. The Heart of Everything That Is not only places the reader at the center of this remarkable epoch, but finally gives Red Cloud the modern-day recognition he deserves. -- Simon and Schuster

THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF RED CLOUD, AN AMERICAN LEGEND by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin is a pretty big book about history, so it should come as no surprise that I passed it along to my dad. Here are his thoughts:

The Black Hills mountain range was known to the Indian Nations as Paha Sapa, translated to mean “the heart of everything that is.” Authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin used this translation as the title of their book THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS, THE UNTOLD STORY OF RED CLOUD, AN AMERICAN LEGEND. It is a story about the Native Americans battle to retain its land in the midst of the American westward movement.

Red Cloud was the son of an alcoholic father who rose to the highest level of leadership in the Sioux nation. Red Cloud’s life centered on the philosophy to kill his peoples’ enemies, whether Indian or White man. Red Cloud, a Sioux war chief, was a fierce and brutal warrior, feared by his enemies and recognized for his leadership and military genius.

The main story takes place as the Civil War was ending and puts the reader in the midst of the western movement as America was fulfilling its “manifest destiny”. The Native Americans were confronted with an influx of settlers, mountain men, trappers, soldiers and gold seekers. It was a time of significant racism in the United States and the military actions taken against the tribes reflected that culture. As the Americans took more of the Native Americans’ land and food and continued their string of broken promises, Red Cloud rallied more than 4,000 Indians from various tribes to take a stand. This resulted in a brutal massacre of 81 soldiers in a 30 minute battle later called “Red Cloud’s War”. This battle significantly changed the United States approach to the Native American issues. Red Cloud later traveled to Washington D.C. and observed firsthand the size and might of the United States and recognized that the Native Americans could not stop the western movement and concluded that peace was the only alternative.

Red Cloud is lesser known than his contemporaries Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and his victory over the U.S. Army in December of 1866 is overshadowed in history by the1876 Battle of Little Big Horn. However, “Red Cloud’s War” is the only Native American victory over the U.S. Army that resulted in a treaty that forced the United States to concede land from western Minnesota to Idaho, including the sacred Black Hills. Of course, like other treaties with the Native Americans, this one didn’t last either.

THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS is an interesting book about a significant chapter in American history. The authors did a great amount of research and relied on a long lost autobiography of Red Cloud to tell their story. The storytelling techniques used by the authors further enhanced the novel and their detailed descriptions of the characters and the settings brought the book to life. I recommend this book to anyone interested in this important segment of American history.

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

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kid Konnection: Richard Scarry

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 classic book from Richard Scarry.

Summary: The station wagon, the tow truck, the garbage truck and the bulldozer. Every manner of machinery that moves is riotously depicted in this classic favorite. As the pig family head to the beach for a picnic, they encounter every vehicle known, from the forklift to the locomotive, and many vehicles that are not as common, from the pumpkin car to the broom-o-cycle. Each detailed spread provides tremendous opportunity to make up stories and describe situations. Will Officer Flossy catch Dingo? Will Rollo Rabbit catch his runaway steamroller? And with literally hundreds of things to look at, youngsters will spend hours trying to find Goldbug on every page. -- Golden Books

I am really going to show my age this week because I was extremely excited when I received a copy of RICHARD SCARRY'S CARS AND TRUCKS AND THINGS THAT GO. Believe it or not, it's the 40th anniversary of the release of this book. Time sure does fly!

I have fond memories of Richard Scarry books from when I was a kid, and I even managed to get my hands on a few special ones to share with my children.  My kids always enjoyed these books because there were so many things to see on each page. Personally, I enjoyed the animal characters and the mix of whimsical and realistic drawings.

In CARS AND TRUCKS AND THINGS THAT GO, another generation of children will get to experience the magic of Richard Scarry. This book features a huge variety of vehicles and characters, and I'm pretty sure that most kids will be attracted to all of the action and details on each page. In addition to enjoying the illustrations and learning about planes, trains and other vehicles, children can also have fun searching for the Goldbug character on each page. 

While my kids are both past the target age for these books, I was still happy to learn that Random House is reissuing lots of Richard Scarry titles includes RICHARD SCARRY'S BEST BUNNY BOOK EVER!, RICHARD SCARRY'S NICKY GOES TO THE DOCTOR, RICHARD SCARRY'S PIE RATS AHOY, RICHARD SCARRY'S BEST NURSERY TALES EVER, and RICHARD SCARRY'S BUNNIES.

RICHARD SCARRY'S CARS AND TRUCKS AND THINGS THAT GO is a must-have addition to any child's library. Highly recommended if you are looking for a book that will keep kids busy for hours!

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!