Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Drunk Mom

Summary: Three years after giving up drinking, Jowita Bydlowska found herself throwing back a glass of champagne like it was ginger ale. It was a special occasion: a party celebrating the birth of her first child. It also marked Bydlowska’s immediate, full-blown return to crippling alcoholism.

In the gritty and sometimes grimly comic tradition of the bestselling memoirs Lit by Mary Karr and Smashed by Koren Zailckas, Drunk Mom is Bydlowska’s account of the ways substance abuse took control of her life- the binges and blackouts, the humiliations, the extraordinary risk-taking- as well as her fight toward recovery as a young mother. This courageous memoir brilliantly shines a light on the twisted logic of an addicted mind and the powerful, transformative love of one’s child. Ultimately it gives hope, especially to those struggling in the same way. -- Penguin

Earlier this week, I reviewed Lena Dunham's new book NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL and I enjoyed it quite a bit. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that when she recommended DRUNK MOM by Jowita Bydlowska, I wanted to read it. Here's what she said:

“An intense, complex and disturbing story, bravely and beautifully told. I read Drunk Mom with my jaw on the floor, which doesn’t happen to me that often.” – Lena Dunham

Basically, DRUNK MOM is Jowita Bydlowska's story about her problems with alcohol and her eventual recovery. It's disturbing. It's gut-wrenching. And it's almost impossible to believe for someone who only has the occasional drink. However, this book is also a beautiful story about the love a mother has for her child.

Ms. Bydlowska had just given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. Instead of basking in the glory of motherhood, she takes a drink at a party to celebrate the birth of her child and quickly descends into a personal hell. She returns to her life as an alcoholic and spends almost every minute of her life drinking or trying to hide her problem.

Fortunately, Ms. Bydlowska eventually sees that she is destroying her family and enters rehab. She realizes that she has to get her life together for the sake of her son... and herself. She shares her life as an alcoholic with the same honestly that she shares her path to recovery.

Ms. Dunham wasn't lying when she said that she read DRUNK MOM with her jaw on the floor. That's pretty much the exact same reaction I had. No matter how bad I thought an alcoholic's life could be, I never imagined it to be anything like Ms. Bydlowska described in this book. There is no way I can even describe her struggles -- you have to read this book, but she gives details on the blackouts, the binges, the fights, the secrets and more. The sheer desperation she explains in this book is almost unfathomable!

Despite being shocked by Ms. Bydlowska's story, I was very impressed with her courage in sharing her experiences. Truly, her life as a full-blown alcoholic is difficult to comprehend, and I had a hard time not judging her especially since she had a little baby. However, I never doubted that she loved her child. I also realized very clearly that alcoholism is a disease and Ms. Bydlowska needed an incredible amount of strength to fight it. Thankfully, she realized that her son needed her with all of her facilities... and not an alcoholic mother!

Ms. Bydlowska's story is extremely interesting, but I think DRUNK MOM worked because of her writing skills. I loved how she chose to tell her story. Much of the book was written in snippets and sounded almost manic... kind of like her life as an alcoholic. I admit that it took me a little while to get used to her writing style, but once I did, I really liked it. I think my inability to put down this book is a testament to that!

DRUNK MOM is a distrubing, yet fascinating, memoir about one mother's desire to return to her son.  Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Giveaway: Ron Carlson Novels

Summary: Ron Carlson has always been a critics’ favorite, but Return to Oakpine shows the acclaimed writer at his finest. In this tender and nostalgic portrait of western American life, Carlson tells the story of four middle-aged friends who once played in a band while growing up together in small-town Wyoming. One of them, Jimmy Brand, left for New York City and became an admired novelist. Thirty years later in 1999, he’s returned to die. Craig Ralston and Frank Gunderson never left Oakpine; Mason Kirby, a Denver lawyer, is back on family business. Jimmy’s arrival sends the other men’s dreams and expectations, realized and deferred, whirling to the surface. And now that they are reunited, getting the band back together might be the most essential thing they ever do. -- Penguin

Summary: Ron Carlson, author of the critically acclaimed Five Skies, is an award-winning writer beloved by booksellers, reviewers, and readers alike. His most thrilling book to date, The Signal follows the story of Mack and Vonnie, a married couple who, after ten years together, are taking their last hike in the mountains of Wyoming to say goodbye to their relationship and to each other. As the troubled and tragic elements of their past gradually come to light over the course of their journey, Mack keeps a secret: he is tracking a signal, sent via a beacon that has fallen from the sky, that will lead them both into a wood far darker than they have ever imagined. -- Penguin

Summary: Beloved story writer Ron Carlson’s first novel in thirty years, Five Skies is the story of three men gathered high in the Rocky Mountains for a construction project that is to last the summer. Having participated in a spectacular betrayal in Los Angeles, the giant, silent Arthur Key drifts into work as a carpenter in southern Idaho. Here he is hired, along with the shiftless and charming Ronnie Panelli, to build a stunt ramp beside a cavernous void. The two will be led by Darwin Gallegos, the foreman of the local ranch who is filled with a primeval rage at God, at man, at life. 

As they endeavor upon this simple, grand project, the three reveal themselves in cautiously resonant, profound ways. And in a voice of striking intimacy and grace, Carlson’s novel reveals itself as a story of biblical, almost spiritual force. A bellwether return from one of our greatest craftsmen, Five Skies is sure to be one of the most praised and cherished novels of the year. -- Penguin

A little over a year ago, I reviewed a beautifully written novel called RETURN TO OAKPINE by Ron Carlson. I was extremely impressed with the author's prose and his ability to create such real characters. The book also had some thought-provoking themes and would be ideal for book clubs. I remember thinking that I wouldn't hesitate to read more of Mr. Carlson's books.

Well, I have some exciting news for you... and I admit I'm a little jealous!

To celebrate the paperback release of RETURN TO OAKPINE, I have copies not only RETURN TO OAKPINE, but also THE SIGNAL and FIVE SKIES to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before November 10th 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, October 28, 2014

Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Summary: For readers of Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, and David Sedaris, this hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays establishes Lena Dunham—the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls—as one of the most original young talents writing today.

In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.

“Take My Virginity (No Really, Take It)” is the account of Dunham’s first time, and how her expectations of sex didn’t quite live up to the actual event (“No floodgate had been opened, no vault of true womanhood unlocked”); “Girls & Jerks” explores her former attraction to less-than-nice guys—guys who had perfected the “dynamic of disrespect” she found so intriguing; “Is This Even Real?” is a meditation on her lifelong obsession with death and dying—what she calls her “genetically predestined morbidity.” And in “I Didn’t F*** Them, but They Yelled at Me,” she imagines the tell-all she will write when she is eighty and past caring, able to reflect honestly on the sexism and condescension she has encountered in Hollywood, where women are “treated like the paper thingies that protect glasses in hotel bathrooms—necessary but infinitely disposable.”

Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not That Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.” -- Random House

I remember awhile back when I learned that Lena Dunham got a book deal. I was really excited! I've been a fan of the HBO series Girls for a few years now and I think Ms. Dunham is extremely talented... and also a little outrageous. She's already accomplished so much as a director, producer, and actress; and she's not even 30 years old! Pretty awesome to say the least.

Ms. Dunham's memoir is titled NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL: A YOUNG WOMAN TELLS YOU WHAT SHE'S "LEARNED", and I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. However, I don't think it's for everyone. I am a big fan of Ms. Dunham's and I find her show to be both insightful and hilarious. I am pretty certain that most women my age (and most of my friends) wouldn't agree. Some might even be offended. So I guess what I'm saying is that I think this book is a must-read for fans of Ms. Dunham's. If you aren't familiar with her work, I wouldn't suggest started with her book.

NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL is pure Lena Dunham and I thought it was pretty entertaining. In fact, her comments and issues and wit reminded me a great deal of her show Girls. There is actually quite a bit of Ms. Dunham in her character Hannah namely her insecurities, her writing talents, and especially her OCD. I almost felt, at times, as if I was reading a companion piece to the television show.

Ms. Dunham is obviously fearless despite what a few of her stories referenced. She isn't afraid to discuss any issue whether it be controversial, outrageous or even gross. It's no holds barred in this book. There is sexual content, language, and more; and it's not for the easily offended. However, if you are a fan of this woman's, then I'm guessing that you'll enjoy her insights.

Some of the topics that Ms. Dunham explores include the loss of her virginity, the long list of jerks that she dated, her OCD issues, her obsession with dying, and the challenges she faced in her career. I think she's pretty darn wise and she's definitely funny; and I was impressed with how much wisdom she has to offer in such a few short years.

Overall, I think what impressed me most about this book was Ms. Dunham's honesty. It's probably tied to that courage that I think she has. There is no doubt that she touches upon some pretty ghastly topics, and there were times I was both uncomfortable and embarrassed to read this book. Having said that, I very much appreciated how honest Ms. Dunham was -- even it was brutal at times; and I loved she she opened her mind and her heart to her fans.

NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL was pure Lena Dunham and I highly recommend it all of her fans!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Leaving Time

Summary: Throughout her blockbuster career, Jodi Picoult has seamlessly blended nuanced characters, riveting plots, and rich prose, brilliantly creating stories that “not only provoke the mind but touch the flawed souls in all of us” (The Boston Globe). Now, in her highly anticipated new novel, she has delivered her most affecting work yet—a book unlike anything she’s written before.

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe she was abandoned, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest: Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons, only to later doubt her gifts, and Virgil Stanhope, the jaded private detective who’d originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish. A deeply moving, gripping, and intelligent page-turner, Leaving Time is Jodi Picoult at the height of her powers. -- Ballantine

I just finished reading LEAVING TIME by Jodi Picoult a few days ago and didn't want to wait to write my review. As a result, I am featuring LEAVING TIME as part of Mystery Mondays. There is no doubt that the book did have a mystery element to it, but in all honestly, it was so much more that "just a mystery." It's been quite a few years since I've read a novel by Ms. Picoult, and this one was a great way to re-introduce myself to her writing. I absolutely loved this book!

Jenna Metcalf is a 13 year old girl who is still trying to resolve what happened to make her mom Alice disappear after a horrible accident. In her heart, Jenna knows her mother loved her and wouldn't leave her, but the evidence says otherwise. For years, Jenna has been searching online and reading her mother's journals in hopes of finding clues. Alice's journals are filled with her research on grief in elephants, but Jenna clings to the idea that there might be one little thing that gives a clue to her whereabouts.

Since Jenna hasn't been having any luck, she decides to approach a psychic named Serenity and a private detective Virgil, who just happened to be one of the cops on the original case concerning the accident and Alice. Both Serenity and Virgil have had their fair share of difficulties in the past and together they help Jenna discover the truth about what happened to her mother.

I had heard some good things about this book, but I honestly didn't expect to like it this much. (I know that sounds horrible.) I can pretty much say that I enjoyed every aspect of this novel -- from the mystery, to the wonderful characters, to how the story was told, to the intriguing storyline, to the way Ms. Picoult incorporated elephants in the story, to the rewarding (and surprising) ending. LEAVING TIME will probably go down as one of my favorite reads of the year.

I'm certain one reason I liked this book so much was that it did have a lot of amazing information about elephants... and I love elephants. Because Alice was a researcher who focused on elephant behavior especially as it related to grief, I found her journals to be fascinating! It was apparent that Ms. Picoult did a tremendous amount of research to write this book, and it definitely paid off. However, what impressed me even more was how she tied the elephants' behaviors to the characters' lives in the story. I loved not only how the story delved into grief but also how it focused on motherly love. Let me just say that elephants are wonderful creatures!

Another aspect of this novel that really stood out to me was the character development. I absolutely loved Jenna, and even though she did seem a little to mature to me at times, I thought she was a terrific character. I appreciated how she was portrayed with so much determination and faith, and I loved her sense of humor. In addition, I really loved both Serenity and Virgil. Because the story was told in alternating chapters between these three complex characters, I really got a sense of their back stories and how much vested they were in Jenna.

The mystery of what happened to Alice was really strong and I loved how it all came together at the end of the story. I appreciated how Jenna, Virgil, and Serenity got to the bottom of the issues as well as how they set out to learn more about Alice... each in their own way. I really don't think I can say much more about this aspect of the story without being tempted to give away a mind-blowing ending!

Needless to say, I am just skimming the surface of some of the main reasons I enjoyed this novel so much. I honestly feel as if I'm not doing the book justice because I'm not discussing it in even more detail -- I'm missing so much of what was really good about LEAVING TIME. I guess that means that I think this book would make for an excellent discussion. Unfortunately (and a bit surprising to me), I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide; however, I don't think one is necessary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, mother/child relationships, friendships, marriage, love, passion, abandonment, determination, psychic abilities, mental illness, and loss. In addition, all of the characters are extremely complicated and would be incredibly interesting to dissect.

Overall, I can't say enough about LEAVING TIME. Highly recommended!

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, October 25, 2014

Kid Konnection: Kate the Great Except When She's Not


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 graphic novel that's perfect for middle grade readers.

Summary: Fans of Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries will love this illustrated series by the New York Times bestselling author of All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat. Meet Kate Geller, a sassy flute-playing artist, who comes up with an original way to redefine friendship.

Kate’s older sister is way too perfect. Her younger sister is way too cute. And her mom wants her to be pals with her frenemy, Nora. Her art teacher, Mrs. Petty, is way too uncreative, and how can Kate pay attention at Junior Guides when her pod leader has a sweat stain the size of the town beach? Now she has to get through her Christopher Columbus role during Discovery Day and her “Colonial Buddies” report, but little does she know how much “help” she’ll be getting from Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein.

This humorous debut novel features more than 350 illustrations. -- Crown Books for Young Readers

KATE THE GREAT EXCEPT WHEN SHE'S NOT by Suzy Becker is another book that's sure to be a hit with middle grade readers... even reluctant ones. KATE THE GREAT is the first book in a new series that features a likable character writing her thoughts in a diary format. She also is a fantastic doodler so the book includes more than 450 illustrations!

KATE THE GREAT EXCEPT WHEN SHE'S NOT features Kate Geller, a fifth grader who plays the flute and loves to draw. She also experiences the frustrations of being a middle child and she has problems with friends (and even girls who aren't technically her friends.) When her mom asks her to be nice to Nora, the girl who runs in the same circles as Kate but isn't very nice to her, Kate discovers some valuable lessons about herself and what it means to be a friend.

I thought KATE THE GREAT was a very cute book. Fans of the Wimpy Kid series will be drawn to this adorable book that has a similar format. Personally, I love graphic novels like this one because they are both fun to read and have cute pictures to look at. Maybe I'm not so far removed from a middle grade reader after all!

Probably the best part of KATE THE GREAT was Kate herself. She is one terrific character and she's also a hoot! Many young girls will relate to her day-to-day activities like playing in the band, riding the bus, going to school, and attending Junior Guides (kind of like Girl Scouts.) However, I think almost every middle grade reader will feel an affinity with Kate for the dilemmas she faces with her family and friends (and "not" friends.)

As a mom, I appreciated many of the lessons in this story. Because the focus of this novel was on Kate and her and her friendship with Nora, naturally Kate learned some valuable lessons about what it means to be a friend. She also demonstrated some important insight into creativity and seeing things differently. Finally, I really liked that there were a few references to Eleanor Roosevelt and her wisdom. I hope this book might introduce Ms. Roosevelt and some of her famous quotations to a new audience.

KATE THE GREAT EXCEPT WHEN SHE'S NOT is a fun book. Recommended for fans of middle grade graphic novels and books about young girls and friendship. To learn more about the series, make sure you check out katethegreatseries.com.

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, October 23, 2014

Review: Accidents of Marriage

Summary: From the bestselling author of The Comfort of Lies, an engrossing look at the darker side of a marriage—and at how an ordinary family responds to an extraordinary crisis.

Maddy is a social worker trying to balance her career and three children. Years ago, she fell in love with Ben, a public defender, drawn to his fiery passion, but now he’s lashing out at her during his periodic verbal furies. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids—which works to keep a fragile peace—until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.

Randy Susan Meyers takes us inside the hearts and minds of her characters, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter. Accidents of Marriage is a provocative and stunning novel that will resonate deeply with women from all walks of life, ultimately revealing the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness. -- Atria

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I picked up ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE by Randy Susan Meyers. Actually, that's not entirely true. I have always enjoyed novels by Ms. Meyers, and I think she is a fabulous writer who creates memorable characters. So naturally, I wanted to read her latest novel. And while I know Ms. Meyers isn't afraid to take on difficult issues, ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE dealt with an extremely disturbing issue. It wasn't exactly an easy read for me, but it was a very good one!

ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE delves into a "normal" family that experiences a huge tragedy. The mother, Maddy, is a social worker who deals with abused women. She also is doing her best to hold down the fort for her husband and three children. (As any working mom knows, it's not easy!) Her husband, Ben, is a public defender who has become more and more aggressive with Maddy through the years. Maddy tries to keep the peace, but she sometimes challenges Ben if it's for the sake of the children.

One day, Ben's temper spins out of control when he encounters an aggressive driver. Ben gives new meaning to the term road rage, and he loses control of his car. Ben escapes with minor injuries, but Maddy is seriously injured with possible brain damage.

ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE is a wonderful book; however, it was not an easy read for me. Maybe it's because I am a mother, but this book hit a little too close to home for me. Not because of Ben and his anger issues. Rather because what happened to Maddy could happen to me (or any of my family members for that matter), and it was terrifying to see how everyone was affected by this accident.

Ms. Meyers is truly a special writer and if you haven't read any of her novels, you are truly missing out. She has a unique ability to create not only memorable characters but very real ones. She gets to the heart of the matter in her stories, and she creates characters that resonate with female readers. She also makes her readers think and I think that might be one of her most special skills.

In ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE, Ms. Meyers explores what happens to a family after the primary caregiver can no longer complete her responsibilities. In the case of Maddy, she was initially fighting for her life and then she was trying to cope with the challenges of her damaged brain. Her husband, who wasn't always the most hands on dad, was "forced" to man-up and take charge of the house and family. Needless to say, this wasn't easy for him.

While my heart absolutely broke for Maddy and her children, my feelings about Ben were torn. (Honestly, torn might be too generous.) I was furious with him for his treatment of Maddy prior to the accident, during the accident, and even after the accident. I found Ben's behavior to be extremely interesting (you need to read this book to see what he did), and it was apparent to me that Ms. Meyers has "known" a man or two like Ben through her experiences with abused women.

I have to warn you that ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE isn't an easy read. Though being very well-written, the entire subject matter made me very depressed and uncomfortable. Having said that, I did "enjoy" the book and by that I mean I really appreciated it! I do think Ms. Meyers walked a fine line in dealing with such a serious topic, and she successfully managed to cover more issues than just the accident and Maddy's recovery. In fact, many of the issues she delved into are very relevant for women and families in today's society.

Finally, I don't want you to think that this book doesn't have its "good" moments -- it's not all sad! I admit that I was a bit surprised by how this book ended, but it was very satisfying for me. I really enjoyed seeing how Maddie recovered from the accident, but I also liked seeing how she eventually dealt with Ben. I also was touched by how Maddy's children coped with everything.

ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE would make a wonderful book club selection especially for groups with mothers. There is a reading guide available with twelve interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family, grief, abuse, anger, marriage, commitment, obligation, love, religion, and forgiveness.

ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE is a well-written and thought-provoking novel. Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

Summary: An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud. -- Crown

2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS by Marie-Helene Bertino is one of those books that I thought I might enjoy. I read a few reviews and it sounded "charming." Some also were calling it a coming-of-age story. It pretty much sounded like a book I would want to read. So I read it quickly over the course of a day, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I can't say that I loved it, but I didn't hate it either. It's is a very unique novel that had some things I appreciated and some that were kind of lost on me.

2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS tells the story of three special individuals over the course of two days leading up to Christmas. First, there is Madeleine, a nine year old girl who is still reeling from the death of her mother. She's smart and sassy and aspires to be a jazz singer; however, she doesn't get much attention from her father -- he is caught up in himself trying to deal with his grief. Madeleine is determined to find the famous Philly nightclub The Cat's Pajamas and have the performance of her young life!

Then there's Madeleine's teach, Sarina who has recently returned to Philadelphia after a divorce. She is trying to start over and feels an affinity with Madeleine. She's also excited about a date with her old high school crush -- both hoping and worried that something might happen!

Finally, there's the owner of The Cat's Pajamas, Lorca who is being threatened by the police for code violations and might have to close down his nightclub. He needs to find $30,000 to save his legendary jazz club from ruin. The book follows all of these characters until their stories finally converge at "2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas."

All of me really wanted to like 2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS, but only part of me did. I will try to explain, but I'm not entirely sure I can. The book itself was entertaining and I couldn't help but root for the three characters, and the writing was also pretty strong; however, the story was just a little "off" for me. The tone of the writing was pretty light and even humorous, but it was almost too quirky in some places. It definitely took me awhile to get used to prose.

Having said that, I did like the basic premise of the story, and I couldn't help but like the three characters. Each of them was a bit of a misfit (or at least was facing some difficult times), but I found myself wanting them to have some success... even if it was a small one. Madeleine was my absolute favorite character and she really was terrific. I loved her determination and spirit and I did appreciate seeing how much she grew by the end of the story.

Another special aspect of this story was the way Philadelphia was portrayed. Despite living two hours away from Philly, I don't really "know" the city; however, this novel definitely brought it to life in such a special way. I actually would go so far as to say that the city was its own character.

I also appreciated the author's unique way with words. I probably should have marked specific parts of her prose, but suffice it to say that her descriptions were really special. She used so many quirky ways to describe situations and individuals, and the pacing of the novel was definitely something that added to its charm.

And finally, I liked how this novel made me feel -- hopeful and happy! I'm sure the setting (around Christmas) didn't hurt, but the story focused on new starts, old reconciliations, and love. It was a very sweet book where you wanted every one's story to have a happy ending.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about 2 A.M. AT THE CAT'S PAJAMAS, but I'm sure many readers will "get it" more than I did.

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Desire Lines

Summary: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train comes a novel about friendship and the memories that haunt us.

On the night of her high school graduation, Kathryn Campbell sits around a bonfire with her four closest friends, including the beautiful but erratic Jennifer. “I’ll be fine,” Jennifer says, as she walks away from the dying embers and towards the darkness of the woods. She never comes back.

Ten years later, Kathryn has tried to build a life for herself, with a marriage and a career as a journalist, but she still feels the conspicuous void of Jennifer’s disappearance. When her divorce sends her reeling back to the Maine town where she grew up, she finds herself plunged into a sea of memories. With nothing left to lose, she is determined to answer one simple question: What happened to Jennifer Pelletier? -- William Morrow

At this year's BEA, I attended a really great event hosted by the fine folks at Harper Collins. They presented some of their "best books" for Fall 2014, and I became very excited about a few of them. (Well, actually more than a few!) I also remember discovering that they were going to re-release a few of Christina Baker Kline's novels after she had so much success with ORPHAN TRAIN.  I loved ORPHAN TRAIN and just knew I had to read some of her prior work.

The first one of her novels that captured my interest was DESIRE LINES. DESIRE LINES appealed to me because it was part women's fiction/part mystery -- two of my favorite genres. The story takes place ten years after Kathryn Campbell's high school graduation when Kathryn returns home to Maine to deal with some issues from her past... and present. She is also running away from her troubled marriage!

On the night of their high school graduation, Kathryn's best friend Jennifer walks into the woods and is never seen again. No one ever heard from her and no body was ever recovered. Kathryn has tried to build a life as a wife and a journalist, but she can't escape the uncertainly of what happened to her best friend. She teams up with a friend from high school, who is also a fellow journalist; and together, they discover that Jennifer had her fair share of secrets and wasn't what she seemed. Jennifer becomes determined to get to the bottom of what really happened to Jennifer that night, and she quickly learns that someone doesn't want her digging into the past.

I really liked DESIRE LINES. I won't go so far as to say I liked it as much as ORPHAN TRAIN, but it was very good book that was both well written and intriguing. I definitely enjoyed Kathryn's journey into her past and her attempt to reconcile her issues in the present; and I also enjoyed the mystery aspect of the novel.

One thing that definitely stood out to me about DESIRE LINES was the writing itself. I loved ORPHAN TRAIN and was extremely impressed with Ms. Kline's writing, and while this book wasn't quite as polished (in my opinion), her storytelling skills still shone through. I really appreciated how she developed Kathryn's character and showed how she evolved throughout the course of the story.

I found Kathryn to be an extremely interesting character and I think that was one of the main reasons I enjoyed this story so much. She was extremely complex because she was dealing with so much baggage -- both from her past and the present. I liked that the author delved into her memories from the past and showed that Kathryn remembered things very differently and both saw things that weren't there and missed things that were. (Isn't that the case for all of us when it comes to memories?)

Furthermore, I really enjoyed the mystery angle of DESIRE LINES -- I almost featured this novel as part of Mystery Mondays because it was that good. I was kept guessing until the end, not only for who did it but why; and I thought the author did a great job of revealing the mystery. As Kathryn explored Jennifer's disappearance, she discovered many new clues about her friend that were both pertinent to solving the mystery.... and important to Kathryn coming to terms with her past.

You shouldn't be surprised that DESIRE LINES would make a great book club selection. There is a reading guide with twelve interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include marriage, loss, grief, redemption, choices, consequences,"desire lines," high school drama, and friendship.

DESIRE LINES is a well-written literary mystery that I highly recommend to fans of women's fiction. I will be sure to read more of Ms. Kline's novels in the very near future.

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Gossamer Ghost & Giveaway

Summary: Carmela Bertrand knows that Halloween in New Orleans means a week of rabble-rousing, costumed craziness—and she can’t wait to get the party started. But when a local antiques dealer turns up dead, Carmela suddenly finds herself in a real-life danse macabre…

An evening’s work deciding on the class schedule for her scrapbooking shop has put Carmela in the mood to kick up her heels. But after some strange noises draw her into Oddities, the neighboring antiques shop, Carmela’s night is abruptly put on hold when a bloody body falls out of a curio cabinet—and into her arms.

While shop owner Marcus Joubert was known for being an eccentric with a penchant for eclectic merchandise, Carmela never thought he was the kind of man who could inspire the passion required to kill. But when Marcus’s assistant—and fiancĂ©e—Mavis reveals that a priceless death mask was also stolen, it becomes clear that murder wasn’t the culprit’s sole intention.

Carmela can’t resist the urge to investigate the growing mystery, but as the list of suspects increases, she realizes it’ll take every trick in the book to unmask the killer thief before there’s another night of murderous mischief… -- Berkley Prime Crime

Halloween is quickly approaching and I have a great book that's sure to get you into the spirit of the season. It's a cozy mystery called GOSSAMER GHOST by Laura Childs, and it's the twelfth book in her Scrapbooking Mystery series. Fans of cozies and crafts will enjoy this fun new book.

GOSSAMER GHOST takes place in New Orleans and features scrapbook store owner (and part-time amateur sleuth) Carmela Bertrand. One day, Carmela hears a noise from the antique store next door, and she over to check things out. After a quick look around the store and in a curio cabinet, she is shocked to discover the owner Marcus Joubert's dead body!

Like many shop owners in New Orleans, Joubert and his store were a little unusual; however, Carmela would never have considered him a candidate for murder. Her boyfriend, who just happens to be a police officer, warns Carmela to stay out of the investigation, but it's almost as if she can't help herself from becoming involved... especially after she learns that a priceless death mask is also missing from the store.

The suspect list keep growing as Carmela begins asking questions about Joubert, his shop, and his relationships with buyers and other sellers. Can she find the murderer before he (or she) strikes again?

I found GOSSAMER GHOST to be a very cute murder mystery and it definitely set the mood for Halloween. Of course, one of my favorite things about this series is the setting -- a scrapbooking store in New Orleans; however, I also like the main characters and the dynamics between them. The murder had its fair share of twists and turns, but it wasn't too complicated to figure out. (I was able to figure out the who if not the why.) Overall, it was a very fun read!

Halloween in New Orleans might be a sight to behold! Or at least that's how I picture it after reading GOSSAMER GHOST. I loved the author's descriptions of the French Quarter with the various parades, fun runs, parties, and more. In addition, the costumes were described in great detail. I'm not the biggest fan of Halloween, but this book definitely captured my imagination with all of the holiday references.

I also really liked the characters in this story. Carmela is a wonderful amateur sleuth and I enjoy seeing how she interacts with her employee, fellow shop owners, and her boyfriend. Not only is she good at figuring out murder mysteries, but she also has some great craft ideas for her customers and for classes at her store. In this novel, she was particularly impressive at solving the mystery since it was pretty complicated.

And finally, I appreciated all of the crafty ideas and recipes that were in this novel. Naturally, there are a few scrapbooking suggestions, but I liked that this book gave examples of how to make ghosts as well as various costume ideas. The back of the book even included some craft tips -- like how to use old game tokens, how to make wine labels, how to make sachets, and how to design guest towels. In addition, there were a number of recipes for the various foods mentioned in the story including beignets!

GOSSAMER GHOST is the perfect book for October. Highly recommended to mystery/cozy fans and craft hobbyists!

Giveaway alert: I have two copies of GOSSAMER GHOST to share with two lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before October 31st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!



Thanks to the author 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, October 18, 2014

Kid Konnection: The Skywalker Saga


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 great gift idea for the Star Wars fans in your life!

Summary: Star Wars is an ever deepening, timeless, mythological tale of good versus evil, set in a galaxy far, far away. Filled with noble Jedi Knights, fearsome creatures, and cruel villains, the epic space fantasy introduced "the Force" into the global vocabulary, along with characters such as evil Darth Vader, wise old Yoda, idealistic Luke Skywalker, and lovable Chewbacca. The epic Star Wars saga continues to grow and expand, captivating new generations with its exotic worlds, iconic themes and unforgettable stories.

A new era in the rich history of Star Wars is about to begin with the announcement of a new trilogy of Star Wars movies, starting in 2015, and the announcement of a series of Star Wars spin-off movies, over the coming years

· Enjoy more than a hundred glossy, full-color images from Star Wars movies.

· Comprehensive look back at all six movies

· Collect nine full-size, pull-out posters.

Poster-A-Page delivers children's most popular characters, stories, and memorable moments to them in a unique visual format. With every page a poster, plus 9 supersize fold-out posters inside, this series offers kids ages 4-12 the opportunity to bring their favorite friends and stories into their homes, onto their walls, and become part of their world. -- Time Home Entertainment, Inc.

Booking Son is ten years old and has been a Star Wars fan for years. So you can imagine his excitement when STAR WARS POSTER-A-PAGE: THE SKYWALKER SAGA EPISODES I-VI arrived in our house. This gorgeous book is loaded with posters! And by that, I mean over 100 glossy, full-color images from all six Star Wars movies. In addition, there are nine supersize (also known as full-size) pull-out posters.

Star Wars fans of all ages will love this collection of posters. I can already see collectors decorating their basements with the pages from this book. Fan favorites like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, R2D2, Chewbacca, and my personal favorite Yoda appear in various movie scenes. The only problem might be deciding which side of the poster to display!

In addition to THE SKYWALKER SAGA, there are some other really cute poster books available in the series including:

MARVEL Poster-A-Page: Avengers Assemble in Action brings to life the most powerful superhero team in the world! Including Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and the Black Widow, this book has all of the favorite Marvel characters showing off their skills and fearlessness.

Disney Frozen Poster-A-Page: Magical Moments relives the magic of the second highest grossing Disney movie of all time. With wintry scenes and cherished characters, this book follows Anna and Kristoff as they encounter Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman, in their epic journey to find Elsa.

Disney Junior Poster-A-Page: Let’s Play features the lovable characters from one of the highest rated children's TV series, including six-year-old Doc McStuffins; Mickey Mouse and his clubhouse friends Goofy, Donald, Minnie, Daisy, and Pluto; and Jake and his Never Land Pirates crew.

Sofia the First: Practice Makes Princess includes sweet images of Sofia, her family and friends, as well as lots of wisdom from the Princess herself.

Disney Princess: Fairy Tale Moments serves up the royal treatment with illustrations from some of Disney’s most beloved princesses, including Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, Rapunzel, Ariel, Mulan, Tiana, Aurora, Jasmine, Merida, and Pocahontas.

These poster books are the perfect gift idea because they retail for less than $13. Boys and girls alike are sure to find one that features their favorite characters. 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!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Henna House

Summary: An evocative and stirring novel about a young woman living in the fascinating and rarely portrayed community of Yemenite Jews of the mid-twentieth century, from the acclaimed author of The Family Orchard.

In the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Henna House is the enthralling story of a woman, her family, their community, and the rituals that bind them.

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

Henna House is a rich, spirited, and sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart. -Scribner

My reason for reading HENNA HOUSE by Nomi Eve is a little out-of-the-ordinary for me. While I do love the gorgeous cover and the book's description, I admit that this book wasn't really on my radar until my husband asked me about it. That's right -- my husband who doesn't read novels (or many books for that matter.) He was on Facebook looking at Penn State stuff and asked me about HENNA HOUSE. I almost fell over! He explained that this novel was written by a Penn Stater and I had to read it! He even went so far as to contact Ms. Eve!

I was actually very glad he brought HENNA HOUSE and Nomi Eve to my attention. This novel was an intriguing story about Adela, a young Jewish girl living in Yemen during the 1920s. In many ways, it was a coming-of-age story for Adela (and you know how I love those!); however, it was also a rich story about family, traditions, and survival.

HENNA HOUSE begins in 1920 when Adela Damari is a young girl. The Orphan's Decree has recently been passed allowing orphaned Jewish girls who were unbetrothed to be adopted by the local Muslim community. Adela had pretty bad luck when it came to finding spouses, and the health of her parents wasn't exactly optimal either. As a result, things weren't looking good for poor little Adela until her mother tricks her cousin Asaf into an engagement with her. The two have a sweet childhood romance until Adela's uncle leaves with her cousin.

A few years later, Adela's life is turned upside down when a different uncle moves to her town bringing with him his wife Rahel, who is both a dealer and a henna artist, and their daughters. Adela becomes very close to Rahel and her cousin Hani. Adela becomes inthralled with her aunt and cousin who teach her how to read and do henna drawings and finds some semblance of happiness in her otherwise pretty bleak life.

And then.... drought and illness hit Adela's town. When Adela is 15, she moves to Aden with Hani's family and eventually discovers her long lost cousin Asaf. At this point in her life, Adela is forced to quickly grow up as World War I threatens to erupt, and she finds that she has many difficult decisions to face concerning love and family.

I really enjoyed HENNA HOUSE for a number of reasons -- from the history aspects of the story, to the intriguing characters, to the cultural traditions. The story was beautifully written and I especially loved the focus on women and family. Despite taking place in an entirely different time, this book reminded me of THE RED TENT with the religious and Jewish culture references as well as the way female relationships were portrayed.

I probably shouldn't say this for fear of sounding ignorant, but I knew very little about the Yemen Jews and what occurred in the 1920s. Reading HENNA HOUSE was definitely an eye-opener for me.  I wasn't familiar with the Orphan's Decree and the entire concept of a Jewish child being pulled from her family to live with a Muslim family is just appalling. I thought the author did a fabulous job of creating the sense of desperation that Adela and her family had concerning this threat.

In addition I appreciated so many of the characters in this story... especially the female ones. Of course, Adela was a special girl and I loved her voice as the storyteller in this novel; however, I also loved her aunt Rahel. What made this book so special to me was the interactions between the various women in the story. Adela and her mother had a strained relationship which was perfectly juxtaposed by Adela's relationship with her aunt. In addition, it was interesting to see how Adela and Hani's relationship evolved throughout the course of the story.

And finally, I really enjoyed learning about the unique Jewish traditions in this novel. I honestly had no idea the Yemen Jews had henna as part of their traditions, and I found the parts of this novel featuring the henna drawing to be absolutely fascinating. In addition, I loved the aspects of the story which dealt with Rahel and her interest in healing. It was apparent that Ms. Eve did a huge amount of research to get her facts straight.

HENNA HOUSE would make an excellent book club selection. There is a reading guide with twelve discussion questions and some ideas to enhance to enhance the meeting. I've probably already mentioned many of the discussion topics, but you might want to talk about family, customs, religion, faith, persecution, survival, love, friendship, female relationships, marriage, betrayal, forgiveness, and redemption.

I enjoyed HENNA HOUSE and I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: You Were Meant for Me

Summary: Thirty-five-year-old Miranda is not an impulsive person. She’s been at Domestic Goddess magazine for eight years, she has great friends, and she’s finally moving on after a breakup. Having a baby isn’t even on her radar—until the day she discovers an abandoned newborn on the platform of a Brooklyn subway station. Rushing the little girl to the closest police station, Miranda hopes and prays she’ll be all right and that a loving family will step forward to take her.

Yet Miranda can’t seem to get the baby off her mind and keeps coming up with excuses to go check on her, until finally a family court judge asks whether she’d like to be the baby’s foster parent—maybe even adopt her. To her own surprise, Miranda jumps at the chance. But nothing could have prepared her for the ecstasy of new-mother love—or the heartbreak she faces when the baby’s father surfaces…. -- NAL

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Yona Zeldis McDonough has an adorable cover! I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I have a hard time resisting shoes. When you add polka dots to the mix as well as those adorable baby shoes, it's pretty much a done deal. Because the cover is so darn cute, you might think YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME is a light read. That's not really the case. It deals with some very serious issues centering around an abandoned baby, and it is both tragic and touching.

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME tells the story of Miranda, a 35 year old woman who has a great job and great friends. She is trying to move on from a recent breakup when she discovers a newborn baby on the platform of the subway station. Miranda immediately does the right thing and takes the baby girl to the police, but she can't get this little one out of her mind.

Miranda feels an immediate bond with the baby and keeps checking on her status with the foster care system. When the judge asks Miranda is she'd be interested in fostering the baby, or maybe even adopting her, Miranda goes "all in." She has no idea of the many ways a baby can change her life, yet she embraces them and falls in love with her little girl.

Needless to say, Miranda's story capture the attention of the local New York media. She decides to do a story with a human interest journalist, and the biological father Jared discovers that this little girl might be his. Jared wants to do the right thing and parent her, so Miranda reluctantly gives the little girl to him.

The baby's father discovers that parenting a baby is a lot more difficult than he ever imagined... and it cramps his style as a single guy. As he tries to navigate parenting, Miranda tries to move on with her life as she deals with the loss of her baby.

I enjoyed YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME, and I appreciated how it looked love and parenting. The book was definitely very sad at times and it did cause a fair amount of emotion in me. I felt both sad and mad for Miranda, yet I also thought the book did have elements of hope. It was a really sweet story!

One thing I liked about YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME was how the story was told. The book alternated between various characters' stories, and I enjoyed getting the different viewpoints. In addition to showing Miranda and Jared's stories, the book also featured Miranda's love interest Evan's story. I truly think this format benefited the reader (or at least this one!) because I was able to see what they were thinking. Since many of Jared's actions were questionable to say the least, I felt as if the author made him more complex; and while I did get very angry with him, I was able to (kind of) understand where he was coming from.

Another fun aspect of this story that did make it a little lighter was Miranda's job. She worked at Domestic Goddess magazine as a food writer/editor. As a result, the author was able to do some very interesting things with her descriptions of food. Miranda could pretty much prepare a gourmet dinner on the fly, and I loved all of the vivid details about the meals.

Finally, my most favorite aspect of this novel was how it delved into the complexities of love and parenting. Even though Miranda didn't give birth to this little girl, she still loved her every bit as much as a woman who carries a child for nine months. I truly loved how the book showed that Miranda became a better person once she became a mother, and my heart swelled as I saw how many sacrifices she was willing to make for her baby.

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME would make an interesting pick for book clubs. There is a conversation guide included in the back of the book with eleven discussion questions and an interview with the author. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a link to the guide. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include parenting, responsibilities, fate, friendship, love, mental illness, and sacrifice.

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME is a novel that will definitely resonate with mothers. Recommended for readers who enjoy women's fiction.

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Review: Tokyo Kill

Summary: In the second thriller of this new series from “a fresh voice in crime fiction” (Kirkus Reviews), antiques dealer-turned-P.I. Jim Brodie matches wits with an elusive group of killers chasing a long-lost treasure that has a dangerous history.

When an elderly World War II veteran shows up unannounced at Brodie Security begging for protection, the staff thinks he’s just a paranoid old man. He offers up a story connected to the war and to Chinese Triads operating in present-day Tokyo, insisting that he and his few surviving army buddies are in danger.

Fresh off his involvement in solving San Francisco’s Japantown murders, antiques dealer Jim Brodie had returned to Tokyo for some R&R, and to hunt down a rare ink painting by the legendary Japanese Zen master Sengai for one of his clients—not to take on another case with his late father’s P.I. firm. But out of respect for the old soldier, Brodie agrees to provide a security detail, thinking it’ll be an easy job and end when the man comes to his senses.

Instead, an unexpected, brutal murder rocks Brodie and his crew, sending them deep into the realm of the Triads, Chinese spies, kendo warriors, and an elusive group of killers whose treachery spans centuries—and who will stop at nothing to complete their mission. -- Simon and Schuster

Now that I've read my dad's review of TOKYO KILL by Barry Lancet, I feel a little guilty for giving him the second book in the series. I'm thinking that he might have enjoyed starting this series from the beginning with JAPANTOWN. It doesn't seem like he missed a beat though. Here are his thoughts:

Jim Brodie is an antiques dealer who inherited his father’s Tokyo based investigation and personal protection agency. Brodie must juggle these two careers and still find time to raise a six-year-old daughter. While in Tokyo searching for a famous ink painting by Japanese monk/artist Sengai, Brodie and his investigation firm take on the case to protect a Japanese WWII veteran who is bothered by the recent brutal deaths of several surviving veterans who served with him as part of the Japanese occupation of China. Initially believed to be revenge killings from the brutal treatment of the Chinese, Brodie focuses on Chinese Triad gangs. However, when a badly beaten body is discovered in an alley and identified as the old soldier’s son, the case becomes more personal to Brodie and he takes the investigation in a different direction. With the help of a young attractive female Tokyo police officer, Brodie discovers a much more sinister plot than includes a Japanese crime ring and the Sengai painting he had been searching for.

Author Barry Lancet serves up plenty of action in this thriller. During the investigation Brodie butts heads with his agency staff; suffers a severe beating at a kendo (way of the sword) club; is attacked on a river cruise with his daughter; endures a poisoning in Japan’s Chinatown; faces down gunmen in a Chinese cemetery; withstands a sniper laser target and escapes from a trap set for him in Miami.

In addition to being an exciting novel with plenty of twists and turns and a surprise conclusion, TOYKO KILL gives the reader a good insight into Japanese cultural and social issues. If I have any problem with the book it would be the confusion I had with grasping the Japanese names and terminology. I had to often leaf back to reread prior pages.

TOKYO KILL would be a great read for anyone who enjoys a good thriller.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: The Silkworm (Audio)

Summary: Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo's Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days--as he has done before--and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives--meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before...

A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott. -- Hachette Audio

One book that I was definitely looking forward to reading (or in this case listening to) was THE SILKWORM by Robert Galbraith. I loved the first novel in this mystery series THE CUCKOO'S CALLING for so many reasons -- you can read my review here. I also enjoyed the "mystery" surrounding the author of this novel. (For those of you who have been living under a rock, Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling!)

THE SILKWORM is another wonderful mystery, and I can honestly say that I love this series. The characters are wonderful (I adore Cormoran!), as is the writing; and I truly appreciate the intricacies of the mystery. I have listened to both of the books in this series, and the audio books are spectacular -- although I am pretty certain that I'd love these books in any format!

THE SILKWORM picks up soon after THE CUCKOO'S CALLING left off. Cormoran Strike has found a bit of fame after solving the Lula Landry murder, and therefore his business is doing better. One of his new customers is the wife of author Owen Quine. She comes to Strike and asks for his assistance in finding her husband who has been missing for a few days.

Quine has been known to disappear in the past, but Strike quickly sees that something might be different this time around. After some snooping, Strike discovers that Quine has written a manuscript that has offended almost everyone he knows. While the novel is considered rubbish by many, if it were to be published, it would ruin many lives. Aha -- a motive!

When Quine is brutally murdered in a scene not unlike one that occurs in the manuscript, Strike is desperate to discover who is behind his death. After a great deal of sleuthing (and with the help of his trusty assistant Robin), Strike races against time to not only find the guilty party but also to prove his client's innocence.

I adored THE SILKWORM! The characters were very interesting -- I especially love Cormoran, Robin and the chemistry between the two! However, the secondary characters in this novel, namely those in contact with Quine, were pretty darn intriguing as well. There were many possible suspects and I can honestly say that my opinion of the guilty party changed many, many times.

Because this novel is relatively long (over 450 pages and 1050 minutes), I felt extremely vested in the story. I tend to take forever to listen to an audio book and I certainly spent weeks with this one. In fact in most cases, I wouldn't have even started a book that was this long. Having said that, I can't really complain that the book dragged. I enjoyed Cormoran's many interrogations and how he whittled down the potential suspects. In addition, I was very impressed with how the story came together and Strike was able to figure it all out!

As far as mysteries go, this was a doozy! I loved all of the twists and turns, and even though I eventually had a pretty good idea of who was guilty, I still didn't figure out all of the specific details. As far as I'm concerned, guessing the murderer doesn't really count if I don't understand the whys!

One thing that stood out to me about THE SILKWORM was how it delved into some aspects of publishing... and it wasn't always pretty. Quine was writer who experience mediocre success (if you can even call it that), but there were also agents, editors, and publishers in this story who were both suspects and witnesses. The book definitely featured some of the less-glamorous sides of the industry and focused on the jealousies and pettiness of the players involved. I thought it all was interesting and rather funny.

The audio book version of THE SILKWORM was read by Robert Glenister. He also read THE CUCKOO'S CALLING; and once again, I think he nailed it! I love his variety of accents and I think he does a great job with both male and female voices. His impersonation of one of the characters was so spot on that it kind of freaked me out. (Let's just say, I had to keep coughing and clearing my throat!)

I absolutely loved the Cormoran Strike mysteries and can't recommend them enough. Personally, I love the audio book versions, but the important thing is to just get your hands on copies of them in any format!

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

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, October 11, 2014

Kid Konnection: Unbored Games


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 great book from the creators of UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN.

Summary: UNBORED Games has all the smarts, creativity, and DIY spirit of the original UNBORED (“It's a book! It's a guide! It's a way of life!” -Los Angeles Magazine), but with a laser-like focus on the activities we do for pure fun: to while away a rainy day, to test our skills and stretch our imaginations-games. There are more than seventy games here, 50 of them all new, plus many more recommendations, and they cover the full gambit, from old-fashioned favorites to today's high-tech games. The book offers a gold mine of creative, constructive fun: intricate clapping games, bike rodeo, Google Earth challenges, croquet golf, capture the flag, and the best ever apps to play with Grandma, to name only a handful. Gaming is a whole culture for kids to explore, and the book will be complete with gaming history and interviews with awesome game designers. The lessons here: all games can be self-customized, or hacked. You can even make up your own games. Some could even change the world.

The original UNBORED has taken its place as a much beloved, distinctly contemporary family brand. UNBORED Games extends the franchise -- to be followed by UNBORED Adventure -- in a new handy flexibound format, illustrated in full color throughout. Soon, there will be a whole shelf of serious fun the whole family can enjoy indoors, outdoors, online and offline. -- Bloomsbury

I can't believe it's been almost two years since I featured UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN. This book provided so many unique ways to keep your kids busy, and I thought it made the perfect gift for kids of all ages. Well, Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen and back with UNBORED GAMES: SERIOUS FUN FOR EVERYONE, and this book is guaranteed to stop your kids from saying those dreaded words, "I'm bored!"

UNBORED GAMES is devoted entirely to games that challenge kids' imaginations but are also fun. The games are designed for a variety of places -- indoors, outdoors, online, and offline. And unlike UNBORED which was a pretty big book, UNBORED GAMES is a flexi-bound, soft-cover book that is the perfect size for portability -- it's about 6 inches by 8 inches.

UNBORED GAMES has more than 70 different games so there is bound to be something for everyone. The book is divided into the following chapters -- Pwnage, Home Games, Game Changers, and Adventure Games. Each section includes detailed instructions, cute drawings, and colorful photos. In addition, there are references to traditional games; however, the vast majority are brand new -- about 50 if you're counting! As a mom, I love that most of the games in this book allow children to use their imaginations rather than sit in front of a screen!

It's hard to pick just one or two games from this book, but there were a few that stood out to me and looked like fun. Of course, I'm many years from being a kid and probably have no idea what's fun today... or at least that's what my kids would tell me. The QB rescue game, which takes place outdoors with lots of footballs and kids looks like a great recess, P.E., or field day game. I also thought they Hair Dryer Ping Pong game looked challenging. Basically, you try to guide the ping pong ball into a bucket using the air from a hair dryer. (This also teaches kids the principle known as the Bernoulli Effect -- so it's fun and educational!)

UNBORED GAMES is a wonderful book to keep your kids busy and it's a great gift idea for the upcoming holiday season. 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!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: The Betrayers

Summary: These incandescent pages give us one fraught, momentous day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident who now finds himself a disgraced Israeli politician. When he refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the settlements in the West Bank, his political opponents expose his affair with a mistress decades his junior, and the besieged couple escapes to Yalta, the faded Crimean resort of Kotler's youth. There, shockingly, Kotler comes face-to-face with the former friend whose denunciation sent him to the Gulag almost forty years earlier.

In a whirling twenty-four hours, Kotler must face the ultimate reckoning, both with those who have betrayed him and with those whom he has betrayed, including a teenage daughter, a son facing his own moral dilemma in the Israeli army, and the wife who once campaigned to secure his freedom and stood by him through so much.

Stubborn, wry, and self-knowing, Baruch Kotler is one of the great creations of contemporary fiction. An aging man grasping for a final passion, he is drawn inexorably into a crucible that is both personal and biblical in scope.

In prose that is elegant, sly, precise, and devastating in its awareness of the human heart, David Bezmozgis has rendered a story for the ages, an inquest into the nature of fate and consequence, love and forgiveness. The Betrayers is a high-wire act, a powerful tale of morality and sacrifice that will haunt readers long after they turn the final page. -- Little, Brown & Co.

I have to be honest. THE BETRAYERS by David Bezmozgis wasn't really on my radar until I saw this video:



And then my interest was definitely piqued! Not only is the book trailer gorgeous, but it also has great music... and you can almost feel the drama and tension.

THE BETRAYERS was written by David Bezmozgis, one of the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers in 2010, so I was expecting a well-written story. I was definitely not disappointed on that front. Mr. Bezmozgis wrote a gripping story that made me both think and feel, and I always say that's a sign of a good novel.

THE BETRAYERS is about Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident who became a famous Israeli politician. When he disagrees with a stand about the settlements in the West Bank, he is forced to leave the country when his political enemies threaten to go public about his affair with much younger woman. He and his mistress flee to Yalta, a resort in Crimea that Kotler visited as a child. In a strange twist of fate, Kotler finds himself boarding with the man whose betrayal almost forty years ago sent him to the Gulag.

In the course of just one day, Kotler must face the betrayal in his life head on. He has to deal with those who have betrayed him along with those he has betrayed... including his wife and children.

THE BETRAYERS is a relatively short novel -- just 225 pages, but it packs a very powerful punch. By that, I mean this novel really delves into some complex issues especially ones concerning morality. The story itself isn't action-packed; however, it almost reads like a thriller. The tension between the various characters had me on the edge of my seat, and at times, I almost felt uncomfortable with the situations they faced.

This novel definitely moved me a great deal, and that's really saying something since the story is both short and takes place in 24 hours. I think that goes to show how talented Mr. Bezmozgis is. THE BETRAYERS was so well written and the prose was "tight" -- each word seemed to be written for a specific purpose. Needless to say, I was very impressed with Mr. Bezmozgis' storytelling abilities and wouldn't hesitate to read anything he writes.

In addition, the characters were extremely well-developed. Both Kotler and his "enemy" were extremely interesting characters in their own right, and the scene where they meet again was so good! However, the minor characters, namely the family members, were also also complicated. Kotler's wife and son were especially complex, and I loved the parts of the story where they interacted with Kotler.

Finally, I really appreciated how this boo made me think... and feel. My feelings for Kotler and his "enemy" were extremely complex. On the surface, I thought I'd understand Kotler more since he was a "victim" of sorts; however, by the end of the novel, I saw that there were more sides of the story. Eventually, I found that I had empathy for both of them -- which really surprised me. I guess that goes to show that things aren't black and white -- rather shades of grey.

THE BETRAYERS would make a wonderful book club selection. Truly, the characters and their actions are fascinating. This book also explores so many complex themes about human nature including guilt, grief, forgiveness, love, fate, faith, politics, reconciliation, and especially betrayal.

THE BETRAYERS is a well-written book that will definitely make you think. Recommended to fans of literary fiction and Jewish literature.

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