Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kid Konnection: Dawn Publications Spring 2015

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 few new educational picture books from Dawn Publications, a great publisher that offers fun science picture books.

Summary: Take a ride with Pitter on a water cycle! Tumble from the sky, careen off a leaf, plunge into a stream as you travel through a watershed. Then take a ride with Patter—even through an underground cave. Oh, the places you’ll go and the creatures you’ll see. A water drop is a wonderfully adventurous thing to be! Following the main story is a large, attractive schematic showing both the parts of the water cycle and how each drop took different paths through the watershed. An “Explore More” section for teachers and parents offers a very clear presentation of states of matter (“Same but Different”), the water cycle (“Around and Around”), the watershed (“Going Down!”), and water’s role in habitats and humans (“Around and Through”). For each of these concepts, which may be challenging for children to visualize, there is one or more suggested activity to help make the concepts less abstract. -- Dawn Publications

I am a huge fan of Dawn Publications picture books. They truly are a great mix of fun and science and their new releases don't disappoint. PITTER AND PATTER by Martha Sullivan and illustrated by Cathy Morrison is just a gorgeous book that teaches kids about the water cycle. Pitter falls from the sky and lands in a stream, while Patter goes through a watershed. This adorable picture book teaches kids the different paths two water drops can take after they fall from the sky.

PITTER AND PATTER has absolutely wonderful illustrations that are the perfect complement to the story. I enjoyed seeing all of the animals in their natural habitats while also learning about the water cycle. The illustrations are very detailed so I imagine kids even younger than the target audience will be interested in reading these books -- there's just so much to explore!

In addition the actual story, there is a fantastic section at the back of the book that allows readers (and teachers) to explore more about the water cycle. It provides additional details about the different states of matter, the water cycle and the watershed. In addition, there is are activities on Dawn Publication's website related to PITTER PATTER here and here -- one even allows kids to be a nature detective.

Highly recommended as a fun way to learn more about the water cycle!

Summary: Discover twenty cool animals, ten great mountain ranges, and seven continents all in one story! And do it in the age-old style of children the world over—by clapping, counting, singing, and acting like . . . well, animals! What fun! Following the main story, this book is chock full of resources for parents and teachers, including facts about each of the animals featured (including the hidden animals) and about mountains. A simple world map makes it easy for children to locate the continents and the mountain ranges where the animals live. A “Tips from the Author” page has suggested activities and a “Tips from the Illustrator” page offers an interesting perspective from the artist, who created the illustrations using cut paper.. -- Dawn Publications

OVER ON A MOUNTAIN: SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD by  Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Jill Dubin is great book that teaches kids about animals, mountain habitats and continents! And if that's not enough, it also teaches kids about numbers and lets them find "surprises" on every page.

Dawn Publications has done it again. I know I sound like a broken record, but I find these books to be fun and they teach me things. Just imagine how much fun kids would find them? In OVER ON A MOUNTAIN, the author introduces some fun (and unique) animals that live in the mountains while also showing where the mountains are on the seven continents. This cute story also allows kids to count out the animals on each page -- my kids loved doing this when they were little. In addition, there is fun rhyming text that makes the book perfect for kids of all ages.

I couldn't wait to turn to the back of the book to see what supplemental materials were there. As cute as the books are, I really do love this section of the books! In OVER ON A MOUNTAIN, there mountain facts and detailed descriptions of all the "hidden" animals. There are also some helpful tips from the author and illustrator for the older audience as well as a song you can sing with your kids.

In addition to all of the educational activities for OVER ON A MOUNTAIN included in the back of the book, there are even more on the website! Teachers will find they can use the following materials to supplement the book including animal actions, animals are hiding, where in the world?, world mountain map, OVER ON A MOUNTAIN bookmarks.

A terrific book for animal lovers and a must-have for every school library!

Summary: Every kind of bird has their very own kind of sound! Cheerful sounds,mournful sounds, sweet sounds, weird sounds. You can tell who they are without even opening your eyes. And what fun to sing along! John Himmelman knows those sounds well and loves to share his enthusiasm for birds. He explains how to call birds by “pishing,” gives tips on how to attract birds by feeding them, how to make your list of birds, and more. John is the creator of “The Big Sit!”—an event in which participants all over the planet choose one spot, a 17-foot circle, to count all the birds they see and hear in 24 hours. -- Dawn Publications

NOISY BIRD SING-ALONG by John Himmelman is an adorable book for the future bird watcher in your life. This book not only has gorgeous illustrations of a variety of birds, but it also teaches kids about the different sounds birds make. It even encourages kids to sing-along with the bird sounds!

NOISY BIRD SING-ALONG is definitely aimed at a younger audience; however, the back of the book once again takes it up a notch. There are Fun Facts for all of the birds included in the story as well as some ideas for bird watching. There is even a list of some on-line resources for bird lovers.

This book would be the perfect way for teachers to introduce birds and their sounds to kids. There are even some on-line  educational activities which complement NOISY BIRD SING-ALONG including conducting your own Dawn Chorus and surveying your school grounds for bird habitats. You can also listen to the various birds sounds from the book.

Another great addition to the Dawn Publications catalog of science books! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guest Review: Cane and Abe

Summary: A spellbinding novel of suspense from New York Times bestselling author James Grippando, in which Miami’s top prosecutor becomes a prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance, which may have a chilling connection to the woman he can’t forget. Unbelievable was the word for her. Samantha Vine was unbelievably beautiful. It was unbelievable that she’d married me. Even more unbelievable that she was gone . . .

Samantha died too soon. Abe Beckham’s new wife has helped him through the loss, but some say it was a step back to marry Angelina, a love from Abe’s past. Abe doesn’t want to hear it, and through the ups and downs, he’s even managed to remain a star prosecutor at the Miami State Attorney’s Office. Then everything goes wrong. A woman’s body is discovered dumped in the Everglades, and Abe is called upon to monitor the investigation. The FBI is tracking a killer in South Florida they call “Cutter” because his brutal methods harken back to Florida’s dark past, when machete-wielding men cut sugarcane by hand in the blazing sun.

But when the feds discover that Abe had a brief encounter with the victim after Samantha’s death, and when Angelina goes missing, the respected attorney finds himself under fire. Suspicion surrounds him. His closest friends, family, professional colleagues, and the media no longer trust his motives. Was Angelina right? Was their marriage not what they’d hoped for because he loved Samantha too much? Or was there another woman . . . and a husband with a dark side who simply wanted his new wife gone? -- Harper

CANE AND ABE by James Grippando is one of those books that I actually wish I'd read! Instead, I passed it along to my dad knowing that he would really enjoy it too. As you can see from his review, he definitely liked it!

The main character in CANE AND ABE is Abe Beckham, a white senior trial attorney at the Office of the State Attorney for Miami-Dade County. Abe has a complicated personal life. After his Afro-American wife died, he married his white ex-girlfriend. Abe also has to deal with caring for his ex-wife’s bi-polar brother.

He has been assigned to stay on top of a FBI investigation into a possible serial killer who hacks his victims with a machete. The first four victims were white women who were dating Afro-American men. Another woman’s body is found in the Everglades hacked to death. This time the victim is a fast rising Afro-American attorney in a prestigious Miami law firm.

Abe becomes a prime suspect in the case when the lead FBI agent discovers that he lied about his past association with the victim. The case is further complicated when Abe’s wife disappears after they fought about his past relationships. The story line now becomes very complex as the hunt continues for the serial killer, the search for Abe’s wife accelerates and the suspicion surrounding Abe becomes more serious as family, friends and colleagues begin to mistrust him.

Although Grippando has developed wonderful characters in the novel, particularly Abe, his second wife, his brother-in-law and the FBI agent, I found none of the characters likable. Abe is insensitive to his second wife and his feelings for his first wife are over the top. His second wife is unhappy with Abe’s interaction with his brother-in-law and his strong feelings for his first wife. His brother-in-law depends way too much on Abe and the FBI agent is bitter and secretive.

CANE AND ABE is a great read that twists and turns from a search for a serial killer to a troubled marriage. It is somewhat of a dark story that includes racial overtones, family mistrust and a villainous corporation in the Florida sugarcane industry. Author James Grippando weaves the various story lines into one great mystery novel with an interesting conclusion that leaves several unanswered questions to the imagination of the reader. I recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good murder mystery.

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: Us

Summary: David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Times bestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart.

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie. Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the cafés of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around? - Harper

At last year's BEA, I received an advance copy of David Nicholls' new novel US. I was absolutely thrilled because I loved ONE DAY -- you can read me review here. ONE DAY made me both laugh and cry, and it was just a very fun and sweet read. Needless to say, I had fairly high expectations for US.

I had a feeling that I'd be in for a treat with US. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and it received starred reviews from Booklist, Library Journal and Kirkus to name just a few. And I have to say that I really liked this novel. In fact, I couldn't put it down. The chapters are brief and the writing is so easy-to-read that I just sat down and let myself get carried away with the characters. Hours just flew by!

US tells the story of Douglas Petersen and his relationship with his wife Connie and his seventeen year old son Albie. The novel goes back and forth between present day and the past to show readers the ups and downs of Douglas and Connie's marriage. It's a pretty interesting look inside a family that seemingly has it all... until Connie tells him she wants a divorce.

Connie picks an interesting time to shock Douglas with this news because they are getting ready to take a month-long trip to Europe with their son to check out art. Connie thinks the family should still go for Albie's sake, and Douglas thinks he can use this trip to win back not only Connie's heart but also Albie!

Douglas is the narrator of the story and he's (how shall I say it?) a bit of a nerd... and definitely not a good fit for Connie. In fact, I actually wondered for the entire story how these two ended up together in the first place. Connie is a free spirit while Douglas is more of a planner (and that's an understatement.) They basically have different views on everything!

As the family travels through Europe, Douglas does his best to change Connie's mind and win over Albie. Will this family live happily ever after when they return to England, or will this European tour be the last thing they do together?

I loved US -- just loved it. I can't say it really reminded me much of ONE DAY except that it was a story about a long-time relationship, but I did experience many of the same emotions reading US that I had when I read ONE DAY. I laughed and almost cried (nothing like ONE DAY!), but overall I just enjoyed this family's romp through Europe as they tried to figure out their futures.

One thing I appreciated about this novel was the character of Douglas. He was an interesting guy to say the least, and I have to say that I didn't always love him. He was very rigid and probably would have driven most women crazy, nevertheless one as free spirited as Connie; and at times, he even got on my nerves. But I loved him as the narrator and I found myself rooting for him. He had a great sense of self-deprecating humor and I found myself laughing at not only his views on others, but also his views on himself and his family.

Another aspect of US that I enjoyed was that the book was a travelogue... in a way. The Petersens traveled through Europe and saw major museums and art attractions. For someone who hasn't been to these places, it was definitely fun to see them through each family member's eyes. I also liked how the Petersens' trip to Europe was kind of a representation of the journey their life was taking. Maybe I'm reading too much into the story, but it just felt that way to me.

And finally, the ending! What can I say? Not much because I don't want to give anything away. Let's just put it this way, I thought my book was missing the ending. Once I got past the initial surprise, I realized that the ending was perfect for this novel. It also might not be the one that many readers want. I, however, found it just right!

US would make a terrific book club pick. It's a look at middle-aged relationships, marriage, and parent/child relationships; and there is a great deal to discuss. Fortunately, there is a reading guide with twelve thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage, sacrifice, parenting, change, acceptance, forgiveness, family, instant gratification, love, art, and flexibility. I found all of the characters to be rather interesting, so I'm sure most groups could spend hours analyzing their behavior!

I really enjoyed US and definitely recommend it to fans of ONE DAY. I also think readers who enjoy stories about love, marriage, and family will appreciate this book.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Giveaway: The Headmaster's Wife

Summary: Like his father before him, Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of Vermont's elite Lancaster School. It is the place he feels has given him his life, but is also the site of his undoing as events spiral out of his control. Found wandering naked in Central Park, he begins to tell his story to the police, but his memories collide into one another, and the true nature of things, a narrative of love, of marriage, of family, and of a tragedy Arthur does not know how to address emerges. Luminous and atmospheric, bringing to life the tight-knit enclave of a quintessential New England boarding school, the novel is part mystery, part love story, and an exploration of the ties of place and family. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, The Headmaster's Wife stands as a moving elegy to the power of love as an antidote to grief. -- Picador

I can't believe it's been almost a year since I reviewed THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE by Thomas Christopher Greene. I really liked this novel, both for the gorgeous writing and the unusual twists! I am happy to share that the paperback version of the novel is available today -- just check out the gorgeous new cover. I'm hoping this release brings a whole new audience to Mr. Green's very intriguing story!

THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE is truly unlike any book I've read. Mr. Greene is a terrific writer and it's evident throughout this novel. The prose is just wonderful. However, this book also pretty suspenseful. There is a rather surprising event that occurs about halfway through the novel which is guaranteed to throw readers for a loop. Not only did it hit me like a punch to the stomach, but it was also very well executed. I truly appreciated everything about this book!

To celebrate the paperback release of THE HEADMASTER'S WIFE, I have two copies available to giveaway courtesy of the publisher! To enter, just fill out the form below before March 9th 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!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Hush Hush

Summary: The award-winning New York Times bestselling author of After I’m Gone, The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know brings back private detective Tess Monaghan, introduced in the classic Baltimore Blues, in an absorbing mystery that plunges the new parent into a disturbing case involving murder and a manipulative mother.

On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving children, determined to start over.

But now Melisandre has returned Baltimore to meet with her estranged teenage daughters and wants to film the reunion for a documentary. The problem is, she relinquished custody and her ex, now remarried, isn’t sure he approves.

Now that’s she’s a mother herself—short on time, patience—Tess Monaghan wants nothing to do with a woman crazy enough to have killed her own child. But her mentor and close friend Tyner Gray, Melisandre’s lawyer, has asked Tess and her new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, to assess Melisandre’s security needs.

As a former reporter and private investigator, Tess tries to understand why other people break the rules and the law. Yet the imperious Melisandre is something far different from anyone she’s encountered. A decade ago, a judge ruled that Melisandre was beyond rational thought. But was she? Tess tries to ignore the discomfort she feels around the confident, manipulative Melisandre. But that gets tricky after Melisandre becomes a prime suspect in a murder. Yet as her suspicions deepen, Tess realizes that just as she’s been scrutinizing Melisandre, a judgmental stalker has been watching her every move as well. . . . -- William Morrow

I actually couldn't wait to read the new Tess Monaghan novel HUSH HUSH by Laura Lippman. I adore Ms. Lippman's novels, especially her ones starring Tess; and I just knew when I picked up this book that I'd be in for a treat. I am happy to say that I wasn't disappointed!

In HUSH HUSH, the reader finds a newer, but certainly not gentler Tess Monaghan. She is now a mother to Carla Scout, a toddler who give Tess a run for her money in stubbornness and determination. Tess's uncle and lawyer to Melisandre Harris Dawes recommends Tess and her partner to Sandy Sanchez for security detail for Melisandre.

Tess reluctantly takes the job. She isn't an expert on security by any stretch of the imagination, and she's not exactly thrilled to have Melisandre for a client. About ten years ago, Melisandre left her two month old daughter in the car on a very hot August day while she sat on the shores of the Patapsco River. She was tried for the baby's death but found not guilty by reason of insanity. She served some time in a mental hospital and later left the country. Now she's back in Baltimore and wants to be reunited with her two other teenage girls. And... she's hired someone to make a documentary on her life and the state of mental health in our country!

As frustrating as Carla Scout can be, Tess can't really begin to understand the desperation (?) Melisandre felt to neglect her child in such a way. After meeting Melisandre and having a few testy exchanges, Tess begins to wonder if Melisandre was really beyond rational thought or just a deceptive criminal. When another person close to Melisandre ends up dead, Melisandre becomes the prime suspect in that murder too; and Tess finds herself rather deep in this manipulative woman's life!

I loved HUSH HUSH, but that's not really a surprise! I couldn't put this book down and that's really saying something given my current reading schedule... or lack thereof! I absolutely love Tess and seeing how she's navigating life as a private detective and a mom was so interesting. In addition, Melisandre was fascinating (in a scary way!) and the mystery aspects of the novel were outstanding. Finally, I appreciated what Ms. Lippman tried to do with the theme of motherhood.

First of all, Tess is just a terrific character and if you haven't read one of the Tess Monghan novels then you are missing out in a major way. Tess is so real to me and seeing her as a mother brings her character to an entirely new light. I loved the dynamics between Tess and Carla Scout -- they were pretty funny and I do think Carla Scout is going to give Tess a run for her money over the next few years! In addition, I appreciate seeing Tess balance the major challenges of working and parenting.

And then there's Tess as a crime solving private investigator... she's so good and so smart. She does get some help from Sanchez, her partner and a retired cop, (who is also a fantastic character!) I definitely appreciated how Tess got inside Melisandre's twisted mind, and I do think being a new mom (and all that comes with it) helped her to understand Melisandre's behavior. In addition, I saw a softer side to Tess in this book -- she definitely had some compassion for a few characters -- that worked in her favor in figuring out the murders.

In addition to loving anything starring Tess, I enjoyed HUSH HUSH because I found the mystery (or mysteries) to be intriguing. There were definitely some twists and turns in the story, and Melisandre was scary enough (and smart enough) to be very dangerous. Her manipulative personality played a major role in how she worked people, and every time I thought I had part of the story figured out, I was thrown for another loop.

And finally, HUSH HUSH had an interesting underlying theme of good versus bad parenting, and especially as it relates to being a mother. I really liked how Ms. Lippman wove these themes into the story first by making the reader question Melisandre's actions and motivations. But I also appreciated seeing this through Tess's behavior as a mother to a challenging toddler. Carla Scout was a lot like my daughter, and I could so appreciate Tess's emotions and difficulties with controlling her behavior. There is one scene in particular in a market that brought back nightmares to me!

HUSH HUSH would make a great book club pick. I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide on-line but I don't think one is necessary. There is a great deal to discuss about parenting and mother/child relationships. In addition, there are some issues relating to both Tess's and Sandy's personal lives that might be interesting to analyze. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parenting styles, marriage, the insanity plea, depression, and parental guilt.

I'm not the only one that's glad to see Tess back. Check out this new site devoted to HUSH HUSH!

I loved HUSH HUSH and can't wait to see what Lippman next brings to the table! Highly recommended!

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

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence

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 new Disney illustrated middle-grade novel from Stan Lee.

Summary: Stan Lee presents a brand new, magical, super-powered adventure! When twelve magical superpowers are unleashed on the world, a Chinese-America teenager named Steven will be thrown into the middle of an epic global chase. He’ll have to master strange powers, outrun super-powered mercenaries, and unlock the mysterious powers of the Zodiac. -- Disney Press

You might be surprised to find that I am reviewing THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong for this week's Kid Konnection post. I'm not exactly the ideal audience for this new series of books by the famous comic creator Stan Lee; however, I admit that I was intrigued by the premise. And, I figured it might be a fun read for Booking Son since he is the target audience!

THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE begins when a Chinese-American 14 year old boy named Steven is touring a museum in China. When he hears a strange sound behind a set of doors, he decides to follow it and finds himself in a major adventure that pits two warring factions, each with animal powers from the Chinese zodiac, against each other in a quest to change the world.

When Steven leaves the group of fellow students to follow the screams, he is face-to-face with Maxwell, a war contractor who is trying to take control of the various zodiac powers. Maxwell is fighting for total control of the dragon power with Jasmine, the leader of the other group. Steven gets caught up in the supernatural power fight when he finds himself taking on the traits of the tiger symbol. As Maxwell's group travels around the world trying to find more "hosts" for the powers, Jasmine and Steven (and the rest of her group) try to get to them first and sway them to the "good" side.

Steven is not only physically tested with his new superpowers, but he is also emotionally tested. He questions whom he can trust while also doubting his ability to save the world from Maxwell's dangerous plans!

I'm pretty sure I'm not the best person to be reviewing THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE. It's not a book I would normally pick up, nor do I know much about this genre in general. So keep that in mind when I share with you a few of my thoughts!

I did enjoy THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE, and I definitely think it's a great start to a planned trilogy. The book is action-packed and I suspect it will appeal to boys in general and even some reluctant readers. It will also probably appeal to fans of Stan Lee's! The pace of the book is extremely quick and I actually flew through the story. There was a nice blend of action scenes along with some intriguing points about Steven's characters too.

The artwork is just fantastic, although I'd expect nothing less from the authors. I thought the illustrations were the perfect complement to the story, and I really did enjoy taking the time to look at them. Fans of comics and graphic novels should go crazy over how awesome these drawings are.

One thing that stood out to me about THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE was how well the story ended. Just when I thought things might be a tad bit predictable, I was blown away by the ending. That's not to say that I was blindsided though. Rather, I loved how the book wrapped up (or should I say ended up with more questions than answers). What brought it to the next level to me was that there were enough clues that the ending actually did make sense... in a twisted way.

I wanted to give you an idea of THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE, so I decided to also include this video. Pretty cool, right?

Overall, I enjoyed THE ZODIAC LEGACY: CONVERGENCE despite not being the target audience for it. I am actually looking forward to the second installment just to see what's next in store for Steven!

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!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Reunion

Summary: The author of the highly acclaimed The Fates Will Find Their Way returns with a novel about a far-flung family reunited for one weekend by their father's death.

Five minutes before her flight is set to take off, Kate Pulaski, failed screenwriter and newly failed wife with scarcely a hundred dollars to her name, learns that her estranged father has killed himself. More shocked than saddened by the news, she gives in to her siblings' request that she join them, along with her many half-siblings and most of her father's five former wives, in Atlanta, their birthplace, for a final farewell.

Written with huge heart and bracing wit, REUNION takes place over the following four days, as family secrets are revealed, personal foibles are exposed, and Kate-an inveterate liar looking for a way to come clean-slowly begins to acknowledge the overwhelming similarities between herself and the man she never thought she'd claim as an influence, much less a father. Hannah Pittard's "engaging and vigorous"* prose masterfully illuminates the problems that can divide modern families--and the ties that prove impossible to break. (*Chicago Tribune) - Grand Central Publishing

When I saw down to write a review this morning, I realized that I never shared my thoughts with you about the novel REUNION by Hannah Pittard. I read this one quite a few months ago and enjoyed it quite a bit at the time. The book centered around a dysfunctional individual who was part of a dysfunctional family, and I found the story to be both entertaining and enlightening.

REUNION tells the story of Kate Pulaski, a former screenwriter who has recently cheated on her husband. She is pretty much down on her luck -- both career-wise and marriage-wise; and she's majorly in debt. She is on an airplane waiting for takeoff one day when she plays her phone messages... out loud. She discovers that her estranged father has just killed himself and that her siblings want her to join them for the sendoff. This means not only her brother and sister with whom she is actually somewhat close, but her father's five ex-wives and her many half-siblings... with whom she isn't all that close.

The rest of the novel takes place in a few days as the family comes together for the final farewell. Secrets are revealed and Hannah begins to see that she and her father have more in common that she ever knew. It's a time for Hannah to not only learn more about her estranged father but also her own self.

I found REUNION to be a terrific read! I'm sure you can tell that Hannah was a deeply flawed character; however, that aspect of the story made it all the more appealing to me. The beauty of this novel wasn't necessarily in the actually story itself (although I did enjoy it). Rather, it was Hannah's character and her narration of the novel which brought it to the next level to me.

Hannah was a piece of work, and frankly, I had a hard time liking her. Her self-absorption, immaturity, and self-pity were extreme (albeit entertaining in a twisted way); and her "journey" and/or self-discovery were interesting to say the least. I am pretty sure that some readers will hate Hannah, or at the very least, want to knock her upside the head every now and then. I just chose to accept her and she even managed me to laugh more than a few times.

I was pretty sure I knew where this novel was going. Heck it's about a dysfunctional family, an immature women, and saying good bye to her estranged father. And while, I wasn't exactly surprised by how everything worked out, I was impressed with how the author got there. I found Ms. Pittard's writing to be fresh, smart, and humorous; and I especially enjoyed her first person portrayal of Hannah. I haven't read any other books by Ms. Pittard, but I wouldn't hesitate to pick up her first book THE FATES WILL FIND THEIR WAY.

I do think REUNION would make a terrific book club pick -- if nothing more than to discuss Hannah and her self-absorption. There are quite a few relevant topics to discuss like family, marriage, secrets, honestly, forgiveness, redemption, siblings, and responsibility. Since so many of Hannah's actions are kind of/sort of questionable, I do believe that they should generate quite a bit of passionate discussion.

I totally enjoyed REUNION -- both because of the wonderful writing and the interesting characters. Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: The Circle

Summary: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. -- Vintage

This month, my book club read THE CIRCLE by Dave Eggers. I had a feeling that someone would pick this novel because a few of the members in my group had already read this book and loved it. I admit that I did think many of the subjects in this story would make for a compelling discussion, but I was less than thrilled by the length of this book. (I know that sounds awful, but I really have a hard time with books around 500 pages!)

THE CIRCLE is a dystopian tale about what could happen if social media could totally infiltrate all aspects of our lives. Mae Holland was thrilled when she was hired by the Circle, the world's most influential company. The company had the best and the brightest employees and its campus location made it possible for employees to get almost everything they need in one place. The Circle was a company that combined almost all things "internet" including email, banking, purchases, and more. The goal was total transparency -- scary, right?

Mae loves her job and the perks that come with it. She even manages to make some friends and find a romantic interest... or two. However, her world drastically changes when her role at the Circle becomes increasingly visible to everyone in the world! Can Mae balance her desire to do well at the Circle with her and her family's personal privacy? Needless to say, Mae's new responsibilities bring to light many relevant issues about privacy, transparency, and the greater good of society.

THE CIRCLE was a very good book club selection; however, I didn't love it like I had hoped. Truth be told, I think I'm the only member of my book club that didn't rave about this novel. Maybe I had my expectations set too high, but the book just seemed a little far-fetched to me. I guess what I'm saying is that the story was book was good -- not great, and I did think the story dragged in quite a few places. I just wanted more from the character development, the suspense aspects of the story, and the way the novel ended.

Having said that, I do think THE CIRCLE was very interesting and I appreciated how the author gave readers so much to think about. His thinly veiled references to Twitter, Facebook, Google and how much they can affect our lives was no doubt fascinating (and a little scary!), and I loved how he showed how social media and our "obligation" to it can take over our lives. I also really enjoyed seeing some relevant issues addressed like the pros and cons of privacy and transparency. There is absolutely no doubt that this novel made me think, often times in an uncomfortable way; and it did generate a lot of discussion for our group.

What fell short for me in THE CIRCLE was the actual story itself. I really didn't like Mae and never truly felt an affinity for her. I realize it isn't supposed to matter whether I liked her or not, but I just couldn't overcome my many issues with her character. In addition, I felt like parts of the novel (and one major one in particular) were very predictable... almost so much so that I rolled my eyes when the surprise was finally revealed.

And realize when I say this that most of my book club disagreed with me... but I thought the way the book rose to its "suspenseful" conclusion was just plain silly. The book just got too over-the-top for me. I realize that the author was probably trying to make his points (and build suspense) with his descriptions of the shark tank and more, but it just wasn't my cup of tea nor all that effective.

Despite my feelings about THE CIRCLE, I am glad that I read it; and it definitely made for an interesting discussion. One thing we enjoyed talking about is how different our kids are with social media. There is definitely less transparency, both a good thing and a bad thing in my opinion; and things that make my generation cringe will probably not be an issue in just a few more years. We also talked about bit about some of the literary elements the author used to make his point. You can probably tell by now that I was generating this aspect of the discussion.

There is a reader's guide with 19 questions, but unfortunately we didn't use it. Our discussion was pretty lively, but I do think it might have helped us to cover even more. Some of the themes you might want to explore include privacy, memories, transparency, honestly, secrets, progress, technology, future, past, health care, and sacrifices.

Overall, THE CIRCLE is an interesting read about technology and our future. Recommended to fans of suspense and dystopian stories.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: The Secrets of Midwives

Summary: "With empathy and keen insight, Sally Hepworth delivers a page-turning novel about the complex, lovely, and even heartbreaking relationships between mothers and daughters.—Emily Giffin

Three generations of women 
Secrets in the present and from the past
A captivating tale of life, loss, and love…

Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. As Neva’s pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden? -- St. Martin's Press

I don't know what it is about books about midwives that appeals to me so much, but I can almost guarantee I will read a novel about them. Maybe it all began after I read (and loved!) MIDWIVES by Chris Bohjalian, or maybe it's because my first daughter was delivered by a midwife. I'm not really sure, but I do know that the new book THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES by Sally Hepworth looked terrific.

THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES tells the story of three generations of women who are all midwives. Neva Bradley is the youngest midwife and is trying to keep the details surrounding her surprise pregnancy a secret. Her mother, Grace, has very different ideas. Grace and Neva don't have much in common besides their occupation, and their relationship has been strained through the years. Neva does her best to respect Neva's privacy, but she just can't help herself -- she has to know! And then there's Floss, Neva's grandmother and Grace's mother. Floss is a retired midwife that is reminded of her own past when she learns that her granddaughter is going to be a single mother.

The novel travels back and forth between the present and the past as the mysteries surrounding Neva and Floss's pregnancies come to light. If the truths are ever revealed, there will be consequences for all three women that could potentially have devastating effects on their relationships.

I really enjoyed THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES. The characters were interesting, as were the mysteries surrounding their lives; and I was definitely by the story. It actually ended up being a quick read for me in a time where I'm having a hard time finding much of anything I want to read! I won't go so far as to say that the book had any earth shattering revelations, and truth be told, it did wrap up pretty neatly; however, it was an entertaining novel all the same!

One thing that definitely appealed to me about THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES was the actual "midwife" aspect of the story. I thought Ms. Hepworth did a very good job with presenting the different types of midwives. Floss was a traditional midwife from England back in the 1950s, while Grace was definitely more of a "granola-type" midwife who did house deliveries and had disdain for doctors. Neva was a midwife who worked in a more formal, hospital-like setting with doctors. In addition to presenting the different types of midwives through these three women, the author did a great job of treating all of their practice methods equally. Actually, she did a great job of presenting all birthing options (doctor or midwife, natural or c-section, drugs or no drugs) as the right one... depending on the mother's preference.

Another aspect of THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES that I enjoyed was how well the author tied Neva and Floss's stories together. I can't go into too much or I'll end up giving away some of the surprises in the story, but suffice it to say that will their stories were similar in that they were both single mother. However, Floss's story definitely had a little more drama to it than Neva's. I appreciated how Floss, upon learning about her granddaughter's pregnancy, was sent reeling back into her past. Many of the secrets she'd been keeping for decades resurfaced, and she had to decide if telling the truth after all these years would do more harm than good.

And finally, I liked that the story ended the way it did. Was I surprised by anything? Not really, and sometimes I have to wonder if everything was tied together a little too neatly with a pretty bow! Having said that, I think I would have been disappointed by anything else. I wanted a happy ending for these characters that I had grown to love, and I liked the themes about mothering and sacrifice.

I'm sure you can already tell that THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES would make a terrific book club discussion, especially if you're group is like mine and consists of moms. There is a reading guide with ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include secrets (of course!), mother/daughter relationships, sacrifice, trust, privacy, marriage, love, birthing choices, single mothers, and family.

THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES is an entertaining read that will appeal to fans of women's fiction. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Guest Review: Lethal Code

Summary: America’s worst nightmare has come true: a “cyber–Pearl Harbor” attack by unknown terrorists has crippled the nation’s power grid—and brought the land of the free to its knees. As widespread panic and violence ravage the country, its ruthless captors issue their ultimatums…and vow an apocalyptic reckoning.

A defenseless nation scrambles to fight an invisible invasion. Chief among America’s last line of defense is Lana Elkins, head of a major cyber-security company—and former top NSA operative—who returns to her roots to spearhead the Agency’s frantic efforts to combat the enemy’s onslaught on its own terms. While she and her superiors take action to infiltrate a terrorist hotbed overseas, much closer to home ruthless jihadists with a nuclear bomb hijack a busload of schoolchildren—including Lana’s daughter—and race toward a rendezvous with Armageddon in America’s greatest city.

With Lethal Code, Thomas Waite raises the international techno-thriller to dangerously exciting levels—introducing a valiant new action heroine, and initiating a series that brings a harrowing new edge of realism to sensational speculative fiction. - 47North

Booking Pap Pap has another great review. This time it's for a cyber thriller called LETHAL CODE by Thomas Waite. Here are his thoughts:

LETHAL CODE by Thomas Waite begins with a cyber-attack on the United States power grid that places the country in total chaos resulting in significant death and destruction. The United States government must identify and track down these unknown terrorists before they turn our own weapons on us and completely destroy the country. There are several suspects with sufficient technical know-how such as Russia, China, North Korea, Arab terrorists or even a disgruntled American.

The U.S. government assembles an unusual team to identify, locate, infiltrate and destroy the enemy before they do further damage. Heading up the team is Lana Elkins, head of a cyber-security company and former NSA operative who is joined by FBI agent Candace Anders and prior suspect in the cyber-assault, Ruhi Mancur, a Saudi born American citizen. While the team searches overseas for the terrorists, panic and violence continues at home with jihadists kidnapping a busload of children, including Lana Elkins’ daughter, and the planned nuclear destruction of a major U.S. city.

The novel, while starting out with some high-tech computer security concerns quickly changes to a low-tech search and destroy operation with plenty of shooting and killing. The team members are exposed to brutal environments, threatened, shot at, captured and tortured; assisted by U.S. Special Forces and challenged by several foreign governments’ agencies in carrying out their objectives.

The author notes up front that most of the technologies, cyber-attack vulnerabilities, and cyber-war scenarios he uses are based on fact. But it is still difficult for me to believe that a cyber-attack could reach this level of sophistication and complete control.

However, once the plausibility of such an attack is put aside, LETHAL CODE is a face-paced thriller with great characters that comes to an exciting conclusion. Additionally, the book provides plenty of food for thought concerning contemporary terrorism.

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

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, February 14, 2015

Kid Konnection: New Releases from Amp! Comics for Kids

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you two new graphic novels by Amp! Comics for Kids.

Summary: The hilarious tale of a group of amphibians (and one free-range hamster) who set out to save their tiny pond home from one very large steamroller.

Sometimes big stories happen in small places. Sometimes big things happen to small creatures. This is one of those stories . . .

Cecil is a toad. A toad busy doing what any other toad does with its days--judging the pond splashing contest (Reggie the fly is usually the honorary winner by dint of his five-day lifespan), or visiting his friends, Jeff the free-range hamster, Rayray the lizard, Jeremy the worm, or Sprout the frog. And, of course, trying to keep clear of the local hawk.

But when Cecil discovers a freeway construction project aimed right at the pond, he knows he has to come up with a plan to save his home. But what can a small group of amphibians and a reincarnating fly do against construction vehicles and a steady onslaught of hot asphalt? Cecil isn't sure, but he knows they have to try. -- Amp!

STINKY CECIL IN OPERATION POND RESCUE by Paige Braddock is a very funny graphic novel that's sure to delight kids of all ages. The book is geared towards kids ages seven to twelve, and because I have a 10 year old boy, I can most definitely say that the humor in this book is perfect for middle grade readers.

STINKY CECIL IN OPERATION POND RESCUE tells the story of a cute group of amphibians and an adorable little hamster. Stinky Cecil, a toad, is probably the ring leader of the group, although that's not saying a heck of a lot. When he learns that his and his friends' pond is at risk of being destroyed for a new highway, they set into a motion a series of plans to save it. Their antics are hilarious as are their interactions with each other; however, there are also some important messages in the story about natural habitat and conservation.

I really had to chuckle at STINKY CECIL IN OPERATION POND RESCUE! The book was definitely a fun glimpse into the lives of some pond animals. I thought the humor was both smart and silly (perfect for almost anyone with a sense of humor!), and the jokes came at a pretty much rapid fire pace. I actually loved the various characters, even with their flaws; and the way they talked with each other was incredibly cute.

As a mom, I really liked that the book, although hilarious, did have some important messages. There was a little bit of education about the life cycle of these animals as well some information about conservation and endangered species. The messages were definitely there but they were not heavy handed in the least. I suspect kids will soak up these messages and clamor for more of Stinky and his friends.

I can't wait to share this STINKY CECIL IN OPERATION POND RESCUE with the children at our local elementary school. Highly recommended!

Summary: The more Big Nate, the better! Readers will have their fill of Nate's wisecracks and school day shenanigans in this giant collection of hilarious comic strips.

Big Nate's Greatest Hits collects three bestselling e-book only collections--Big Nate Makes a Splash, Big Nate Dibs on This Chair, and Big Nate Pray for a Fire Drill--in this supersized paperback edition.

Eleven-year-old Nate Wright is no one-hit wonder. He’s the king of Monopoly, the Michelangelo of P.S. 38, and a Cheez Doodle poet extraordinaire. He’s a sixth-grade superstar—at least, that’s what he tells everyone—and he’s going all the way to Number One. Whether he’s having an imaginary near-death experience, creating another hilarious episode of “Doctor Cesspool,” or meeting the girl of his dreams at summer school, Nate’s always at the top of the charts. The hits just keep on coming in Big Nate’s Greatest Hits! -- Amp!

Another recent release form Amp! is BIG NATE'S GREATEST HITS by Lincoln Peirce. I have reviewed quite a few Big Nate comic books on this site over the past few years, and I can definitely say that fans of the series are going to love this new one. BIG NATE'S GREATEST HITS is actually a collection of three e-book only releases including Big Nate Makes a Splash, Big Nate Dibs on This Chair, and Big Nate Prays for a Fire Drill.

If you are familiar with Big Nate (and who isn't?), then you have come to know and love this interesting 6th grader. Nate is always finding a way to get into trouble and out of trouble, and his antics are nothing short of hilarious. As a mom, I appreciate the humor (but not like my son) and I like that these comics encourage even the most reluctant of readers to pick up a book!

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: Station Eleven (Audio)

Summary: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. -- Random House Audio

I am going to preface my review of STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel by saying that I love the author! She is positively adorable and she's also an extremely gifted storyteller. With STATION ELEVEN, her fourth novel, she is finally getting the recognition I believe she deserves. This book has been getting rave reviews... from almost everyone.

STATION ELEVEN begins a few days before the "end of the world as we know it." Arthur Leander is starring in a stage production of King Lear when he suffers a heart attack. Jeeven Chaudhary, an EMT who was once a member of the paparazzi, rushes on stage to perform CPR to no avail. Meanwhile, eight year old Kirsten Raymonde watches as the larger-than-life actor dies. Later that evening, Jeevan discovers that a massive flu outbreak is occurring around the world that is killing almost everyone within hours. He bunkers down with his brother and watches as the world begins to come to its end.

Fast forward fifteen years and Kirsten has managed to survive the flu. She is now an actress with the Traveling Symphony, a group of performers who travel around what remains of the country and perform Shakespeare and songs. They arrive in the small community of St. Deborah by the Water and fall upon a truly bad guy who calls himself "the Prophet." Their survival is challenged by this violent man's beliefs and it's apparent that there will be a final conflict which will determine their fate.

STATION ELEVEN is a fascinating story about survival and human nature as a whole. I found the entire novel to be intriguing, albeit quite scary; and I was very impressed with how Ms. Mandel wove together all of the various characters and stories. The novel weaves back and forth between the pre-flu world and the post-flu world, and it is both suspenseful and touching. Truly, she managed to accomplish quite a bit with this novel.

If I'm being entirely honest, there were parts of this novel that made me uncomfortable. Ms. Mandel's description of the flu outbreak and the panic that ensued scared the crap out of me. And then, the remnants of our country were even more terrifying. I'm not sure I would have wanted to survive! Maybe it's because I was listening to the story rather than reading it, but I was extremely disconcerted by what the survivors had to face and what they had to do to survive. I was also saddened by their memories... and lack thereof!

What I enjoyed the most about STATION ELEVEN, besides the wonderful writing, was how much it made me think. This book covered quite a lot about society and human behavior, showing both the good and the bad; and it definitely made me think about how we live our lives today. One of the best things I can ever say about any novel is that it made me think even after I finished reading it. STATION ELEVEN certainly did just that!

The audio book of STATION ELEVEN was read by Kirsten Potter, and I thought she did a terrific job. She had the right tone for the severity of the situation, and she also did quite a few accents that sounded pretty good to me. Check out this excerpt from the audiobook:

STATION ELEVEN would make an excellent book club pick. In fact, a few members of my group are reading it now. There is a reading guide with sixteen (yes sixteen!) questions. Because the novel covers so much ground and so many interesting situations, there is a great deal to discuss. Some of the themes you might want to explore include loss, grief, survival, love, friendship, trust, sacrifice, and memories. In addition, some of the "smarter" book clubs might want to compare/contrast some Shakespearean themes with what happens in this novel.

If you are looking for a smart, yet unusual story, about survival and basic humankind, then I highly suggest reading STATION ELEVEN.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: My Father's Wives

Summary: The co-host of ESPN’s Mike and Mike follows up his New York Times bestseller All You Could Ask For with this poignant story of one man’s search to understand himself, his marriage, and his father.

Jonathan Sweetwater has been blessed with money, a fulfilling career, great kids and Claire, his smart, gorgeous, sophisticated wife. But there is one thing Jonathan never had: a relationship with his father.

Percival Sweetwater III has been absent from his son’s life since Jonathan was nine years old. A five-term U.S. senator, now dead, Percy was beloved by presidents, his constituents, and women alike, especially the five women who married him after Jonathan’s mother.

Jonathan hasn’t thought about Percy or the hole he left in his life for years. Dedicated to Claire and his family, he’s nothing like his serial monogamist father. But then Jonathan discovers evidence that everything in his marriage may not be as perfect as he thought. Hurt and uncertain what to do, he knows that the only way to move forward is to go back.

On this quest for understanding—about himself, about manhood, about marriage—Jonathan decides to track down his father’s five ex-wives. His journey will take him from cosmopolitan cities to the mile-high mountains to a tropical island—and ultimately back to confront the one thing Jonathan has that his father never did: home. -- William Morrow

I am a HUGE fan of Mike Greenberg! Booking Son and I listen to his morning sports radio show Mike & Mike just about every day. Booking Son actually wants to be a sportscaster when he grows up, but "not the athlete guy -- more like Greeny!" So naturally when I learned that he was an author, I wanted to read his books. I haven't yet read his two nonfiction books, but I did listen to his first novel ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR a few years ago - you can read review. This might sound strange, but I was pleasantly surprised by his "softer side." And I was especially impressed with his ability to write a novel in various female's voices.

When I received a copy of his second novel MY FATHER'S WIVES, there was no doubt that I would be reading it. Of course, the blurb on the cover by Jonathan Tropper didn't hurt either. I'm paraphrasing here, but basically he said Greeny knows about more than just sports -- he gets men! That definitely piqued my interest. I figured if he did a good job capturing the essence of three women in his first novel, then he should do an equally good job of writing about a man... a man who has a few things in common with Mr. Greenberg!

MY FATHER'S WIVES tells the story of Jonathan Sweetwater, a middle aged guy who has a pretty "sweet" life. He's married to a gorgeous woman, has two terrific kids, and a great job that pays really well. He's living the American dream until he arrives home one day to discover that his marriage might not as ideal as he thought!

Jonathan is truly a family man and loves his wife dearly; however, he begins to question his life... and this makes him want to examine his relationship with his larger-than-life father. Percival Sweetwater III was a long-time senator who was beloved by many. He also had five different wives! He walked away from Jonathan and his mother when Jonathan was nine years old, and Jonathan truly believes he needs to understand his father before he can move forward in his life and marriage. As a result, he decides to track down his father's five wives and learn more about his enigmatic father.

As Jonathan travels the world trying to understand what made his father tick, he actually ends up discovering more about himself... and what kind of man he wants to be.

MY FATHER'S WIVES was an entertaining read, and once again, I was impressed with Mr. Greenberg's writing. I won't go so far as to say I enjoyed this novel as much as ALL YOU COULD ASK FOR, but I probably wasn't the ideal audience for this one. I definitely related much more to his book about women and friendship. But having said that, I did like this book quite a bit.

As a woman, I can't really say how accurate his portrayal of a middle-aged man was; however, if I had to guess, I'd say it was pretty real. I loved Jonathan's insecurities, and at the same time, I appreciated his honesty in dealing with some pretty serious issues. It was interesting to me to see how Jonathan worked through the problems in his current life by going back and dealing with a few from the past.

However, what I enjoyed the most about MY FATHER'S WIVES was the overall feeling I had when I finished the story. I actually found the book to be quite heartwarming and I really liked Jonathan's character. His growth (and sometimes lack there of) was intriguing to me, and in many ways, this novel felt like a coming-of-age story. And I do love coming-of-age tales!

I suspect that there was quite a bit of Mr. Greenberg in Jonathan. The character just felt real in some important ways. I have no idea about the author's past or his relationship with is father and/or mother, but if I had to guess, I'd say the portrayal of his relationship with his wife and kids was pretty authentic. Or at least I hope it was!

Because MY FATHER'S WIVES deals with many issues, it would make for a great book club discussion. There is a reading guide available with sixteen thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include infidelity, marriage, divorce, parent/child relationships, trust, forgiveness, legacy, wealth, self-discovery, and family.

MY FATHER'S WIVES is an interesting coming-of-age story about a middle aged husband and father who is just trying to make sense of his life. Definitely recommended, especially for fans of Mike Greenberg.

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

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: The Kind Worth Killing & Giveaway

Summary: From the author of the acclaimed The Girl with a Clock for a Heart—hailed by the Washington Post as crime fiction’s best first novel of 2014”—a devious tale of psychological suspense involving sex, deception, and an accidental encounter that leads to murder that is a modern reimagining of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train.

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.

But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .

Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda's demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth. Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail. -- William Morrow

I'm pretty sure THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson is going to be compared quite a bit to GONE GIRL. There is definitely a few unreliable narrators -- more like four instead of two, and there are quite a few twists and surprises. I suspect even the most savvy suspense reader will be managed to be surprised.

Supposedly, THE KIND WORTH KILLING is a bit of a reimagining of Patricia Highsmith's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Since I haven't read that novel, I can't really compare! However, in this book, Ted Severson and Lily Kintner meet on a flight from London to Boston. They have a few drinks together and begin to open up in a game of truth. Ted admits that he thinks his wife is cheating on him and he even goes so far as to say he could kill her. Lily agrees with Ted and they set up a later time to meet to discuss the definite plans.

Ted and Lily begin to form an unlikely bond while plotting Miranda's murder. It appears that Lily is quite the mystery woman and might even have a past filled with other murders. Lily and Ted engage in a cat and mouse game with Miranda and her "boyfriend," and the four of them get caught up in some very strange life and death situations.

THE KIND WORTH KILLING is definitely a book that is a kind worth reading! I really liked the story and the pacing of the novel. One character was more unlikable that the next; however, they did combine for some great scenes. I enjoyed seeing them play games and try to manipulate the situation for their benefit, and I especially enjoyed all of the plot twists -- although I will say that some were more predictable than others. These four character were despicable... and yet so interesting to me!

I often times complain that I think unreliable narrators are being used to much in novels ever since the success of GONE GIRL, and I will say that this book had four pretty darn unreliable ones. I honestly didn't read too much into their individual voices because I was so caught up in the cat and mouse games that they were playing. THE KIND WORTH KILLING was definitely more of a plot driven novel for me, and even though I was tempted at times to feel a little bit manipulated, I just accepted it because I was so caught up in how they were trying to manipulate each other.

I mentioned earlier that there were quite a few surprising turns in this novel, and there were! Most of them really caught me off guard and I so appreciated that! I will admit that they amount of twists made the story very unlikely, but once again, I was okay with all of that because I was so vested in the story! I shouldn't have been surprised that the author saved one very big surprise for the ending. Yet it still managed to take my breath away. I even re-read the last few pages to make sure I "got it."

THE KIND WORTH KILLING was almost an addictive read for me. I found myself sneaking in a few minutes here and there to read it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I immediately reserved the author's first novel THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART!

Overall, THE KIND WORTH KILLING was a fast-paced suspense novel that managed to keep me guessing and keep my interest... and that's really saying something because I haven't been "enjoying" reading all that much lately! Highly recommended!

Thanks to Saicheck Publicity for a review copy of this novel.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE KIND WORTH KILLING to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before  February 23rd 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!

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, February 7, 2015

Kid Konnection: Miss Brooks' Story Nook

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

Summary: A hilarious companion to the New York Times bestselling Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) about the power of stories and storytelling.

Missy loves her librarian, Miss Brooks. And she loves to go to Miss Brooks’ before-school story time. But to get to Story Nook, she has to pass Billy Toomey’s house—and she does not love Billy Toomey.

Billy always tries to steal her hat and jeers, “I’m going to get you!” It’s vexing. Then one rainy (and hatless) day, Miss Brooks changes story hour to storytelling hour. She teaches the kids about characters and plot and action and satisfying conclusions and encourages them to make up their own tales.

And that’s when Missy has a brainstorm. She sees a way to use her made-up story to deal with her real-life bully.

In this terrifically funny ode to inventiveness and ingenuity, Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley celebrate the power of stories and how they can help us to rewrite our own lives. -- Knopf for Young Readers

MISS BROOKS' STORY NOOK (WHERE TALES ARE TOLD AND OGRES ARE WELCOME!) by Barbara Bottner and illustrations by Michael Emberley is a very cute picture book that celebrates creativity and storytelling. It's actually a companion book to MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS (AND I DON'T!) which I reviewed over four years ago - you can read my review here!

In this book, Missy is back again, although instead of a reluctant reader, she now is a kid who loves Miss Brooks' Story Nook. This story time takes place before school, and Missy doesn't like having to take the shortcut to get there in time. The shortcut takes her past Billy Toomey's house, and Billy is quite "vexing" according to Missy.

Missy arrives at story time just in time for a big storm! The power in the school goes out and Miss Brooks can't see to read her book. So... Miss Brooks teaches the children to become good storytellers. 

"Good readers make wonderful storytellers, " said Miss Brooks.

With Miss Brooks prompting, the children try to come up with a story using interesting characters, plot action, and a satisfying ending. Missy, being Missy, is more focused on the Billy the bully. However, she uses Billy as inspiration to create a terrific story that also helps her solve problem!

I enjoyed MISS BROOKS' STORY NOOK and I was happy to see Missy back and as interesting as ever. I loved the message in this picture book about being creative, and I especially appreciated that Miss Brooks gave some examples about what makes a good story. Furthermore, I enjoyed seeing Missy attempt something new -- she's a bit reluctant like that; and I was impressed with how she tied together her storytelling with her handling of a problem

The illustrations by Michael Emberley are so cute! I love the various characters, including the ones that the school children created in their minds; and I honestly think I might like the actual pictures even better than the story.

One little warning for parents... When the children are creating their story during story time, there is a bit of violence concerning a lion and a snake -- and I mean a little bit! I had absolutely no issues with these pages, but I just wanted to put it out there in case some parents might be surprised by this. The illustrations do not depict it at all so no worries there.

MISS BROOKS' STORY NOOK is very cute and has some fantastic messages about storytelling and handling problems.

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!