Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Shelter Us

Summary: Lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom Sarah Shaw is struggling to keep it together for her two young sons and law professor husband. Since the death of their infant daughter, her husband has been buried in his career, her friendships have withered, and Sarah remains lost in a private world of grief. Then one day walking in L.A., Sarah’s heart catches at the sight of a young homeless woman pushing a baby in a stroller―and saving them becomes her obsessive mission. An unlikely bond grows between Sarah and the young mother, Josie. When tragedy threatens Josie, Sarah discovers that she is capable of deceptions and transgressions she never imagined. Her lies unleash a downward spiral that will threaten her marriage, family and her sanity. Shelter Us speaks to the quiet joys and anxieties of parenthood and illuminates a place all parents know: that shadowy space between unconditional love and fear of unbearable loss. -- She Writes Press

Summer is the perfect time for me to read women's fiction. I find that I read a lot of light and fluffy books that appeal to me more because of the warm temperatures and the sunny skies. However, I also still enjoy the occasional serious and touching story -- one that really makes me think and feel. SHELTER US by Laura Nicole Diamond definitely fit the bit. This novel was beautifully written, although at times difficult to read; and I was very impressed with this new-to-me author.

SHELTER US tells the story of Sarah Shaw, an ex-lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mom with two young sons. After losing her infant daughter, her life has been turned upside down. Her husband has turned to his work as a law professor, while Sarah struggles to get through her day given the grief she is experiencing.

While on a walk one day, Sarah sees a young woman pushing a stroller who appears to be homeless. She can't get this woman and her child out of her mind so she resolves to find them and help. When Sarah is finally able to make contact with Josie, she becomes extremely involved in Josie's life; and they form a special friendship.

As Sarah becomes more and more caught up in Josie's life, she discovers that she is willing to risk everything special in her life for her new friend. She begins lying and hiding things from her family and these deceptions just might end up causing Sarah to lose everything important in her life.

SHELTER US is a poignant story about a two complex women. It explores many difficult subject matters like loss, grief, homelessness, infidelity, isolation, motherhood, marriage, and more; however, it also shows the important of friendship and love. I was very impressed with Ms. Diamond's writing style. Her prose was eloquent and her storytelling abilities were quite good. In fact, I'm not alone with my praise - the book was just nominated for a Southern California Independent Booksellers Award for fiction.

One thing I definitely appreciated about SHELTER US was how Ms. Diamond chose to tell this story. The novel was told through Sarah's eyes and it was absolutely the way to go in my opinion. I loved how the author captured Sarah's voice and brought her character to life. By using first person, I felt as if I truly got to understand the desperation and sadness in Sarah's life; and I also think it made me more compassionate to her struggles and flaws.

I also really enjoyed the messages in this novel. I haven't experienced much sudden loss in my life and certainly nothing even close to what Sarah went though; however, this book made me feel Sarah's grief. I appreciated how this book explored loss and the after effects of this tragedy. I also liked how the author chose to introduce a homeless mother to the story. Both women needed saving, albeit in very different ways, and their friendship helped "save" both of them.

It won't surprise you that I am going to recommend SHELTER US to book clubs. This novel is ripe with themes to discuss, and the characters are so interesting that you will have no problem finding things to talk about. There is a reading guide available on the author's website with nine questions. The author is also willing to "meet" with your club! Some of the topics you might want to explore include marriage, motherhood, loss, grief, friendship, isolation, betrayal, homelessness, sacrifice, faith, adultery, and more.

SHELTER US is a thought-provoking look at loss and grief. I recommend to fans of women's fiction.

Thanks to Get Red PR for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: The Third Wife

Summary: In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus. A tragic accident? Or suicide?

At the center of this puzzle is Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and grief-stricken widower, who, a year after his third wife’s death, begins to investigate the cause. As Adrian looks back on their brief but seemingly happy marriage, disturbing secrets begin to surface. The divorces from his two previous wives had been amicable, or so it seemed; his children, all five of them, were resilient as ever, or so he thought. But something, or someone, must have pushed Maya over the edge. -- Atria

I feel as if author Lisa Jewell has kind of grown-up with me. I realize that sounds crazy to say that about someone I don't even know, but I used to relate to her books when I was younger; and now, I appreciate that her books are more mature and thought-provoking. Her latest novel THE THIRD WIFE examines the dynamics of today's modern families.

THE THIRD WIFE surrounds the death of Maya, a 30 year old woman who steps in front of an oncoming bus late on night after drinking too much. She is the third wife to Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and father of five. Her death is a mystery to Adrian because it was so unlike Maya to be drunk and wondering the streets, and he begins to wonder if it was an accident or suicide.

When a strange and mysterious woman enters his life, Adrian believes that she might hold the clues to his wife's death. It's difficult for Adrian to imagine, but he questions if Maya was as happy as he thought in their marriage. Adrian had done his best to amicably split ways with his two ex-wives and share custody of the five children. All of them (including the "wives") spent holidays together and things were seemingly comfortable for everyone... or were they?

Adrian begins to explore the idea that Maya wasn't happy in their marriage, and clues begin to appear that confirm his suspicions. Adrian learns that something or someone must have (literally and/or figuratively) pushed his wife into the path of the bus and to her premature death.

I liked THE THIRD WIFE quite a bit which is no surprise given my adoration of Ms. Jewell. The novel was part mystery and part exploration of family dynamics, and overall, it was a very thought-provoking read. I appreciated the variety of characters in the novel and how there were developed; and I thoroughly enjoyed how Ms. Jewell decided to tell Maya's stories through the use of flashbacks.

When I first started reading THE THIRD WIFE, I was a little surprised by how all three families seemed to get along so well. It seemed a bit crazy to me given the acrimonious divorces I've witnessed in my life. All three of the wives were cordial to each other -- even more than cordial if that's possible; and the kids seemed to be pretty well adjusted given the disruptions in their lives. It almost seemed too good to be true...

And that's exactly what I found as I read more of this novel. Adrian believed that he could marry and divorce and that there would be no major or lasting impact on his family. I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the ex-wives and children were suffering hidden pain (and that did eventually come out); however, it was the sorrow that Maya was experiencing that really affected me.

Maya was much younger than the other women (and pretty close in age to Adrian's first two children), and she did her best to keep everyone happy. She even tried to plan vacations for the families and meet everyone's expectations; however, she was personally having a difficult time handling all of the pressure. When she starts receiving mean-spirited anonymous emails that have too much detailed information to come from anyone outside of the family, her life begins falling apart.

I really would say that THE THIRD WIFE is primarily a mystery, but there is no doubt that there is a mystery angle or two to the story -- what actually happened to Maya and who was sending her the emails? I actually liked these aspects to the story and was impressed with how well Ms. Jewell addressed them. I felt as if the pacing of the story was just right and I thought she did a great job with the eventual reveal.

THE THIRD WIFE would make an excellent book club selection. There is a reading guide available with sixteen questions along with some ways to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include alienation, divorce, families, forgiveness, love, secrets, and coping mechanisms. In addition, the characters are fascinating in their own right and analyzing them would be interesting.

I found THE THIRD WIFE to be an intriguing story about family dynamics and what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly happy family. I think many readers will relate to one or more of the characters, especially given today's mixed family situations. It was a touching, yet insightful, read with wonderfully rich characters. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: The Woman Who Stole My Life

Summary: In her own words, Stella Sweeney is just “an ordinary woman living an ordinary life with her husband and two teenage kids,” working for her sister in their neighborhood beauty salon. Until one day she is struck by a serious illness, landing her in the hospital for months.

After recovering, Stella finds out that her neurologist, Dr. Mannix Taylor, has compiled and self-published a memoir about her illness. Her discovery comes when she spots a photo of the finished copy in an American tabloid—and it’s in the hands of the vice president’s wife! As her relationship with Dr. Taylor gets more complicated, Stella struggles to figure out who she was before her illness, who she is now, and who she wants to be while relocating to New York City to pursue a career as a newly minted self-help memoirist.

Funny, fast-paced, and honest, Keyes’s latest novel is full of her trademark charm and wisdom and is sure to delight her many fans. -- Viking

Some of my fondest (and funniest) memories of books include those written by Marian Keyes. I remember reading her novels years ago, when my daughter was a toddler; and I immediately became a huge fan. I loved the realness of her characters as well as her storytelling ability, and it didn't hurt that her books were often times laugh out loud funny.

Her latest novel is titled THE WOMAN WHO STOLE MY LIFE, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book tells the story of Stella Sweeney, a beautician who has a husband and two kids. Her life is pretty normal until she is stricken with a horrific illness that basically takes away her ability to speak and move. She ends up in the hospital for months; and needless to say, her family struggles to deal with all of the changes that come with her illness.

While recovering in the hospital, a certain handsome doctor, Dr. Mannix Taylor, takes a special intent in Stella and her illness. He spends a great deal of time "talking" (communicating is probably the better word) with her and after she recovers, he publishes a book with her words of wisdom. When the vice-president's wife is spotted reading the book, Stella's life is never the same. She becomes an instant celebrity and her relationship with her family and Dr. Taylor take some drastic twists.

Stella moves to New York City to promote her book... and work on the next one while also embarking on a new relationship with Dr. Taylor. As Stella's life begins to fall apart, she must examine her own life and decide what it is that will make her and her family happy.

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed THE WOMAN WHO STOLE MY LIFE. This novel was trademark Marian Keyes. It had an intriguing character in Stella, and the story of her illness and recovering was fascinating. However, it was the way Ms. Keyes wrote about the relationships in Stella's wife that made this book so special to me. I loved her interactions with her husband, Dr. Taylor, her kids and even her sister and parents.

I appreciated how well Ms. Keyes developed Stella's character and I loved that the book was written through her eyes. She managed to capture Stella's voice perfectly, and I thought she did an especially good job of conveying her fears while suffering from the illness. In addition, I found Ms. Keyes' portrayal of depression to feel authentic. I honestly have never experienced sadness to the depth that Stella did, but it sure seemed real to me.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how funny this book was. Of course, Stella and her illness weren't the least bit funny. In fact, I thought these parts of the book were terrifying. But Ms. Keyes managed to incorporate so much humor into Stella's story. A great many of the funny parts shone through in Stella's voice, but there were also some downright funny scenes.

And finally, I really enjoyed the messages from this novel. I don't want to sound sappy or preachy, but there were parts of this book that really resonated with me. I find that I take so much for granted; and unfortunately, it would probably take an illness or something worse for me let go of the small stuff. I loved how Stella experienced so much in this novel -- both good and bad -- and how it made her a better person.

THE WOMAN WHO STOLE MY LIFE would make an excellent book club selection. There is a reading guide with eleven questions that will certainly stimulate discussion. Personally, I'd enjoy discussing Stella and the various relationships in her life. She is a complex character, both very real and very flawed; and I think it would be great to hear other moms analyze her. Some of the other themes you might want to explore include illness, divorce, fame, parent/child relationships, new beginnings, and karma.

I highly recommend THE WOMAN WHO STOLE MY LIFE to fans of Marian Keyes as well as anyone who enjoys thought-provoking women's fiction.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: Little Pretty Things

Summary: Juliet Townsend is stuck in a dead-end job cleaning at a cheap motel, stealing little pretty things that catch her eye—until her former best friend and rival, Madeleine Bell, checks in. By morning, Juliet is no longer jealous of Maddy. She’s the chief suspect in her murder.

When a former friend and old high school rival, Madeleine Bell, checks into the hotel, Juliet adds envy to her bitterness. Well-dressed, flashing a diamond ring on her finger, and as beautiful as ever, Maddy is the very embodiment of Juliet's every dashed hope. But why would she choose to stay in the seedy Midnight Inn?

Before an answer to that question turns up, the next morning Juliet learns that Maddy has been found dead in her room. And the police have targeted Juliet as the chief suspect.

To protect herself, Juliet is forced to investigate the circumstances of Maddy's life and death. What she uncovers is that her onetime rival certainly never had it all. And Juliet may lose what little she has. -- Seventh Street Books

I decided to pick up LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day, not because of the praise for this specific novel, but rather because of the amazing praise for her first one THE BLACK HOUR. I haven't actually read THE BLACK HOUR yet, but it was nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original. While I was intrigued by the premise for LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, I was fairly certain that Ms. Rader-Day could write! And after finishing LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, I can say that I was definitely right.

LITTLE PRETTY THINGS tells the story of Juliet Townsend, a young woman who is stuck in her hometown and hasn't done much since graduating from high school ten years ago. She still lives at home with her mother (who has her own set of issues), and she cleans rooms at a pretty questionable hotel.

One day, her high school best friend and track team rival Maddy shows up at the hotel and asks for a room. Maddy looks like a million bucks and is sporting a huge diamond ring. The two women have a drink together in the hotel bar, and Juliet discovers that her feelings of jealousy have been buried under the surface all of these years.

The next morning, Juliet discovers Maddy dead, and (surprise, surprise) she's the chief suspect. Juliet decides that she has to investigate Maddy's death to save herself from being charged with the murder but also to figure out Maddie's past and what secrets she was hiding.

I enjoyed LITTLE PRETTY THINGS quite a bit, and I was very impressed with Ms. Rader-Day's writing. I liked the mystery although I admit I knew where the story was going and wasn't really surprised when the murderer was revealed. However, the real strength of this story was in the development of Juliet's character.

Juliet was so intriguing and I think many women will relate a bit to her character. She had those insecurities that so many of us have -- both as teens and women, and I appreciated how she reflected back on her high school years with a twisted view of what really took place. She also had a little issue with taking what didn't belong to her which was interesting if you're into analyzing individuals behavior.

As she delved into the mystery surrounding Maddy's death, it was also interesting to see Juliet become more aware of her past and Maddy's as well. As I mentioned before, it wasn't shocking for me to learn who was responsible for Maddy's death, but it was very shocking for Juliet. I especially appreciated how her character figured things out while also trying to cope with her past. Needless to say, Juliet's character was much more complex than I was expecting when I started LITTLE PRETTY THINGS.

Overall, I definitely recommend LITTLE PRETTY THINGS. It was a gripping mystery with a great lead character. I suggest reading this novel is you like psychological thrillers that examine complicated relationships.

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

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kid Konnection: I am Lucille Ball

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 an adorable and educational picture book by a famous thriller writer.

Summary: “Kids always search for heroes, so we might as well have a say in it,” Brad Meltzer realized, and so he envisioned this friendly, fun approach to biography—for his own kids, and for yours. Each book tells the story of one of America’s icons in a vivacious, conversational way that works well for the youngest nonfiction readers, those who aren’t quite ready for the Who Was biography series. Each book focuses on a particular character trait that made that role model heroic. For example, Lucille Ball could make any situation funny. By making people around the world laugh, she proved that humor can take on anything.

This engaging series is the perfect way to bring American history to life for young children, providing them with the right role models, supplementing Common Core learning in the classroom, and best of all, inspiring them to strive and dream. -- Dial Books

I should just call this Brad Meltzer week on Booking Mama. To start the week, I reviewed his latest thriller THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW; and now, I'm featuring his new children's picture book ORDINARY PEOPLE CHANGE THE WORLD: I AM LUCILLE BALL.

I AM LUCILLE BALL is part of the Ordinary People Change the World series; and while I was aware that Mr. Meltzer has been writing picture books, I had no idea how fantastic they are. I shouldn't be surprised. I absolutely adore this concept and think it's wonderful that these books are both cute and educational. Leave it to Mr. Meltzer to find a great way to teach kids about famous people who made a difference while also sending a powerful message that everyone can be a hero!

But I AM LUCILLE BALL isn't just for kids despite the fantastic illustrations and interesting story. I was surprised by how much I learned about the famous comedienne behind the iconic television series I Love Lucy. Like many funny people, her childhood wasn't easy, but Ms. Ball used humor to help her get through the tough times. As she grew older, she decided that she wanted a career in comedy; and after a lot of rejections, she got a job in a football comedy starring none other than the Three Stooges.

I loved learning the story of how Lucille Ball got her first big break on CBS with her husband Desi Arnaz. (It's a pretty special story!) She went on to be the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio, and her studio went on to produce some pretty amazing shows like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. She also was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom!

Another thing I appreciated about I AM LUCILLE BALL was the way the story was presented. The book is written in first person from Ms. Ball's point of view (that's probably obvious based on the title), and I loved how she told her story. In addition to the text, the cute illustrations by illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos perfectly complement the tone of the book. I especially liked there were lots of picture bubbles to give even more details about Ms. Ball's life... and actually add some humor to the book.

I absolutely adored everything about I AM LUCILLE BALL... especially the message. Ms. Ball not only tells the story of her life and her accomplishment, but she also gives some fantastic advice. There actually are some great tidbits of wisdom woven into her story as well as her most important life lesson: "In this world, the person you need to love most is you."

I told you I AM LUCILLE BALL is one special picture book! I definitely need to check out Ms. Meltzer's other picture books in this series! Highly recommended!

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

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Giveaway: Life in New York

Summary: New Yorkers are as diverse as the city they so colorfully inhabit, cautious but generous, brash but welcoming. Both are captured through the comedic eye of Laura Pedersen. The author of bestseller Play Money and award-winning Buffalo Gal, Pedersen serves up a hilarious memoir about three decades of city life. Pedersen experiences her adopted city in the best and worst of times while becoming the youngest person to have a seat on the stock exchange, performing stand up comedy, and writing a column in The New York Times. Enjoy an uproarious romp down memory lane as the city emerges as the modern metropolis we know today.  -- Fulcrum Publishing

I can't think of any city I love more than New York! Every year that I visit the city for BEA, I have a wonderful time just soaking in the sights and sounds. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the memoir LIFE IN NEW YORK: HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE SQUEEGEE MEN, TOKEN SUCKERS, TRASH, TWISTERS, AND SUBWAY SHARKS by Laura Pedersen appeals to me. This book is Ms. Pedersen's account of living in New York City for 30 years. She's experienced the good and the bad that the city offers while being the youngest person to have a seat on the stock exchange, performing stand-up, and writing for The New York Times.

I have a copy of LIFE IN NEW YORK to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 6th 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!

Laura Pedersen is a former New York Times columnist, the author of fifteen books including the award-winning humorous memoir Buffalo Gal, and a playwright. She has appeared on Oprah and David Letterman, performed stand-up at the Improv, and writes for several well-known comedians. Her award-winning play "The Brightness of Heaven" ran at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre in 2014.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Giveaway: The Confessor

Summary: Everyone is looking for Geiger . . .

Cold, emotionless and with an innate ability to recognize lies, Geiger was the best of the best in the field of Information Retrieval. Until he was asked to break his only rule and do the unthinkable - to torture a child. Something broke in Geiger's neatly controlled mind, opening up a flood of terrible memories long kept at bay. And now Geiger is missing, presumed dead. But, with no body ever found, there are a number of people invested in finding out the truth. One of those people is Harry Boddicker, Geiger's old handler and friend. Another is his bitter rival, Dalton, who is determined to find Geiger and extract a final confession from him, before carrying out his deadly revenge. But no one has reckoned on Zanni Soames - a woman more dangerous than any of them could imagine, and hell-bent on winning the race to find Geiger first. The new novel from Mark Allen Smith is a masterfully written thriller that will send you spinning from New York to Paris and back again, and into the darkest depths of the man known only as Geiger. -Simon & Schuster

A few years ago, I reviewed THE INQUISITOR by Mark Allen Smith. This debut thriller received rave reviews, and I have to admit that it was a solid read with a very intriguing premise. The main charger, Geiger has some unique skills and in a complex character; and the author certainly knows how to weave a tale.

I am happy to say that Geiger is back in THE CONFESSOR. In this novel, Geiger is missing and presumed dead; however, many individuals are searching for the truth. This book has already been called "a brilliant thriller" from Publishers' Weekly, and it sounds like another great novel of suspense.

I have a copy of THE CONFESSOR to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 5th 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!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Giveaway: The Rosie Effect

Summary: With The Rosie Project, “Graeme Simsion achieved the impossible and created an entirely new kind of romantic hero,” Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You said. Now Don Tillman returns in the hilarious and charming sequel to the international sensation. Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie.

Picking up where The Rosie Project left off, The Rosie Effect is a fun, hilarious, and poignant read. “Don Tillman helps us believe in possibility, makes us proud to be human beings, and the bonus is this: he keeps us laughing like hell” (Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook). -- Simon & Schuster

Earlier this year, I reviewed THE ROSIE EFFECT by Graeme Simsion. This novel is the followup to the huge hit THE ROSIE PROJECT (which had around two million readers), and fans of Don Tillman will definitely want to see what happens after he "wins" the girl. Don discovers that life with Rosie is far from simple when they find themselves expecting a baby, and Don does his best to fully research what it takes to be a father. Of course, Don stumbles along the way; and his research methods are a bit unorthodox... and hilarious for readers!

I am a huge fan of Don Tillman and can't recommend these funny but heartwarming books. You can
visit for videos, excerpts, and reading group guides from both THE ROSIE PROJECT and THE ROSIE EFFECT. My book club read THE ROSIE PROJECT last year and had a fun time discussing not only the book but also what we would look for in a partner.

I am giving away a copy of the newly released paperback edition of THE ROSIE EFFECT courtesy the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 4th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper & Giveaway

Summary: Actress Lizzie Pepper was America’s Girl Next Door and her marriage to Hollywood mega-star Rob Mars was tabloid gold—a whirlwind romance and an elaborate celebrity-studded wedding landed them on the cover of every celebrity weekly. But fame, beauty, and wealth weren’t enough to keep their marriage together. Hollywood’s “It” couple are over—and now Lizzie is going to tell her side of the story.

Celebrity ghostwriter Hilary Liftin chronicles the tabloids’ favorite marriage as Lizzie Pepper realizes that, when the curtain falls, her romance isn’t what she and everyone else thought. From her lonely holidays in sumptuous villas to her husband’s deep commitment to a disconcertingly repressive mind-body group, Lizzie reveals a side of fame that her fans never get to see. Full of twists and turns, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is a breathless journey to the heights of Hollywood power and royalty and a life in the spotlight that is nearly impossible to escape. -- Viking

MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER written by Hilary Liftin was definitely on my radar this summer! It has been chosen by USA Today, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and as a Great Summer Read; and if you're like me and enjoy juicy stories by the pool or waves, then this is the book for you!

Author Hilary Liftin is an accomplished celebrity ghost-writer, and she uses her skills to create a fantastic "celebrity memoir" novel. After working as a ghostwriter on a few celebrity tell all books, the author decided that she wanted to write a "the celebrity memoir of my dreams." The result was this MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER.

Young adult actress Lizzie Pepper was America's Girl Next Door who had a successful television series. However, it wasn't until she started dating one of the biggest Hollywood stars Rob Mars that she graced the cover of every tabloid magazine. Rob was about 20 years older than Lizzie and he said all of the right things to convince Lizzie that she was "the one."

They had whirlwind romance, pregnancy and marriage; and life seemed perfect for the two stars; however, Rob was involved with One Cell Studio, a controversial mind-body studio. As Lizzie became more involved with One Cell, she became estranged from her family and friends.

Lizzie discovers that fame definitely has its drawbacks and Rob might not be the man she thought he was. Lizzie begins to doubt her new life and marriage, and she decides that her future decisions have to be what's best for her twin boys. As she starts to "investigate" Rob's life, she makes some startling discoveries and learns that it's not going to be easy to escape from her world of money and fame.

I have enjoyed my fair share of celebrity memoirs/tell-alls in my life, so MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER sounded fantastic. And I have to say that I really, really liked it. This is a fun book that gives readers an inside view into the lifestyles of the rich and famous which is exactly why I picked up this novel. However, it also has some interesting twists and turns which ending up surprising me. It was just a great escape book for the summer!

If you read even part of the description, you know that this story sounds kind of familiar, right? I can honestly say that it was the closeness of the story to a larger than life Hollywood couple that appealed to me; and I would love it if that actress ever decided to tell her story. However, I'm not sure that's likely so I thought MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER was the next best thing. I am sure that Lizzie's story has a few more twists and turns anyway and made for a better story!

MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER is definitely a guilty pleasure, but a must-read if you love celebrity tell-alls. It's the perfect book for your summer beach bag!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
MOVIE STAR BY LIZZIE PEPPER goes on sale today; and thanks to the publisher, I have a copy along with some awesome goodies (a pair of branded sunglasses with a Lizzie Pepper hangtag and popcorn all packaged in a gold envelope) to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before August 3rd at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following days. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: The President's Shadow

Summary: There are stories no one knows. Hidden stories. I find those stories for a living.

To most, it looks like Beecher White has an ordinary job. A young staffer with the National Archives in Washington, D.C., he's responsible for safekeeping the government's most important documents . . . and, sometimes, its most closely held secrets.

But there are a powerful few who know his other role. Beecher is a member of the Culper Ring, a 200-year-old secret society founded by George Washington and charged with protecting the Presidency.

Now the current occupant of the White House needs the Culper Ring's help. The alarming discovery of the buried arm has the President's team in a rightful panic. Who buried the arm? How did they get past White House security? And most important: What's the message hidden in the arm's closed fist? Indeed, the puzzle inside has a clear intended recipient, and it isn't the President. It's Beecher, himself.

Beecher's investigation will take him back to one of our country's greatest secrets and point him toward the long, carefully hidden truth about the most shocking history of all: family history. -- Hachette Audio

A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for a Brad Meltzer book. It's been years since I've read one, but I remembered seeing a huge billboard in New York (right across from the Davits Center) advertising THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW. For some reason, the book stuck in my mind so I decided to pick it up and settle in for a suspenseful read.

The first thing I realized (rather quickly) is that THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW is part of the Culper Ring series.... a series that I've not read before. I'm not a big fan of starting series in the middle; however, I figured that Mr. Meltzer is a pro and I could probably catch up. I have to tell you that I sure wish I had started these books from the beginning. I had no issues following the story or getting to know the characters, but I just felt like I was missing out if that makes sense. Plus, I'm pretty certain that I would have really enjoyed reading the books in order and anticipating the next one!

After getting over that little surprise (and slight disappointment), I remembered that I just adore Mr. Metzler's writing. He really is one of the best at these types of books. In THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW, Beecher White, a young archivist at the National Archives and member of the secret society known as the Culper Ring, finds himself in a complicated investigation. (For those of you who aren't familiar with this series, the Culper Ring is a secret society started by George Washington to protect the presidency.) When a buried arm is found on the grounds of the White House, the President and his men are in a bit of a tizzy. They have no idea who the arm belongs to or how someone breeched security to bury it in the White House gardens. Furthermore, they have no idea why someone would even want to bury a severed arm or what it could possibly mean!

When they find something hidden in the hand of the severed arm, Beecher realizes that the ultimate message of the arm isn't intended for the President, but rather him. Beecher's investigation leads him to solve this disturbing crime while also discovering difficult things about his father's past.

I really liked THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW, although as I mentioned earlier, I sure wish I hadn't started in the middle of the series with this book. I have read that this book in particular was probably not the one to start with, but it's too late to worry about that. I certainly liked Beecher and his loyalty to the cause, and I definitely appreciated how the story about his father's past was revealed. I also really enjoyed the pacing and suspense of the story as well as the many twists!

I know next to nothing about how the Secret Service or those surrounding the President operate, but I felt as if THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW was well researched and much of it seemed to be authentic. I actually love the idea of a clandestine agency whose mission is to protect the presidency, and it does make for some terrific story ideas. Mr. Meltzer is just a consummate pro at writing thrillers about our government and its inner workings... and making them convincing.

As a newbie to this series, I can't really compare this story to the earlier ones. However, I did really enjoy the complexities of Beecher's character. At the start of this novel, he is obviously dealing with some very difficult issues, namely his mentor is in a coma and he still needs answers to what happened to his father. I found Beecher to be very likable, but it was more than that. I actually cared what happened to him and felt his pain as he discovered what happened to his father. It was touching and much deeper than I was expecting for a thriller.

Overall, I enjoyed THE PRESIDENT'S SHADOW quite a bit. I love the premise of this series and intend to go back and catch up!

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

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kid Konnection: Bride of Slug Man

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you a cute middle grade book about an aspiring film maker.

Summary: After her huge success with her first feature-length movie, seventh-grader Kate Walden is eager to start on her next film, a sci-fi romance called Bride of Slug Man. When a new kid comes to town from New York City, Kate thinks she might have a new found film buddy-someone to share her interest with. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty cute. But it turns out that Tristan is making his own movie, and now the classmates Kate thought were eager to join her cast and crew are divided. With rumors spreading in school and between sets, Kate finds herself juggling more than just call times and rewrites. And judging from the whispers Kate hears about Tristan Kingsley, she suspects that he isn’t interested in having a fellow film-buff friend; he just wants to prove himself as the best filmmaker in school by winning the Big Picture Film Festival. Kate vows to enter too, and tries to focus on just making the best movie she can. But between the cutthroat popularity contest, a bully situation that goes from bad to worse, and several on-set mishaps, Kate is going to need all the movie magic she can get to make sure Bride of Slug Man hits the big screen. -- Disney Hyperion

I was in the mood for a light, quick read (which means for me a middle grade book), so I decided to pick up KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: BRIDE OF SLUG MAN by Julie Mata. I admit the cover of the book, with the cute little slugs, was interesting; however, it was the premise of this novel that really attracted me to it. It's part romance, science fiction, and lots of middle school drama. If it sounds fun, that's because it is!

BRIDE OF SLUG MAN tells the story of seventh grader Kate Walden. Kate is ready to start her second film; and after much thought, she decides to do a sci-fi romance called Bride of Slug Man. After the success of her last film Night of the Zombie Chickens, all of the kids at her middle school want to be part of her movie. However, things get messy when a new boy from New York City moves to her school.

Kate is thrilled that Tristan Kingsley is interested in movies... just like her. Maybe they can be fast friends? It doesn't hurt that Tristan is pretty easy on the eyes. But Kate soon discovers that Tristan wants to enter a film competition, and her friends and fellow students want to be part of his movie. When both Kate and Tristan decide to enter the Big Picture Film Festival, they discover that they are competing in a lot more than just a film.

Things go wrong for Kate from the get-go. She begins to question not only her friends' loyalties, but also her film-making abilities. In the process, Kate has to battle rumors, bullying, and issues on her film sets. Can she get Bride of the Slug Man made while also balancing the drama of middle school?

BRIDE OF SLUG MAN is the second book in the Kate Walden Directs series, and unfortunately, I missed the first one. I don't think it's necessary to fully appreciated this book because the author does a great job of explaining the past; however, it sounds like it was a cute story too. I quickly fell in love with Kate, and I thought this book was both entertaining and hilarious!

Kate is a fantastic character and many middle grade girls will relate to her. She is passionate about making movies, but she's also juggling the demands of middle schoolers everywhere. She has problems and school and problems with friends (and enemies); and she also is starting to learn a thing or two about boys and crushes. Her daily life dramas are all very typical of kids in middle school, and I suspect many girls will see themselves in Kate and her friends.

As a mom, I really liked the overall messages in this book about friendship and loyalty. There is a side story about bullying, and I loved that there were kids in this story who weren't afraid to stand up to them for their friend. Well, maybe I shouldn't say that they weren't afraid, but they were willing to do the right thing... and that's a great message. I also really appreciated that Kate's character matured so much by the end of the story. She learned how to navigate some difficult social situations, and she also was open-minded enough to learn from them. That's a huge thing to learn as a teen!

Aspiring film makers like Kate will adore this book, but there is enough information about making movies, without being tedious, that all kids will learn a thing or two about the film industry.  I actually found myself liking all of the old film references and directing jargon too!

Check out this video which will give you a better idea of this fun book:

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a curriculum guide available for BRIDE OF THE SLUG MAN. I love this because this book would be absolutely perfect for the classroom! This novel is a lot of fun so it will appeal to many reluctant readers, while also having some great messages. The curriculum guide has discussion questions, activities, and more while also referencing the common core standards.

I really enjoyed BRIDE OF SLUG MAN and think middle graders will adore it too! My only regret is that I missed Ms. Mata's first Kate Walden Directs novel NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIE CHICKENS!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media 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!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Mom Made Foods

As a mom, I admit that it's difficult for me to find quick, yet healthy, options for my kids' meals. And that's where Mom Made Foods comes in. Mom Made Foods is a frozen food line that was created by Heather Stouffer when she couldn’t find convenient and healthy options for her own kids on hectic days. Her products offer hormone and anti-biotic free meats, organic fruits and vegetables, and low sodium content.

Mom Made Foods has a pretty broad range of frozen food items. They come in three types -- MunchiesBites, and Meals. The Munchies selections are Chicken Munchie, Turkey Sausage Munchie, Apple Pie Munchie, Cheese Pizza Munchie, and Bean Burrito Munchie. The Bites include Turkey Meatball Bites, Chicken & Apple Meatball Bites, Beef & Cheese Meatball Bites, and Italian Style Beef Meatball Bites. And finally, the Meals are Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs & Sauce, Cheesy Mac, and Gluten-Free Cheesy Mac.

Mom Made Foods are available at Sam's Clubs and other local grocery stores. My Sam's Club is on the smaller side and didn't have these products; however, my major grocery story chain Giant did. While they didn't carry every item in the product line, they did have a nice selection. I chose the Bean Burrito Munchie and the Chicken & Apple Meatball Bites to sample. You can check out their website to find a store near you!

I first tried the Bean Burrito Munchie and I can see how kids would like it. The box included two small burritos and each one was small enough for toddlers to pick up and eat. I liked that they had enough flavor while not being too strong for kids to enjoy. The crust was made with whole grains and packed with brown rice, corn, green pepper, cheese and beans.

I also sampled the Chicken & Apple Meatball Bites which I felt were even tastier. They were very easy to prepare with just a little water and 60 seconds in the microwave. I had them plain, but they would be equally good in a sandwich or even with a pasta sauce. As a mom to a child with severe food allergies, I really appreciated that these meatballs contained no egg or dairy and were safe for him to eat!

One thing I really like about Mom Made Foods is that they are healthy for frozen meals. They include healthy vegetables and grains while keeping sodium and sugar levels relatively low. For example, her Cheesy Mac includes sweet potato and butternut squash puree in the cheese sauce so that it goes undetected by kids but is full of additional nutrients. You can also add peas or broccoli to make it even healthier.

Making quick and healthy foods that kids will eat can certainly be a challenge for today's busy moms and dads. I definitely recommend checking out Mom Made Foods entire line of products. There's sure to be a few that your family will enjoy!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Giveaway: Bum Rap

Summary: NFL linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter has had it with shifty clients, dirty prosecutors, and a legal system out of whack. It’s enough to make a man want to leave Miami and never look back—until he gets a call from Victoria Lord, the better half of hot local legal team Solomon & Lord. Her partner in life and law has been arrested for murder. What’s worse: the only person who can clear him has fled the city. Now it’s up to Jake and Victoria to track down the witness—a stunning “Bar girl”—before she’s roped in by the feds…or eliminated by the Russian mob.

Jake knows that if he doesn’t get to the witness first, his client’s case is lost. Luckily, he’s got some good advice from his college football coach: “Buckle your chin strap and hit somebody.” And sometimes, the only way to win a tough case is to do just that. -- Thomas & Mercer

I am really in the mood for a good thriller, and BUM RAP by Paul Levine sounds like it might be the ticket. BUM RAP tells the story of an ex-football player, now a lawyer, who helps a fellow lawyer when her partner is accused of murder. As they try to track down the witness, they find themselves involved with the feds and the Russian mob. Sounds great, right?

BUM RAP is already getting some great reviews. Booklist gave it a starred review saying, “The pages fly by and the laughs keep coming in this irresistible South Florida crime romp. A delicious mix of thriller and comic crime caper.” In addition, on June 8, 2015, "Bum Rap" became the Number One bestseller in the Amazon Kindle Store. It was also the Number One bestseller in "legal thrillers" and "mysteries."

Lucky for you, I just happen to have a copy of BUM RAP to share. To enter, just fill out the form below before July 29th 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. address only. Good luck!

The author of nineteen novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and was nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, Shamus, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote more than twenty episodes of the CBS military drama JAG and co-created the Supreme Court drama First Monday starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Things You Won't Say

Summary: In this timely and provocative novel, internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen takes us inside a family in crisis and a marriage on the brink after a tragic shooting.

How far would you go to save your family?

Every morning, as her husband Mike straps on his SIG Sauer and pulls on his heavy Magnum boots, Jamie Anderson tenses up. Then comes the call she has always dreaded: There’s been a shooting at police headquarters. Mike isn’t hurt, but his long-time partner is grievously injured. As weeks pass and her husband’s insomnia and disconnectedness mount, Jamie realizes he is an invisible casualty of the attack. Then the phone rings again. Another shooting—but this time Mike has pulled the trigger.

But the shooting does more than just alter Jamie’s world. It’s about to change everything for two other women. Christie Simmons, Mike’s flamboyant ex, sees the tragedy as an opportunity for a second chance with Mike. And Jamie’s younger sister, Lou, must face her own losses to help the big sister who raised her. As the press descends and public cries of police brutality swell, Jamie tries desperately to hold together her family, no matter what it takes.

In her characteristic exploration of true-to-life relationships, Sarah Pekkanen has written a complex, compelling, and openhearted novel—her best yet. -- Washington Square Press

I am a huge fan of Sarah Pekkanen's novels. Naturally, there are some that I like more than others, but her latest THINGS YOU WON'T SAY will be going down as one of my all-time favorites. This story about a policeman who accidentally shoots and kills an unarmed Hispanic teen couldn't have been more timely... or more touching.

Even before the accidental shooting, THINGS YOU WON'T SAY showed that Jamie and Mike Anderson's marriage was having its fair share of issues. Mike and his partner were involved in a shooting that left Mike's long-time partner and best friend seriously wounded. Mike was suffering both PTSD and guilt as a result of the shooting, and his nerves were on edge. Jamie knew something wasn't right with Mike.

Yet Mike continued to go to work every day until the unthinkable happened. Jamie receives a phone call that's every cop wife's worst nightmare -- Mike shot and killed an unarmed Hispanic teen. This event turns not only Mike and Jamie's worlds upside down, but also affects Mike's ex (and mother of his teenage son) Christie and Jamie's sister Lou. Christie looks at this tragedy as an opportunity to get closer to Mike, while Lou finds that it's her turn to finally be there for her sister.

As tensions rise in city between the Hispanic population and the police, Mike and Jamie's marriage seems to be heading towards disaster as well. Jamie tries to be the wife and mother that she knows her family needs while also protecting herself in this difficult time.

I absolutely loved THINGS YOU WON'T SAY. I read the novel almost two months ago (I know, I know!) and it was especially timely. I'm sure the relevancy of this novel did heighten my appreciation of it, but I have a feeling that I'd have really enjoyed this book regardless. Ms. Pekkanen wrote a poignant story with complex characters, and this novel gave me a great deal to think about.

I found it especially interesting that Ms. Pekkanen chose to tackle the issue of a police shooting and racism in this novel. Needless to say, I thought THINGS YOU WON'T SAY was a little deeper than most of her other books. Having said that, Ms. Pekkanen complicated the issue even more by creating a character in Mike that was also suffering from PTSD. My heart definitely went out to the victim and his family; however, I also felt horrible for Mike... and Jamie!

One interesting aspect of this novel was how the shooting affected Mike and Jamie's relationship. Mike claimed he saw the boy holding a gun, and that's why he had no choice but to shoot. Based on his strange behavior, Jamie actually doubted her husband and blamed the PTSD for the shooting. I tended to agree with Jamie (while actually knowing nothing -- just my gut feeling), and I enjoyed how Jamie's lack of faith in her husband (or at least that's how he saw it) affected their marriage. Her actions, in a way, drove Mike to his ex; and she was more than willing to be there for him with open arms.

Another part of this novel that I really enjoyed was when Jamie decided to visit the victim's mother. She thinks that maybe she can talk to her mother-to-mother. Jamie asks for forgiveness in a very touching scene, and it broke my heart to see how this split second event could affect so many people's lives forever. Sometimes we get caught up in the sensationalism of story and forget that there are real people behind these losses.

If there was one small thing that I didn't love about this novel, it was the Lou and her story. I understand that Jamie needed a support system, but I thought her job as a zookeeper and her relationship with the pregnant elephant wasn't exactly necessary to the overall plot. Still, I liked Lou and I appreciated how much she grew throughout the course of the novel.

THINGS YOU WON'T SAY would make a terrific book club selection. There is truly so much to discuss, and the reading guide with fourteen questions and four ways to enhance your meeting will certainly help. Besides the obvious issues like race, police brutality, and guilt, you can also discuss marriage, communication, loss, mental illness/PTSD, loss, parent/child relationships, and more.

I found THINGS YOU WON'T SAY to be a thought-provoking read about some very relevant issues. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Guest Review: The Quartet

Summary: From Pulitzer Prize–winning American historian Joseph J. Ellis, the unexpected story of why the thirteen colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew. 

We all know the famous opening phrase of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this Continent a new Nation.” The truth is different. In 1776, thirteen American colonies declared themselves independent states that only temporarily joined forces in order to defeat the British. Once victorious, they planned to go their separate ways. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor a political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their autonomy as states. 

The Quartet is the story of this second American founding and of the men most responsible—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. These men, with the help of Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris, shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force the calling of the Constitutional Convention, conspiring to set the agenda in Philadelphia, orchestrating the debate in the state ratifying conventions, and, finally, drafting the Bill of Rights to assure state compliance with the constitutional settlement. 

Ellis has given us a gripping and dramatic portrait of one of the most crucial and misconstrued periods in American history: the years between the end of the Revolution and the formation of the federal government. The Quartet unmasks a myth, and in its place presents an even more compelling truth—one that lies at the heart of understanding the creation of the United States of America. -- Knopf

My dad has read quite a few of Joseph J. Ellis' books, so he was more than happy when I handed over his latest -- THE QUARTET. This book on Early American history isn't exactly my cup of tea, and that's why I love that my dad helps review books on my blog. Here are his thoughts:

In 1776, thirteen American colonies declared themselves independent states. Their plan was to come together temporarily to win the war against Great Britain and then go their separate ways. These independent states had no appetite for a strong central government after throwing off the yoke of the British Empire so the government they created in 1781, called the Articles of Confederation, was nothing more than a pact that gathered thirteen independent states together for purposes of national security.

THE QUARTET, ORCHESTRATING THE SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis is the story about the four men who moved the government from this collection of thirteen independent states to one of a united nation. Ellis’ contention is that the United States became a nation not in 1776 but with the adoption of the Constitution in 1789.

Four men were primarily responsible for this transition from the Articles of Confederation: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. Hamilton, Jay and Madison were the authors of the Federalist Papers which presented the case for a strong central government. These four men were supported by Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson. In general these men recognized the dysfunction of the Articles of Confederation in funding the war effort with money and men, managing a land mass larger than Britain, France and Spain combined and establishing any acceptable form of foreign policy.

According to Ellis, “they diagnosed the systemic dysfunction under the Articles, manipulated the political process to force the calling of the Constitutional Convention, collaborated to set the agenda in Philadelphia, attempted somewhat successfully to orchestrate the debates in the state ratifying conventions, then drafted the Bill of Rights as an insurance policy to assure state compliance with the constitutional settlement.” This top down approach to changing the form of government was somewhat contrary to the purpose of the American Revolution and in spite of a strong antifederalist group, the effort succeeded in establishing a Constitution.

However as with any political process, the outcome cannot be one hundred per cent guaranteed and the Constitution finally ratified was not the strong central government the Quartet envisioned but a structure that moved the states toward nationhood while maintaining strong local governments.

THE QUARTET is a well written account of Ellis’ view of the formation of the United States Constitution. I would recommend it to anyone interested in this period of American history.

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: A Small Indiscretion

Summary: At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.

With the brilliant pacing and emotional precision that won Jan Ellison an O. Henry Prize for her first published story, A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes. -- Random House

I am going through my finished books and found one that I read many months ago -- A SMALL INDISCRETION by Jan Ellison. I remember that this suspense novel was a well written novel that took me on a question-filled journey through the main character's life. And I recall that the way the author eventually revealed the answers was pretty special.

A SMALL INDISCRETION tells the story of Annie Black, a mother and wife who lives in San Francisco and runs a custom lighting store. When a photograph arrives in the mail, it sets into motion a series of events that turn Annie's life upside down.

First, Annie decides to reveal to her long-time husband a very secrets about her past and her recent trip to London. Then, her store is basically ruined when an overflowing bathtub falls through the ceiling, and her son is in a serious car accident that leaves him in a coma. The other passenger, her employee Emme, mysteriously disappears. And finally, her husband, who is still reeling from Annie's revelation, decides that he wants to separate.

Annie knows that it's essential that she uncover the mysteries from her past to save her marriage and her son.

A SMALL INDISCRETION was a really good read! I remember enjoying this novel and how there were so many secrets... or little mysteries. And I liked how the questions were answered throughout the course of the novel. In addition, Ms. Ellison is just a wonderful author. Her characters were fully developed and the plot was both intriguing and suspenseful.

I especially appreciated how the author chose to tell this story -- by using flashbacks, memories from the recent past, as well as current journal-like entries from the time following her son's accident. She wove these storytelling methods effortlessly, and I thought they were extremely effective in not only building the suspense but also in revealing the mysteries.

As much as I appreciated this novel, I do remember figuring out some pretty major things on my own... and earlier than I probably would have liked. (Maybe that was the author's intent because I am the first to admit that I'm not to most insightful reader in books like that!) Having said that, I really enjoyed the pacing of this novel and how the story unfolded. It was all very well done!

I do think A SMALL INDISCRETION would make a great book club selection. The novel both suspenseful and literary, and the characters are really fascinating... especially Annie. I think most women would find much to discuss about Annie's behavior. In addition, there are enough topics like love, obsession, betrayal, forgiveness, marriage, and second chances that make it interesting to dissect.

Overall, A SMALL INDISCRETION is an excellent example of literary suspense, and I highly recommend it to fans of this genre.

Thanks to FSB Associates 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, July 11, 2015

Kid Konnection: Untamed

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 fascinating look at Jane Goodall's life.

Summary: Jane Goodall, one of the most recognized scientists in the Western world, became internationally famous because of her ability to observe and connect with animals. A girl of humble beginnings, she made scientific breakthroughs thought impossible by more experienced field observers, when she was only in her twenties. Jane’s work with animals shaped her life, leading her into a tireless fight to protect the environment so that chimpanzees and other animals might continue to have a future here on Earth. Jane Goodall’s extraordinary legacy has made a great impact on the scientific community. -- National Geographic

I have always had a huge interest in Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, so it was natural that I wanted to see the new National Geographic Kids book called UNTAMED: THE WILD LIFE OF JANE GOODALL by Anita Silvey. This book covers Ms. Goodall's entire life from her early childhood in England to her current work with her multiple charities. The book even includes a foreward written by Jane Goodall.

UNTAMED is an excellent biography of this fascinating woman for kids ages 8 (maybe 10) and up. The book is close to 100 pages and includes a great deal of information about Ms. Goodall and her studies. In addition, the author presents specifics about her life in a clear-cut way and includes a great deal about her love of animals as a child... which I think will resonate with early animal lovers.

I really can't say enough about UNTAMED. The book is incredibly interesting about Jane Goodall (who just happens to be a pretty amazing woman), but also about chimps and her conservation efforts. I especially loved the way all of the information was presented -- with plenty of gorgeous color photographs and charts and lists. It's a book that you can read from cover to cover (like I did) or skim though for the photos and fun facts.

One of my absolute favorite parts of UNTAMED was in the back of the book. There was an informational spread about chimps along with a Gombe Family Scrapbook. This scrapbook included photographs and details about many members of the chimp family that Ms. Goodall researched. I just love how you can see the different personalities in the photographs!

Another really special thing about UNTAMED is the way it covers Ms. Goodall's various charities and conservation efforts. I've said this a few times, but she really is incredible! The book shows how children can make a difference and encourages everyone to protect our world.

UNTAMED: THE WILD LIFE OF JANE GOODALL is an excellent way for kids to learn about Jane Goodall. It's also a great resource for information about chimps, Africa, and conservation efforts.

Thanks to Media Masters Publicity 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, July 9, 2015

Review: Sweet Forgiveness

Summary: The Forgiveness Stones craze is sweeping the nation—instantly recognizable pouches of stones that come with a chain letter and two simple requests: to forgive, and then to seek forgiveness. But New Orleans’ favorite talk show host, Hannah Farr, isn’t biting. Intensely private and dating the city’s mayor, Hannah has kept her very own pouch of Forgiveness Stones hidden for two years—and her dark past concealed for nearly two decades. But when Fiona Knowles, creator of the Forgiveness Stones, appears on Hannah’s show, Hannah unwittingly reveals on air details of a decades-old falling out with her mother.

Spurned by her fans, doubted by her friends, and accused by her boyfriend of marring his political career, Hannah reluctantly embarks on a public journey of forgiveness. As events from her past become clearer, the truth she’s clung to since her teenage years has never felt murkier. Hannah must find the courage to right old wrongs, or risk losing her mother, and any glimmer of an authentic life, forever. - Plume

When I read the description for SWEET FORGIVENESS by Lori Nelson Spielman, I thought it sounded like a fun summer read... and it was! I actually enjoyed both the story and the messages from this novel, and it's not really a surprise because I had similar feelings about Ms. Spielman's last novel THE LIFE LIST. Here's the link to my review of that novel.

SWEET FORGIVENESS has a pretty cool storyline. The basic premise of the story is this concept called Forgiveness Stones. Basically, there is a new craze that consists of pouches of stones and a chain letter asking for the recipient to forgive and then seek forgiveness from someone else.

Hannah, a talk show host from New Orleans, has received a pouch but isn't a fan of the idea. She's been sitting on a pouch for the past two years that she received from the creator of the Forgiveness Stones, Fiona Knowles. Fiona wasn't very nice to Hannah back in middle school and has asked her forgiveness; however, Hannah has chosen to ignore her letter... until now.

Hannah is a successful talk show host but she realizes that she needs something new to keep her career going strong. She decides to capitalize on the stones she received from Fiona and invites her to the show. However, things go very wrong from Hannah when the dark secrets from her past relationship with her mother come to light on on live television.

Hannah's career and personal life take a pretty big hit. Hannah is not only embarrassed but she finds that her relationship with her fiancé is on the brink of disaster and her best friend (and ex husband's mother) have embraced the idea of the Forgiveness Stones wholeheartedly. In addition, her current and potential jobs as a talk show host are at risk.

As Hannah hits bottom, she decides to re-evaluate her life -- both her past and her future. She looks at the relationship with her fiancĂ© and her mother (and others) and decides to embark on a path of forgiveness. As she reflects on her past, she realizes that the "truths" she's been clinging to for almost two decades aren't as clear as she thought; and she has to find the strength to repair the damage she's done to others' lives... and her own.

I really enjoyed SWEET FORGIVENESS! I loved the idea of the Forgiveness Stones and I could totally see how this craze could go crazy in today's society. Hannah was a fantastic character -- definitely flawed but not a bad person; and I appreciated seeing her struggles as well as her desire for redemption.

This novel had a few twists and turns that I wasn't exactly expecting from a book like this. These actually brought the book to the next level for me. While I initially thought this book would be chick lit (not that there's anything wrong with that), it was definitely an intelligent read. Hannah was much more complex than she initially appeared, and the demons from her past were definitely pretty serious ones. Given how Hannah perceived her life, she really had to work hard at not only asking forgiveness from others but also learning how to forgive herself.

SWEET FORGIVENESS would make a great book club pick. The story is very entertaining, but it also provides a lot of food for thought. There is a great reading guide available with thirteen questions. Some of the things you might want to explore include honesty, parent/child relationships, truth, friendship, memory, and obviously forgiveness and redemption.

SWEET FORGIVENESS is a fun story with great characters and great messages. Highly recommended.

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