Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: All Day and a Night

Summary: A new murder case with ties to a convicted serial killer leads Detective Ellie Hatcher into a twisting investigation with explosive and deadly results in this superb mystery from the “terrific web spinner” (Entertainment Weekly) Alafair Burke.

When psychotherapist Helen Brunswick is murdered in her Park Slope office, the entire city suspects her estranged husband—until the District Attorney’s office receives an anonymous letter. The letter’s author knows a chilling detail that police have kept secret: the victim’s bones were broken after she was killed. Her injuries were eerily similar to the signature used twenty years earlier by Anthony Amaro, a serial killer serving a life sentence for his crimes. Now, Amaro is asking to be released from prison, arguing that he was wrongly convicted, and that the true killer is still on the loose.

NYPD Detectives Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan are tapped as the “fresh look” team to reassess the original investigation that led to Amaro’s conviction. The case pits them against both their fellow officers and a hard-charging celebrity defense lawyer with a young associate named Carrie Blank, whose older sister was one of Amaro’s victims.

As the NYPD and Amaro’s lawyers search for certainty among conflicting evidence, their investigations take them back to Carrie’s hometown, where secrets buried long ago lead to a brutal attack—one that makes it terrifyingly clear that someone has gotten too close to the truth. -- Harper

I honestly can't explain why I haven't picked up a novel by Alafair Burke. I have been reviewing mysteries almost every Monday for years now, and I have quite a few of her books sitting on my shelves...and yet, it took until last week for me to finally read one. ALL DAY AND A NIGHT is her tenth book and the fifth in the Ellie Hatcher series, and this is the one I finally decide to read? All kidding aside, I absolutely loved it and can't wait to read more of her novels.

ALL DAY AND A NIGHT begins when psychotherapist Helen Brunswick is brutally murdered in office. Naturally, her husband is suspected; however, when the District Attorney's office receives an anonymous letter, questions surface about the similarities between this murder and a series of murders from twenty years ago. Now, Anthony Amaro, the man serving a life sentence for the crimes, is asking to be released from prison.

Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner are assigned to take a "fresh look" at the original investigation that led to Amaro's conviction. Needless to say, the officers who worked the case are less than thrilled that they are re-investigating; and the defense lawyer for Amaro is definitely adding to the controversy.

Both the NYPD and Amaro's lawyers, including one whose sister was murdered by Amaro, are looking into finding the truth... and they all find themselves in danger as they get closer to finding the truth.

I absolutely loved Ellie Hatcher and ALL DAY AND A NIGHT. I can't believe that I've been missing out on this series and this author for so long! What's ironic is that I've read some review of this novel, and evidently it's not even the best one in the series. Needless to say, that makes me very excited to read more of Ms. Burke's novels!

One thing I really enjoyed about this novel was the character of Ellie Hatcher. While this novel definitely works as a stand-alone, I could tell that Ellie's character had evolved through the years. There were some minor references, especially as they pertained to her personal life, that made me want to know more about Ellie's past. Having said that, there was nothing in this novel that didn't work even without knowing the characters in this novel.

Ellie was an extremely interesting character to me. I really liked her and her grittiness, and I found her intuition about the cases to be compelling. I am a huge fan of this genre and I love that there is a series with a strong woman character. I even enjoyed the dilemmas she had in her personal life by dating a lawyer who worked in the D.A.'s office.

Another character is really liked in this novel was Carrie, the lawyer who worked for Amaro's lawyer and also whose sister was one of Amaro's victims. She was a fantastic character and I really appreciated seeing her return to her hometown and face the people and circumstances from her past.

I also enjoyed the mystery of the story. There were a few twists but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that I was shocked with the final outcome. (Evidently some readers are and some aren't!) I was surprised by a few of the turns and I appreciated that things were always interesting. In addition, I felt as if the book was so much more than just a mystery given the complexity of the characters, so I didn't mind not being gobsmacked by the conclusion.

Even though I prefer to start series at the beginning, I am so glad that I finally read an Ellie Hatcher novel. You will definitely be seeing more review of Ms. Burke's books here! In the meantime, I highly recommend ALL DAY AND A NIGHT for fans of mysteries.

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, August 29, 2015

Kid Konnection: Chasing Secrets & Giveaway

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a wonderful book by Newbery Honor Book winner Gennifer Choldenko.

Summary: Newbery Honor–winning author Gennifer Choldenko deftly combines humor, tragedy, fascinating historical detail, and a medical mystery in this exuberant new novel.

San Francisco, 1900. The Gilded Age. A fantastic time to be alive for lots of people . . . but not thirteen-year-old Lizzie Kennedy, stuck at Miss Barstow’s snobby school for girls. Lizzie’s secret passion is science, an unsuitable subject for finishing-school girls. Lizzie lives to go on house calls with her physician father. On those visits to his patients, she discovers a hidden dark side of the city—a side that’s full of secrets, rats, and rumors of the plague.

The newspapers, her powerful uncle, and her beloved papa all deny that the plague has reached San Francisco. So why is the heart of the city under quarantine? Why are angry mobs trying to burn Chinatown to the ground? Why is Noah, the Chinese cook’s son, suddenly making Lizzie question everything she has known to be true? Ignoring the rules of race and class, Lizzie and Noah must put the pieces together in a heart-stopping race to save the people they love. -- Wendy Lamb Books

When I was asked if I was interested in participating in a book tour for the novel CHASING SECRETS by Gennifer Choldenko, I jumped at the chance. I rarely participate in book tours anymore because my schedule doesn't really allow me to have many commitments; however, I felt this book was worthy of something special. I read this middle grade book in one sitting and can't rave enough about it. Ms. Choldenko has done it again. She's written an intriguing book with fantastic characters that also manages to teach kids a thing or two!

CHASING SECRETS takes place in the early 1900s in San Francisco. Lizzie Kennedy is a 13 year old girl who loves science and medicine, but that's not exactly proper for a young lady who attends a finishing school. Lizzie's mother is gone, but her physician father does the best he can with a teenage daughter. He takes Lizzie with him on house calls and attempts to teach her the art of medicine. Lizzie learns a great deal about life on these visits including the startling discovery that the plague might be hitting San Francisco!

When Jing, her family's treasured cook goes missing, Lizzie is certain that he is stuck in Chinatown where there's a quarantine for the plague. Lizzie is concerned about the plague even most people are saying that it's just a rumor.

One day, Lizzie makes another shocking discovery. Jing's son, Noah, is hiding in a room in the upstairs of her house. Noah and Lizzie hit it off and become fast (albeit secret) friends. Lizzie wants to help Noah by providing food and other treats, but she also realizes that she must find the missing Jing and bring him home... no matter the cost!

I adored CHASING SECRETS from the various characters, to the storyline, to the historical information. It was a wonderful book -- truly a page-turner -- while also being a sweet story about friendship, determination, and self-discovery. This book had a little bit of everything and should appeal to a wide variety of readers. There is drama, suspense, mystery, friendship, humor, and even a history lesson.

I've probably been living under a rock or maybe I'm just lousy at U.S. history, but I wasn't familiar with the story of the plague hitting San Francisco in the early 1900s. Not only did CHASING SECRETS introduce this to me, but Ms. Choldenko brought the entire time period to life. I loved her descriptions of the city and its people, and I was equally interested in how she portrayed the role of women during this time period. Furthermore, I enjoyed learning about the plague as well as the introduction of immunizations. As a fan of historical fiction, I was impressed with how well this book incorporated the facts of the time with the fictional characters.

Another truly special thing about CHASING SECRETS were the characters. I loved many of them, but I was especially drawn to Lizzie and Noah. These kids were just so amazing -- smart and kind, and I think that kids will not only adore them but also relate to them. I found Lizzie to be particularly interesting because she was a bit of a fish out of water. She was definitely a girl who was fascinated by science and medicine, and she didn't quite fit in with the other girls at the finishing school. Despite attempts by her aunt to make her into a lady, Lizzie did her own thing. She was determined to do what she thought was right and heaven help those who got in her way.

I also really liked the mystery aspects of the story. Since few people during this time were admitting to the dangers of the plague, I enjoyed seeing Lizzie pursue the truth... and boy was she resourceful in learning information! In addition, I appreciated the mystery of what happened to Jing. I could sense Lizzie and Noah's urgency and the mystery definitely kept me involved in their story.

CHASING SECRETS is a great read, and I'd love to see it incorporated into classrooms. Ms. Choldenko even includes an Educators' Guide which includes Common Core Standards Correlations to make it easier for teachers to use. There is a pre-reading activity suggestion as well as many discussion questions. There are also curriculum connections and vocabulary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, friendship, racial relations, the role of women, secrets, courage, prejudice, grief, and loss.

All in all, I loved CHASING SECRETS and I would love to see all middle-grade readers pick up this book and talk about it with each other! Highly recommended!

Check out the other Blog Tour stops for CHASING SECRETS:

August 24: Bookhounds YA  
                      Bookish Lifestyle
August 25: Ang Reads!
                      YA Book Nerd
                     Bibliophilia, Please
                     Michelle & Leslie's Book Picks
                      Once Upon A Twilight
Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

I am so excited to announce that I have a copy of CHASING SECRETS to share with one very lucky reader courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before September 11th 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!

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, August 27, 2015

Review: Saint Mazie

Summary: Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty--even when Prohibition kicks in--and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.

Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"--and her irrepressible spirit--is unforgettable. -- Grand Central Publishing

I apologize for not writing my review of SAINT MAZIE by Jami Attenberg earlier. I actually read this book months ago when it was first released, and somehow it got lost in my pile of finished books. I feel as if it's a disservice to you that I didn't write this review when the novel was fresh in my mind; however, I do recall liking this book a great deal. And once again, I was extremely impressed with Ms. Attenberg's writing.

SAINT MAZIE is based on the real life Mazie Phillips. She's quite the character (both in the book and real life) who sells tickets at The Venice, a famous New York City movie theater. Mazie loves to party and flirt with men, even after Prohibition is enacted; however, she is also hiding secrets from her difficult childhood. While Mazie hides her personal issues from the outside world, she uses her diary to capture her innermost thoughts.

When the Depression hits NYC, and particularly the Bowery, people lose their jobs, their homes, and even their dignity. Mazie decides that she wants to help these individuals. She allows these people to come into The Venice, spends time with them, calls ambulances, gives them money, and basically makes a huge difference in their lives... and the community as a whole.

I enjoyed Mazie and her story so much. She truly was a larger-than-life character and her story is an incredible one. Joseph Mitchell profiled her in his essay collection Up in the Old Hotel, and Ms. Attenberg has "updated" her story in this fictionalized account of her life. Mazie was an incredible woman and I am so glad that Ms. Attenberg wrote this novel and shared her story with so many current readers.

There are quite a few impressive things about SAINT MAZIE besides just the character of Mazie. Of course, she was a very special woman, albeit a little rough around the edges, who managed almost singlehandedly to help both individuals and the community during tough times. I loved the way the author brought Mazie to life and made her such a complex character. In addition, I thought she did an excellent job in portraying this sad period in our history.

Another wonderful thing about this novel is the way Ms. Attenberg chose to tell Mazie's story. The story mainly unfolds through Mazie's diary that was recently discovered by a historian, but it also is revealed through interview snippets and an unpublished autobiography. I loved how Ms. Attenberg shared Mazie's story through Mazie's words, but it was also interesting to read the interviews from individuals who knew (or whose relatives knew) Mazie. I thought the mix of sources came together well in this novel, but I admit I loved Mazie's diary entries the best.

I also really appreciated how Mazie's childhood experiences played such a big role in this novel. Mazie had a pretty horrible childhood that definitely formed her into the adult she became. She eventually ended up living with her sister and brother-in-law (the one responsible for giving her the job at The Venice); and while there were still some problems, it was definitely more stability than Mazie had ever experienced. As a result of her what happened when she was a kid, Mazie became rather tough. She loved to party and hang out with men; however, she also became someone who gave back... even when she didn't have that much to give.

There is no doubt Saint Mazie's story in an interesting one -- from her early childhood to her life helping those less fortunate. However, the author also chose to focus on some of the relationships in Mazie's life. I especially enjoyed the relationship Mazie had with a nun. While you wouldn't exactly expect someone like Mazie to be so close to a nun, their bond was so special and made an incredible impression on Mazie. Her on-going relationship with a sea captain was interesting too, although I did find it a bit sad.

SAINT MAZIE would make an excellent book club pick. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide. I don't think one is necessary to discuss this terrific book and fascinating woman, though. Some of the themes you might want to explore include poverty, charity, religion, friendships, love, loss, sacrifice, the Great Depression, and more.

SAINT MAZIE is a wonderful look at an amazing woman. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at the 2015 BEA.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Thank You, Goodnight

Summary: In Thank You, Goodnight, hailed by Billboard as “High Fidelity and About a Boy with a dose of Music & Lyrics thrown in,” the lead singer of a one-hit wonder 90s band tries for one more swing at the fence.

Teddy Tremble is nearing forty and has settled into a comfortable groove, working at a stuffy law firm and living in a downtown apartment with a woman he thinks he might love. Sure, his days aren’t as exciting as the time he spent as the lead singer of Tremble, the rock band known for its mega-hit “It Feels Like a Lie,” but that life has long since passed its sell-by date.

But when Teddy gets a cryptic call from an old friend, he’s catapulted into contemplating the unthinkable: reuniting Tremble for one last shot at rewriting history. Never mind that the band members haven’t spoken in ten years, that they left the music scene in a blazing cloud of indifference, and that the only fans who seem to miss them reside in an obscure little town in Switzerland.

If Teddy manages to snooker his band mates out of their adult lives, can a once immature, self-involved fallen idol find his way back to the top—and possibly back to the one who got away? Thank You, Goodnight is debut novelist Andy Abramowitz’s hilarious, honest, and heartwarming story about love, lyrics, and finding one’s legacy in the unlikeliest of places. -- Touchstone

Every so often, I like to read books with men as the main characters. It doesn't happen all that often, but there are a few authors like Tropper, Hornby, etc. whose books I really appreciate. They have intriguing characters along with humor and sensitivity, and they also seem to have some wonderful insights into life. THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT by Andy Abramowitz is in the same vein as these books, and I definitely liked it.

THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT tells the story of Teddy Tremble, an almost middle-aged attorney who was once the lead singer of Tremble, a rock band that had a huge hit and even won an Oscar. He is comfortable in his career and relationship; however, a part of him still misses the rock star lifestyle. When he discovers that a photographer has included him in a collection titled, "It Feels Like a Lie... and It Looks Like a Mess" that is on display at the Tate Modern in London, his pride is seriously hurt.

In what is beginning to look a little like a mid-life crisis, Teddy decides to confront the photographer in Sweden. He is surprised to discover that his band Tremble is still quite popular in this small Swedish town. Teddy decides to relaunch the band, but first he has to get the other band members to agree... and that might not be easy! The members haven't spoken for almost ten years and there is some baggage between Teddy and the female member.

I thought THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT was a very fun read. Teddy was a fantastic character, as were his bandmates; and I enjoyed following Teddy on his path to bringing back the band. The book was both hilarious and touching, and it even made me think about getting older and a few other life-defining moments. Overall, it was a pretty good read!

Teddy was just great. The story was told in his voice and I think Mr. Abramowitz captured his essence perfectly. Like Teddy, Mr. Abramowitz is a lawyer who once played in a band so his experiences definitely gave the story a bit of authenticity. In so many ways, this book was a coming-of-age story for Teddy; and I loved seeing him get a second chance at "proving" himself. It was interesting to see both Teddy's angst at the unflattering photograph as well as his desire to bring the band back together for one final hurrah.

Another thing I really liked about THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT was the balance humor and seriousness in the story. Make no doubt about it, THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT is hilarious. The scene when Teddy finds the photograph and then his entire trip to Sweden are crazy funny. And the scenes when he meets up with the band members, one in particular, are worthy of a few laughs as well. In fact, so many of the scenes read like a movie... if that makes sense!

However, this novel also was touching. Teddy's journey does have some sad moments and regrets that he hasn't been able to get over. I adored Teddy and my heart broke for him. I actually was rooting for him and Tremble to have a second chance at success. I wanted Teddy to experience a sense of fulfillment that he obviously thought was missing from his life.

THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT would make a great book club selection... especially if your group includes some men. There is a reading guide available with twelve questions along with some ways to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include regret, guilt, self-doubt, secrets, friendship, love, communication, and second chances.

I enjoyed THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT for so many reasons. It was an enjoyable read that also make me think -- and that makes a book pretty special in my mind.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: All the Single Ladies

Summary: The perennial New York Times bestselling author returns with an emotionally resonant novel that illuminates the power of friendship in women’s lives, and is filled with her trademark wit, poignant and timely themes, sassy, flesh-and-blood characters, and the steamy Southern atmosphere and beauty of her beloved Carolina Lowcountry.

Few writers capture the complexities, pain, and joy of relationships—between friends, family members, husbands and wives, or lovers—as beloved New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank. In this charming, evocative, soul-touching novel, she once again takes us deep into the heart of the magical Lowcountry where three amazing middle-aged women are bonded by another amazing woman’s death.

Through their shared loss they forge a deep friendship, asking critical questions. Who was their friend and what did her life mean? Are they living the lives they imagined for themselves? Will they ever be able to afford to retire? How will they maximize their happiness? Security? Health? And ultimately, their own legacies?

A plan is conceived and unfurls with each turn of the tide during one sweltering summer on the Isle of Palms. Without ever fully realizing how close they were to the edge, they finally triumph amid laughter and maybe even newfound love. -- William Morrow

Every summer, I look forward to reading a Dorothea Benton Frank novel. I have always enjoyed her characters and her settings; and I love that personality shines through in her books. (I know that because I've had the chance to meet her... she's a larger-than-life personality!) Her latest novel is ALL THE SINGLE LADIES and it's a fun summer read.

At its heart, ALL THE SINGLE LADIES is a book about women and the friendships they share. It's both touching and funny and the characters are guaranteed to stick with you. The setting, the Carolina Lowcountry, is once again a major element of the story. I think fans of Dot Frank are going to really enjoy this one.

ALL THE SINGLE LADIES tells the story of three single women, Lisa, Suzanne, and Carrie, who meet when their friend Kathy dies. Linda was one of Kathy's caretakers while Suzanne and Carrie worked with her at a florist shop. When the three women agree to clean out Kathy's belongings, they encounter a mean (and unethical) landlady who is claiming some of Kathy's treasures as her own. The women are suspicious and begin their own investigation!

As the women try to recover her belongings, a strong friendship forms between the three. Through good times and bad, these women mourn their friend; and, at the same time, they forge ahead with their lives and their relationships.

I enjoyed ALL THE SINGLE LADIES but I'm not sure it was my favorite novel by Ms. Frank. The first few chapters were definitely promising and I found myself loving the humor, the tone, and the descriptions; however, I didn't feel as if the entire book had quite the same charm. The ending was a little too pat for my taste, but I guess in a book like this, any other ending might not have been satisfying. I don't want to make it sound like I didn't like the book because I did. I just didn't love it like some of her other ones.

One thing I did appreciate about this novel was Ms. Frank's writing. I absolutely adore her descriptions of the Lowcountry, and I could almost feel the humidity and heat of the summer. It's apparent that she loves this part of our country and her passion just shines through on every page. And then there's the food! Mmmmmm.... Naturally, when there's a story about three middle-aged women, food should play a part in the story; and Ms. Frank manages to capture this perfectly. I loved her descriptions of everything from donuts to chicken, and I was a bit resentful that I was hungry almost the entire time I read this book!

Once again, Ms. Frank created some fantastic characters. The three women are all interesting in their own ways, and I really appreciated how their friendship was formed out of something so tragic. I found myself rooting for each woman against the landlady but also in their budding relationships with the men in their lives. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a very special character -- Pickles, the dog. Talk about precious!

And finally, I loved the humor in the novel. This book was funny -- often times, laugh out loud funny.  Many of the scenes were hilarious (especially a few with the landlady), but Linda's thoughts were quite entertaining too. Her insights into life and her relationships were definitely worthy a smile or two.

ALL THE SINGLE LADIES would make a fun book club selection. There is a reading guide available with twelve questions. I suspect that middle aged women will find many things that resonate with them in this novel, so discussion should be lively. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendship, love, loss, grief, second chances, divorce, parent/child relationships, and even the legalization of marijuana.

ALL THE SINGLE LADIES is a fun book with characters that will capture your heart. Recommended to fans of Ms. Frank and women's fiction.

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Last Words

Summary: Markus Novak just wants to come home. An investigator for a Florida-based Death Row defense firm, Novak's life derailed when his wife, Lauren, was killed in the midst of a case the two were working together. Two years later, her murderer is still at large, and Novak's attempts to learn the truth about her death through less-than-legal means and jailhouse bargaining have put his job on the line. Now he's been all but banished, sent to Garrison, Indiana to assess a cold case that he's certain his boss has no intention of taking.

As Novak knows all too well, some crimes never do get solved. But it's not often that the man who many believe got away with murder is the one calling for the case to be reopened. Ten years ago, a teenaged girl disappeared inside an elaborate cave system beneath rural farmland. Days later, Ridley Barnes emerged carrying Sarah Martin's lifeless body. Barnes has claimed all along that he has no memory of exactly where -- or how -- he found Sarah. His memory of whether she was dead or alive at the time is equally foggy. Tired of living under a cloud of suspicion, he says he wants answers -- even if they mean he'll end up in the electric chair.

But what's he really up to? And Novak knows why he's so unhappy to be in Garrison - but why are the locals so hostile towards him? The answers lie in the fiendish brain of a dangerous man, the real identity of a mysterious woman, and deep beneath them all, in the network of ancient, stony passages that hold secrets deadlier than he can imagine. Soon Novak is made painfully aware that if he has any chance of returning to the life and career he left behind in Florida, he'll need to find the truth in Garrison first. -- Little Brown 

When I picked up the latest from Michael Koryta titled LAST WORDS, I had no idea it was the start of a series... but I'm sure glad it is. This latest suspense story from one of my favorite authors was highly entertaining, and I think the main character Markus Novak is fantastic too. I'm definitely looking forward to more from Mr. Koryta and Markus in the future!

LAST WORDS tells the story of Markus Novak, a private investigator for a firm that takes on Death Row inmates' cases when they appear to be innocent. Markus's wife also worked for the firm until her mysterious death almost two years ago -- her murder was never solved. Markus can't rest until he solves the murder, and his obsession has forced him to commit some questionable actions. His employer has basically banished him to a remote part of Indiana to assess a cold case until things blow over.

Novak is less than thrilled to be in Indiana examining the death of a girl in a cave that occurred ten years ago, and he intends to go through the motions. It does strike him as strange that Ridley Barnes, the man who is suspected (but never charged) for the girl's murder, is the one requesting that his firm re-examine the case; and it doesn't take long for Novak to discover that this man is extremely strange and even dangerous.

As Novak begins to "investigate" the girl's murder, he discovers a few more mysteries -- who is the mysterious woman that he encounters?, is Barnes being totally honest?, and why is everyone in the town refusing to cooperate with him? What started as a way to get Novak to lay low until things blew over ends up turning into a fight for his own life.

It probably won't be surprising that I really enjoyed LAST WORDS -- I always seem to like everything Mr. Koryta writes. He is a gifted writer with great story lines, but he also has a special way with words. And in the case of LAST WORDS, his skill with writing harrowing descriptions really shined. I definitely wouldn't say this book was in the horror genre, but it scared the heck out of me. The scenes that take place underground, in the caves, are harrowing to say the least. I always knew I was a little claustrophobic, but LAST WORDS put me over the edge.

I don't know that I'd say LAST WORDS was my favorite novel by Mr. Koryta, but it still as an excellent mystery. I loved the twists and turns (and even the creepy cave scenes), and I honestly didn't know how Novak was going to figure out what happened to the girl in the cave. Heck... for awhile, I wasn't even sure Novak was going to be alive to make sense of everything. All in all, the mystery was very well done and quite smart in how it was revealed.

I think what brought LAST WORDS to the next level to me was the character of Markus. He was so complicated and just gripped by grief and guilt. I loved how well-developed he was and his flaws really made him interesting... and human. I look forward to being along the ride for Markus's new investigations, and I sure hope to get more information about his wife's murder.

I highly recommend LAST WORDS to fans of suspense novels. Mr. Koryta has done it once again in creating an intriguing story with memorable characters.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review e-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, August 22, 2015

Kid Konnection: New Chronicle Board Books

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 precious board books for little ones.

Summary: Get animals moving and grooving with each lift—or swing— of a flap! Wiggle inventive flaps to make a butterfly flitter away. Tug an unexpected pop-up to make a wide-eyed hippo stick out its tongue! Bold, graphic, and hilarious, this novelty book is perfect for interactive reading and playtime fun! -- Chronicle

ALL SHOOK UP! by Alain Crozon is a very cute board book. It even has flaps... and you know how little hands love flaps! Children can make all types of animals "move" by lifting or swinging the flaps. There is a bird, a butterfly, a bunny, an elephant, and even a hippo.

The picture book is a lot of fun and has adorable illustrations in vibrant colors. I was impressed with how sturdy the pages of the book and the flaps are. As a mom who had to replace lift-the-flap books because of overuse (or over-love!), that's an important feature for me. Check out the image below to get a better idea of just how unique ALL SHOOK UP! is:

Summary: Spot sweet surprises with each lift—or swing—of a flap! Cheep! Cheep! Who is cuddled under Mama's wing? Buzz! Buzzzz! Who has landed on that flashy flower? Discover hidden surprises and delight in interactive peekaboo play with this entertaining lift-the-flap book. 

WHO'S THERE? by Alain Crozon is another cute picture book. Like ALL SHOOK UP!, the book has whimsical illustrations that are also interactive; however in this book, there are hidden surprises underneath the flaps. For example, there is something underneath the mama bird's wing and a surprise inside the fish's belly.

When my kids were small, they loved the lift-the-flap books by Karen Katz. WHO'S THERE? reminds me a little of her books because there are secrets and surprises underneath the flaps. With the silly pictures and text, I think this book will have the same broad appeal!

Both ALL SHOOK UP! and WHO'S THERE are fun books with the flaps on every page that are guaranteed to entertain toddlers!

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, August 20, 2015

Review: Inside the O'Briens

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice Lisa Genova comes a powerful and transcendent new novel about a family struggling with the impact of Huntington’s disease.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (The San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core. -- Gallery

I'm  still trying to catch up on reviews and it doesn't seem like I'm making much headway. The latest book that has been sitting in my finished pile since late June is INSIDE THE O'BRIENS by Lisa Genova. I read this novel while I was vacationing in the Outer Banks, and it is probably the most memorable book I read during that week. I absolutely loved this novel.

INSIDE THE O'BRIENS tells the story of Joe O'Brien, a man who is diagnosed with the neurological disorder called Huntington's disease. It also shows the devastating effects this diagnosis has on his entire family. Joe is a 44 year old cop, husband, and father of four adult children who lives in the Boston suburb and Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Joe is a respected police officer and devoted husband and father who starts showing signs that something isn't quite right. He has outbursts of temper, disorganized thinking and involuntary muscle movements. When he receives the diagnosis of the rare, but fatal, Huntington's disease, the lives of the entire O'Brien family are turned upside down.

I thought INSIDE THE O'BRIENS was an excellent novel. I was riveted to the story and became fully entrenched in the lives of the O'Brien family. There were parts of this novel that made me laugh and many more parts that made me cry. Overall, I think this book resonated with me like few books do... which is rather ironic considering that the characters and their experiences are totally foreign to me.

I appreciated many things about this novel, but what I think I appreciated the most was how Ms. Genova brought these characters to life and put a name to such a horrible disease. Joe was the patriarch of this big family and he represented strength and stability to this family, so when he was diagnosed with a debilitating disease, it was a major strike to his wife and children. The way the author portrayed Joe and how he handled the decline in his body was well done and so very realistic to me.

In addition to dealing with Joe's diagnosis, the odds of carrying on the disease to his children was 50%. The children not only had to face that their father was slowly dying in a horrible way, but that they had to decide if they wanted genetic testing to see if they were carrying the gene. Knowing, or not knowing, whether they were potential victims to Huntington's would affect many of their future decisions. Just imagine how terrifying it would be to first wonder if you had it and then to know that there was a good chance that you were going to die from this disease.

I also appreciated how the author brought Joe and his wife and his children to life. I already mentioned how well she portrayed Joe, but I also thought she did a wonderful job with Joe's wife. She was a strong woman but the stress of taking care of Joe and worrying about her children was all consuming. My heart broke for her over and over again in this novel. In addition, I liked how Joe's four adult children all handled things very differently. I think the various ways they dealt with their dad's declining health and their decision to have genetic testing really hit home to me just how much the after shocks of this diagnosis changed everyone's lives.

There is no doubt that this book was not an easy read for me. I cried often and had a nervous stomach for so much of the story. What happened to the O'Brien family could happen to any of our families, and in many ways, it was a wake-up call for me. This novel showed how precious life is, but it was also a reminder not to take our health for granted. In addition, I loved how Joe eventually lived with his disease. (Notice I used the word "lived.") He showed his family what it means to live with a fatal disease with dignity, and that was the best gift he could give to his loved ones.

Like all of Ms. Genova's books, INSIDE THE O'BRIENS would make a wonderful book club selection. There is a reading guide available with sixteen questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include grief, loss, marriage, faith, and family. In addition, there are many beautiful themes you could explore life, dance, freedom, and control (or lack thereof!)

I loved INSIDE THE O'BRIENS and highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction!

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Guest Review: Devil's Harbor

Summary: With heart-stopping thrills, a Walter White-esque villain, and a fascinating hero, Alex Gilly's Devil's Harbor is a thriller unlike any you have read before Nick Finn and his partner and brother-in-law, Diego Jimenez, are used to rough water. As Marine Interdiction Agents for Customs and Border Protection, the two hunt drug smugglers, human traffickers, and other criminals who hide in the vastness of the waters surrounding southern California. 

One night, Finn and Diego track a phantom boat off the Los Angeles coast, but it disappears before they can intercept it. They find a dead body in its wake, ravaged by sharks. Their investigation into the floater stalls when Finn is accused of using excessive force following the death of a suspected drug smuggler. 

Then Diego is murdered--and Finn is the number-one suspect. As he races to find the real killer and save his marriage, Finn is forced to partner with Linda Blake, the desperate captain of the Pacific Belle and mother of Lucy, a very sick little girl, to attempt the one thing he has devoted his life to stopping. 

In order to clear his name and save a child's life, Finn must smuggle narcotics by sea into the United States…and avoid the net that his CBP colleagues have cast for him. -- Forge

Booking Pap Pap is back with another great review. This time, it's for the novel DEVIL'S HARBOR by Alex Gilly. This thriller certainly seemed to have a lot of action going on! Here are his thoughts:

DEVIL'S HARBOR is author Alex Gilly’s debut thriller and from my viewpoint is a pretty good first effort. From the very beginning the action is fast paced as Finn and his partner/brother-in-law Diego Jimenez chase down a suspect drug boat. When Finn and Jimenez attempt to board the boat they are attacked and Finn kills the assailant. An internal investigation finds little evidence of smuggling or attack and Finn gets little support from management when the family sues for use of excessive force. In the meantime the action continues as Finn and Jimenez chase a suspect boat that mysteriously disappears before they can intercept it. In the boat’s wake, they find a body partially eaten by sharks. Finn and Jimenez think the case is tied to the unusual amount of “floaters” recently found in the waters off California and begins investigating when Jimenez is suddenly murdered. Finn, an alcoholic, burdened by the internal investigation and the current case, gets drunk and is beaten and robbed of his gun. Finn becomes the number one suspect when it’s discovered that his gun was used to kill Jimenez. His problems mount when his marriage comes under stress due to the drinking and the murder of his brother-in-law.

Now driven to find Jimenez’s killer and save his marriage, Finn’s investigation leads him to the boat, Pacific Belle and its owner, the attractive Linda Blake who has a daughter with serious medical problems. Finn is forced to partner with Linda Blake on a drug run from Mexico in the hope of saving her daughter and clearing his name.

Gilly has created very good character portrayals which makes it easy for the reader to form a detailed mental picture of each one. He has developed a realistic plot that captures the current environment of drugs, illegal immigration and Mexican gangs that exists in the Southern California area. The suspense and action in the novel is accelerated with his use of drug running speed boats, a dangerous Mexican town, sharks and murder. He adds in the element of surprise.

If I have one minor criticism, Gilly may have provided too many clues to the outcome and some readers may figure out the “surprise” ending well ahead of the conclusion.

Overall, DEVIL’S HARBOR is a fast paced thriller that will be of interest to fans of this genre.

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Eeny Meeny

Summary: Two people are abducted, imprisoned, and left with a gun. As hunger and thirst set in, only one walks away alive.

It’s a game more twisted than any Detective Helen Grace has ever seen. If she hadn’t spoken with the shattered survivors herself, she almost wouldn’t believe them.

Helen is familiar with the dark sides of human nature, including her own, but this case—with its seemingly random victims—has her baffled. But as more people go missing, nothing will be more terrifying than when it all starts making sense…. -- NAL

EENY MEENY by M.J. Arlidge definitely sounds like a book I'd enjoy, but it wasn't really on my radar until I heard Mike Greenberg talk about it on his daily sports radio show Mike & Mike. The way he described this novel made it sound so good... and so twisted. I just knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I tend to agree with Mr. Greenberg on quite a bit so it wasn't surprised when I discovered that he was spot on with his thoughts on this book. I really, really enjoyed it!

EENY MEENY is one seriously creepy book. It begins with a scene of a boyfriend and girlfriend who have been kidnapped and placed in a deserted (and empty) swimming pool with nothing but an almost dead throw-away phone and a gun. The phone contains a message that says the only way to escape is if one of them kills the other one. Talk about a twisted game!

When Detective Helen Grace interviews the survivor, she isn't sure if the story is believable, but who in their right mind could make up a story like this? Though Helen has her own set of issues (which add another dimension to an already good story!), she is a thorough investigator and tends to believe the survivors.

As more and more cases of the "game" appear, Helen discovers that a few of the "players" have ties to her. An already tense investigation becomes personal for her as she discovers that the stakes are even higher than she every imagined!

I loved EENY MEENY! It was just the right amount of scary without being over the top, the mystery was tight, and I loved the character of Helen Grace. I honestly couldn't put down this book, but at the same time, I didn't want it to end. Thank goodness it's the first in a series!

I probably sound a bit twisted myself for saying this, but I loved the concept of this book and the crimes. A few of the scenes even made my skin crawl, and Mr. Arlidge didn't shy away from vivid descriptions or shocking surprises even at the expense of main characters. (Note: this book probably isn't for the faint of heart!) It was such a unique premise and so well done.

And that lead's me to my next point -- the mystery was set up and revealed almost perfectly. I admit that I had a few inklings, but I didn't fully understand all the details about the perpetrator. I am dying to discuss this but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that I wasn't totally surprised, but I was impressed with how everything came together. It all made perfect sense!

Finally, Helen is just a fantastic character and reminded me a bit of a female Harry Bosch. I mentioned earlier that Helen had some issues, but that's a tactful way of saying that Helen is still suffering the effects from her traumatic childhood. For most of the novel, the reader just knows that Helen finds the need to pay for some event from her past; and it's a pretty unconventional and disturbing way that she chooses to suffer. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the person responsible for these horrific crimes knows Helen personally; and it's up to Helen to figure out the who and why.

EENY MEENY was an extremely good mystery, but it was also special because the characters were so complex as were their relationships with each other. As a result, I do think EENY MEENY would make a fantastic book club selection. There is a reading guide with twelve questions included in the back of the book; however, I couldn't find an on-line link. Some of the themes you might want to explore include moral choices (like right vs. wrong and guilt vs. innocence), Helen's mental state, the role of women, co-workers, and family, self-doubt, guilt and more

I loved EENY MEENY and can't wait for the next book in the Helen Grace series POP GOES THE WEASEL. If you are a fan of twisted suspense stories, then I highly recommend 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, August 15, 2015

Kid Konnection: Sunny Side Up

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 soon-to-be-released graphic novel that I adored!

Summary: Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer. At first she thought Florida might be fun -- it is the home of Disney World, after all. But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park. It's full of... old people. Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn't the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they're having adventures of their own: facing off against golf-ball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors. But the question remains -- why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place? The answer lies in a family secret that won't be secret to Sunny much longer... -- Scholastic

I rarely read graphic novels, but when I do, I always enjoy them! I saw SUNNY SIDE UP by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm sitting on the shelf in my basement and remembered the Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) loved it. I was in the mood for a quick (but good) read and decided that the cover and title were so cute and screaming "summer."

SUNNY SIDE UP tells the story of Sunny Lewin, a young girl sent away from her home in Pennsylvania to visit her grandfather in Florida. Sunny thought this summer trip could be fun, especially if she visited Disney World; however, she quickly learned that it meant staying with her grandfather's house that smells like smoke and sleeping on an uncomfortable sofa bed.

Fortunately Sunny meets another kid her age, a boy named Buzz. Buzz's father is the gardener in the 55 and older community where Sunny's grandfather lives. Buzz introduces Sunny to comics, and together, the two create their own adventures like hunting down missing cats, collecting golf balls from alligator ridden ponds, and even finding a missing neighbor with dementia.

As Sunny's summer unfolds, the story also flashes back to the months leading up to her parents sending her to Florida. It wasn't a pretty picture. Sunny's older brother had some issues and the tension escalated on the Fourth of July. Soon after, Sunny was sent to Florida.. and left to wonder if it was all her fault.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by SUNNY SIDE UP and I mean that in the very best way. I thought this would be a cute story about a young girl visiting her grandfather at a 55 and older community in Florida... and it was. However, this story was also pretty deep and handled some very serious issues in a deeply touching way.

SUNNY SIDE UP is from the brother sister duo behind BABYMOUSE, and I was really surprised to learn that is is semi-autobiographical. This story is so well written (and drawn), and I love that it captures Sunny's inner turmoil. Parts of this story were heart breaking especially as it pertained to Sunny taking the blame for her brother's actions. She actually was holding all of her worries in, and she thought her parents sent her away as a punishment of sorts. Not exactly a light, fun graphic novel.

However, SUNNY SIDE UP did have its fair share of good times, too. I enjoyed the relationship between Sunny and Buzz, and their "hero" antics were adorable. I also found their shared love of comic books to be sweet, and in many ways, this graphic novel paid tribute to some pretty great comic book and superhero characters. I also laughed quite a bit at the things Sunny endured as part of living with her grandfather in a senior citizen community in Florida -- the early bird lunches, the cat ladies, and more!

One of the things that I appreciated the most about SUNNY SIDE UP was that it took place during my childhood -- Summer 1976. I could relate to Sunny's desire to visit Disney World, along with the bicentennial celebration. In addition, the drawings of the phones, suitcases, lunch boxes and thermoses, the Barbie toilet roll covers, and more were like a nostalgic walk down memory lane!

Overall, I can't say enough about SUNNY SIDE UP. I think it's a great story with wonderful illustrations that is not only certain to entertain but also to touch your heart. It's also a great way to initiate discussion with middle grade readers about some serious subjects. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Kathy (Bermudaonion) for sharing a 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, August 13, 2015

Product Review: Mukava Tablet Floor Stand and Adjustable Table

Summary: Mükava is the world’s first ergonomic reading table that allows for reading of books, magazines, documents or any type of tablet or phone in any home or office setting. It is different from a tablet holder in that after you are finished reading, your Mükava turns into a useful side table. The Mükava stand can be adjusted to a more than 12 possible positions. Mükava pads work with most protective cases seamlessly, removing the need to remove the protective case like with most tablet holders and devices can be swapped out on a Mükava faster than any alternative on the market today.
I have a very unique product to share with you! It's a new concept that I happen to love! It's by a company called Mukava and it will make your reading time even better. It's a tablet floor stand and adjustable table. I was fortunate enough to receive one for review in the brushed steel -- see picture above. But it's also available in a gold tone too.

When I first took this stand out of the box, my initial reaction was that it was rather heavy. I don't know that the picture conveys just how solid this table is... it's actually a piece of furniture albeit one that you can still take from room to room. My second reaction was that there was virtually no assembly required! For someone like me who isn't too handy, that's a great thing.

Once I set up the floor stand, I was really impressed. It seems like Mukava has thought of everything. The stand is adjustable and can serve as a side table or a speaker podium (or anything height in between.) In addition, the actual part that holds your reading material is adjustable as well. It can tilt to almost any angle that will be most comfortable for you. 
And then I discovered the little things that make this Mukava Tablet Floor Stand extra special! There are two USB ports for charging your devices and a USB light. In addition, there are book bands that fit underneath which you can use to keep your book or magazine in place. Finally, there are magnetic pebbles which you can use to keep papers in place. 

You might be wondering how this metal plate can hold your tablet or your phone. Well, Mukava has thought of that too! They have included pads that "stick" to the plate so your device can't slip and fall.   These pads aren't actually sticky with chemical adhesives. Rather they have a patented adhesive system that consists of millions of micro suction cups to maintain adhesions between the pad and your device. With normal care, these pads should last for years. Mukava includes multiple pads in two sizes so you shouldn't really ever have to worry about replacing.

When I first started using the Mukava Tablet Floor Stand and Adjustable Table, I admit I had a reservation or two. First, I had to get used to the adjusting mechanism. There is an adjustment lever under the reading surface that allows you to adjust the height. You have to squeeze the lever with one hand while pulling the reading surface out and then up with the other hand. This took me a little while to do effortlessly. Secondly, the Mukava contemporary design doesn't really match my decorating style. It almost looks like a robot with its sleek design, which is super cool, but I don't think I want it sitting out in my family room. Having said that, I think it's ideal for a teenager's bedroom, a dorm room or even an office setting.

The Mukava Premium Tablet Floor Stand and Adjustable Table isn't cheap. It retails for $299 but I think it has its definite benefits. If you are looking for something with similar characteristics but costs less, then the Mukava for Monitor Arm might be the product for you. This product attaches to a counter or table, is much smaller in size, and costs $129. 

Mukava is also a company that understands the importance of giving back, and literacy is their priority. Their company, Project for Adult Literacy and Schools, LLC is focused on two causes -- adult literacy and building a school for homeless children in Jakarta, Indonesia. Twenty percent of their total profits go to their causes, with The Literacy Volunteers of Washington County and The Yayasan Kawula Peduli each receiving ten percent. Each table sold allows them to provide school books for one child for two years and valuable resources for adult literacy education for one adult learner. Gotta love that!

I think Mukava is going to change the way the world reads! Check out their FAQ page to learn more and see instructional videos

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review: Who Do You Love

Summary: An unforgettable story about true love, real life, and second chances…

Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are just eight years old when they meet one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she’s intrigued by the boy who shows up alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy’s taken back to a doctor and Rachel’s sent back to her bed, they think they’ll never see each other again.

Rachel grows up in an affluent Florida suburb, the popular and protected daughter of two doting parents. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent for running.

Yet, over the next three decades, Andy and Rachel will meet again and again—linked by chance, history, and the memory of the first time they met, a night that changed the course of both of their lives.

A sweeping, warmhearted, and intimate tale, Who Do You Love is an extraordinary novel about the passage of time, the way people change and change each other, and how the measure of a life is who you love. -Atria

It seems like each summer, I read another new novel by Jennifer Weiner. It goes without saying when you've read this many books by the same author, some are better than others. I am happy to say that her latest book, WHO DO YOU LOVE, was one of my favorites. I'm not sure it's quite as good as GOOD IN BED, but it's a touching love story with two memorable characters.

WHO DO YOU LOVE follows the lives of Rachel and Andy from the time they first met in a hospital when they were just eight years old. Rachel has a serious heart problem which required her to spend a lot of time in the hospital, while Andy is in the emergency room with a broken arm after falling off a balcony. They immediately hit it off and bond over their feelings of isolation -- Rachel because she has a heart problem and Andy because he's biracial. After this initial meeting, they say their goodbyes and figure that they'll never see each other again.

Wrong! Even though Rachel has a privileged upbringing in Florida and Andy lives in Philadelphia with his single white mom, they meet again as teenagers... and the bond is still strong. The two fall in love. Of course, their relationship isn't easy given that Rachel is a wealthy white Jewish girl and Andy is a bi-racial runner who lives in Philly. Over the next three decades, Andy and Rachel meet many times and realize that their bond and love for each other still runs deep.

I read WHO DO YOU LOVE in a little over a day. It was extremely easy to read which makes it perfect for an end of the summer beach read, and I think that's because I liked the characters of Rachel and Andy so much. In fact, I loved both of these characters as well as their special relationship with each other. This novel definitely played with my heartstrings, though. Often times, I felt as if I were along for the ride with the many ups and downs of Rachel and Andy's lives.

I liked Rachel (although she went through a period in college when I had some issues with her), but I absolutely loved Andy. I admit that I usually appreciate a female character in a novel like this; however, Andy was such a great character. From the start, my heart went out to him because he had such a sad situation. He was biracial and living in the poor parts of Philly. He never knew his father, his mother wasn't always the best, and he never felt like he fit in. The thing that saved Andy, though, was his love of running.. and it didn't hurt that he was really good at it. I'm talking Olympic good! I'll also argue that Rachel played a pretty important role in "saving" Andy too!

I absolutely loved the dynamics of their relationship -- from the time they were kids, to when they were teens, to when they were adults. I thought the chapters that took place when they were teenagers were very well done. The way Ms. Weiner wrote about their relationship was so real and reminded me of pure teenage love. I also loved how she followed them to their college years when their relationship got much more complicated. In fact, I have to say that I felt so much of this story seemed real. I'm not sure if that's because the book was so well written or because I loved Rachel and Andy. Either way, it's a testament to the author for making me care so much about the characters and the story!

I will say that this book played with my emotions... in a good way. Of course, I wanted Rachel and Andy to be together, but for much of the novel, they weren't. It was definitely interesting to see how they maintained relationships with other people as well as how they kept finding their way back to each other. Thankfully, the ending was perfect in my mind!

WHO DO YOU LOVE would make a fun book club pick. There is a reading guide available with twelve questions along with some ideas to enhance your next meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include isolation, health factors, parent child relationships, dreams, relationships, self-identity, and love. You also might want to explore some of the symbols in the story like brokenness and healing.

I read the novel but I think the audio sounds great too. -- here's a sample. You can buy the audio here: Amazon:

WHO DO YOU LOVE is a love story that's both entertaining and heartwarming. Highly recommended for fans of Jennifer Weiner and women's fiction.

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