Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: Dinner Solved!

Summary: Katie Workman is a gifted cook, a best friend in the kitchen, and a brilliant problem solver. Her Mom 100 Cookbook was named one of the Five Best Weeknight Cookbooks of the past 25 years by Cooking Light and earned praise from chefs like Ina Garten (“I love the recipes!”) and Bobby Flay (“Perfect . . . to help moms everywhere get delicious meals on the table.”). Now Katie turns her attention to the biggest problem that every family cook faces: how to make everyone at the table happy without turning into a short-order cook.

Expanding on one of the most popular features of the first cookbook, her ingenious “Fork in the Road” recipe solution, which makes it so easy to turn one dish into two or more, Katie shows you how Asian Spareribs can start mild and sweet for less adventurous eaters—and then, in no time, become a zesty second version for spice lovers. She shakes up the usual chicken for dinner with Chicken Tikka Masala-ish—and feeds vegetarians, too, by offering a fork where cauliflower is used in place of the chicken. Fettuccine with Shrimp and Asparagus is a blueprint for seven other easy mix-and-match pasta dinner combinations. Crostini for breakfast—truly an aha! idea—can go sweet or savory, pleasing both types of morning eaters. Have all the ingredients on hand? Make the insanely delicious Chocolate Carrot Cake. Missing chocolate? Don’t run out to the store—the basic Carrot Cake is just as satisfying.

Katie’s voice is funny and wry, and completely reassuring. Stunning full-color photographs show every dish. The result: no more cranky eaters, no more dinner table strife, no more unsure or stressed-out cook. -- Workman

I love Katie Workman! I met her a few years ago at BEA when her last cookbook THE MOM 100 COOKBOOK was coming out -- you can read my review here. I have followed her on Twitter and Facebook, and I loved the unique (and easy) recipes that she shares.

Her new cookbook is called DINNER SOLVED! and it's fantastic. It includes 100 recipes that should keep everyone in the family happy... even the cook. I have an extremely picky family that makes cooking meals a challenge. When you add to that the food allergies that my son has to eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy protein, and sesame, it's not always fun to come up with meal ideas. I basically feel like I'm cooking the same five or six meals every few days.

DINNER SOLVED! will help busy moms keep their families happy. Ms. Workman offers tons of recipes that are both simple and healthy. And then she includes what she calls a "Fork in the Road." A "Fork in the Road" shows very simple changes you can do to make the recipe more tailored to individual audiences. For example, many times she offers vegetarian options or different spice/heat options.

Katie is a busy mom and knows what comes with cooking for a family. If kids can feel like they are helping the parents cook the meal, then they are more likely to eat it and try new things. In DINNER SOLVED!, Ms. Workman provides some help with what the children can do to help prepare the recipe. I'm horrible with letting the kids help in the kitchen because of the additional time and mess, but I know many moms will love this aspect of the cookbook.

DINNER SOLVED! has a huge variety of recipes. There are twenty chapters and they pretty much cover almost anything you can think of. There are morning foods, appetizers, salads, soups and stews, various meats, pastas, one-dish meals, and even a variety of desserts. I truly believe that there is something for everyone in this cookbook.

The cookbook has gorgeous color photographs for every recipe which is a must as far as I'm concerned for cookbooks. In addition, Ms. Workman does a wonderful job explaining the background of the recipes along with special food prep instructions. She even breaks the recipes into what you can do ahead of time and what has to be done last minute.

I found many meals that I want to make over the next few weeks. While most of the recipes aren't exactly allergy-friendly for my son's allergies, I still managed to find quite a few to try. The first recipe that I tried was actually an appetizer for my book club. It's called Lemony Parmesan Artichoke Dip and it just happened to be vegetarian. I love hot artichoke dip but this recipe had a twist -- the lemon juice and lemon zest. It was easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. In fact, I had multiple people ask me for the recipe. It tasted so fresh and it was actually relatively low-fat because I used low fat cream cheese.

DINNER SOLVED! is my new go-to cookbook. I love the healthy and simple recipes as well as the flexible options. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Review: After Perfect (Audio)

Summary: In the tradition of New York Times best sellers What Remains by Carole Radziwill and Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey, Christina McDowell's unflinching memoir is a brutally honest, cautionary tale about one family's destruction in the wake of the Wall Street implosion. 

Christina McDowell was born Christina Prousalis. She had to change her name to be legally extricated from the trail of chaos her father, Tom Prousalis, left in the wake of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment as one of the guilty players sucked into the collateral fallout of Jordan Belfort (the "Wolf of Wall Street"). Christina worshipped her father and the seemingly perfect life they lived...a life she finds out was built on lies. Christina's family, as is typically the case, had no idea what was going on. 

Nineteen-year-old Christina drove her father to jail while her mother dissolved in denial. Since then Christina's life has been decimated. As her family floundered in rehab, depression, homelessness, and loss, Christina succumbed to the grip of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity before finding catharsis in the most unlikely of places. From the bucolic affluence of suburban Washington, DC, to the A-list clubs and seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, this provocative memoir unflinchingly describes the harsh realities of a fall from grace. Full of '90s nostalgia and access to the inner circles of the Washingtonian societal elite, Christina McDowell's beautiful memoir is a Blue Jasmine story from a daughter's perspective. -- Audible

One of the books I discovered at this year's BEA was AFTER PERFECT: A DAUGHTER'S MEMOIR by Christina McDowell. I don't read a lot of memoirs, but this one sounded like it might be interesting. When the folks at Audible asked if I was interested in giving it a listen, I didn't even hesitate.

AFTER PERFECT is Christina McDowell's story of what happened to her and her family after her father's arrest. The Prousalis family seemingly had it all. They were living an extravagant life in the DC suburbs. Christina thought her family was just about perfect. Her father, Tom, who she idolized, was a successful attorney; and her mother served on various charities. Christina and their sisters were all popular girls who had everything money could buy...

until Tom was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement with Jordan Belfort (the "Wolf of Wall Street.") As Christina discovered more and more about her father, she realized that their entire life was built on lies. Christina, her sisters, and her mom had no idea what was going on, but it didn't take long for them to find themselves without the life-style they were accustomed to.

Christina took her father's incarceration particularly hard. She moved to Los Angeles to try her hand at an acting career. Her life fell apart as she began drinking too much, taking drugs and falling into bed with men. Fortunately she was able to get the help she needed, come to terms with her father's deceptions, and put her life back together.

AFTER PERFECT is definitely an interesting story about a family's tragic fall. I was extremely impressed with the author's honesty, sometimes brutal, about her father and her own life. The story was very sad and I found myself hoping that Ms. McDowell came to her senses before doing some permanent damage. There were times that it was almost difficult to listen to her path towards self-destruction. And many of the scenes with her father just made me sick. He really did shatter Ms. McDowell's world and it wasn't just because of their financial ruin.

However, if I'm going entirely honest, there were also times when I had a hard time feeling pity for Ms. McDowell and her family. That's not a knock against Ms. McDowell or her story. It's just that they had so much and took so much of it for granted. As I reflect back on Ms. McDowell's privileged childhood, I realize that this life is all she and her sisters ever knew. There would be almost no way possible that they could just up and change their lifestyles after their father's fall.

And I think that's actually the beauty of this book. Ms. McDowell is so darn honest about herself and her family's circumstances that it's almost hard to be resentful towards them. (I say the term family without including her father!) Her story is one about redemption and it's hard not to respect her by the end of her story. Despite the challenges she faced, she eventually found the inner strength to make the changes she needed to and get herself out of the mountain of debt she was facing.

I listened to the audio version of this book which was read by the author. Normally I would be hesitant to listen to a book narrated by the author, but Ms. McDowell has worked as an actress so she's not the typical author reading her story. I thought she did a great job. Her voice definitely lent an air of authenticity to the story and you could actually hear her pain.

I enjoyed AFTER PERFECT and recommend it to fans of memoirs.

Thanks to Audible for providing a review copy of this audiobook.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Pretty Girls

Summary: Sisters. Strangers. Survivors.

More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that's cruelly ripped open when Claire's husband is killed.

The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it. -- William Morrow

Karin Slaughter has done it again in PRETTY GIRLS! It's not surprising that she's managed to write a compelling story with memorable characters -- she's kind of established herself as "that kind" of author. However, I was blown away by this novel. The storyline is incredibly dark and the tension is palpable throughout the entire novel. It's really a very well written book that takes readers on an amazing ride!

PRETTY GIRLS tells the story of Claire and Lydia, two sisters whose lives have grown apart after their teenaged sister Julia disappeared over twenty years ago. Both women are still reeling from he loss and the devastating effect it had on their family. Claire is married to a successful architect and living a life of the wealthy. Lydia, on the other hand, is a single mother who dates a mechanic (who also happens to be an ex-con) and a recovering drug addict.

The book begins when Claire's wealthy husband is brutally attacked and murdered right in front of Claire. In the days following his death, Claire makes a shocking discovery -- her husband had porn on his computer, and it wasn't just your everyday porn. It was violent porn where the victim appeared to be murdered... and the film looked real.

In addition to the startling discovery about her husband, Claire is also being pressured to turn over information to her husband's business partner. The police aren't willing to help or seem suspicious, and Claire doesn't know what to do or where to turn. She eventually turns to her estranged sister Lydia for help. Little did Lydia know what she was getting herself into!

PRETTY GIRLS is a special book for fans of suspense stories. The story is fast-paced and action-packed and definitely has it's fair share of twists and turns. However, it also delves deeply into the dynamics of a damaged family. The author managed to accomplish all of these things in a terrific novel!

I mentioned early on that PRETTY GIRLS is a dark book and that's pretty much an understatement. This book provides some pretty disturbing scenes in the crimes being committed, but it also delves into the dysfunction of a deeply troubled family. And in many ways, those scenes were as dark or darker than the horrific crime ones. The twists and surprising plot reveals were crazy... crazy good that is. And I'm torn whether I appreciated the mystery aspects of the story or those dealing with the sisters' relationship.

For purposes of this review, I'm going to explore how well Ms. Slaughter portrayed Claire and Lydia's relationship... or lack thereof. These women had so much baggage after the disappearance of their sister. Like many families, the parents' marriage fell apart. Their father was driven to find out what happened to his daughter and eventually ended up committing suicide. The girls went their separate ways and chose to live very different lives. They had little in common and could barely speak civilly to each other.

So when Claire was at wit's end and didn't know whom to trust, she asked Lydia for help. It wasn't easy for either woman and there were definitely some trust issues that had to be worked through. Those issues would be difficult enough for the sisters, but given the incredible circumstances they were immediately thrown into, they had no choice but to depend on each other. Both women had to find strength that they didn't even realize they had.

PRETTY GIRLS had so many secrets and the way they were revealed was perfect. There were times when I could see how the story was progressing, and I almost couldn't continue reading because it was so dark. And then, I couldn't stop reading because I was so caught up in the story and needed answers. I hope I've conveyed just how much of a master Ms. Slaughter is!

Ms. Slaughter does appear to be getting better and better. PRETTY GIRLS is a truly entertaining book that plays with your mind and your heart. Highly recommended!

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 t

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Day the Crayons Came Home

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 picture book that is a companion to the #1 mega bestseller THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT.

Summary: I’m not sure what it is about this kid Duncan, but his crayons sure are a colorful bunch of characters! Having soothed the hurt feelings of one group who threatened to quit, Duncan now faces a whole new group of crayons asking to be rescued. From Maroon Crayon, who was lost beneath the sofa cushions and then broken in two after Dad sat on him; to poor Turquoise, whose head is now stuck to one of Duncan’s stinky socks after they both ended up in the dryer together; to Pea Green, who knows darn well that no kid likes peas and who ran away—each and every crayon has a woeful tale to tell and a plea to be brought home to the crayon box.

Look for a special glow-in-the-dark picture [Note: make sure to “charge” it under a light first]. -- Philomel

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers have done it again! This time it's the hilarious picture book THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME. This is the companion book to THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT which I also loved -- you can read my review here. This picture book is guaranteed to make both kids and adults laugh out loud.

Duncan's crayons are definitely hard to please. In the last book, he smoothed things over when his crayons were threatening to quit; and in this edition, Duncan is once again facing crayon troubles. THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME consists of colorful postcards written to Duncan from his crayons. Maroon Crayon isn't happy that she was stuck in the couch and then broken in two when Duncan's dad sat on her. In addition, Turquoise Crayon is stuck to a sock after going through the dryer while Brown Crayon isn't happy with the "thing" Duncan drew with him. Burnt Sienna was chewed on by the dog, and so on and so on. Duncan's crayons aren't a happy set of crayons and they just want to come back home to their crayon box.

I adored THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME. The illustrations are positively adorable and the  postcards from the crayons are super funny. Booking Son was home sick from school the day the book arrived and I forced him to sit down and read it with me. He insisted he was too old, but I read it to him anyway. He still thought he was too old, but he did find Brown Crayon's postcard to be especially funny.

As a mom, I love books like this one. THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME is cute and fun, but it also is smart enough for parents to enjoy. It might be because my kids are 16 and 11 and I don't get to read out loud with them anymore, but I don't think I'd ever get tired of reading this book. It's just fantastic and so original.

In addition to receiving a review copy of this adorable picture book, I also received an event kit to celebrate "Homecoming Week" which runs from September 26th (that's today!) until October 4th. The event kit included the following:

o Stickers
o Giant crayon wall banner
o Crayons
o Make your own crayon hat activity
o Event Sign
o How to host a Crayons Homecoming Parade instruction sheet
o How to build your own crayon fort instruction sheet
o Reproducible postcard template

All of the items were pretty darn cute, but my absolute favorite was the sticker sheet.
When I showed these items to my son, he rolled his eyes at me; and there was nothing I could do to get him to color or even make the crayon hat. So... I enlisted the help of my two adorable nephews who are HUGE fans of the books. Check out how much fun they had with the posters and activity sheets.
THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME is a sure-fit hit! Highly recommended!

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: A Window Opens

Summary: Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It and Where’d You Go, Bernadette will cheer at this “fresh, funny take on the age-old struggle to have it all” (People) about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want? -- Simon & Schuster

It's so nice that I seem to be reading a lot of what I collected at this year's BEA. One of the books that I didn't want to leave without was A WINDOW OPENS by Elisabeth Egan. I was immediately drawn to this novel when I saw the author autographing copies, and the description sounded like something I'd absolutely love. As the reviews and press started rolling in, I had a feeling that this book was for me!

A WINDOW OPENS tells the story of Alice Pearse, a wife, a mom of three, and part-time books editor at a women's magazine. She loves that she can balance both the working mom and the stay-at-home mom lifestyles; and she really appears to have it all... at least to this reader who totally envied her lifestyle!

I should have known things were too good to be true for Alice. When her husband gets overlooked for partner in his law firm and decides to quit and start his own firm, Alice decides that she needs to work full-time. Fortunately (maybe?) for Alice, an amazing career opportunity arises. She is offered a job working with books at Scroll, a start-up company that plans to change the future of reading!

Alice is thrilled to be "doing it all" despite misgivings from her best friend, who just happens to own the local bookstore. However, she quickly realizes that the job at Scroll is much more demanding than she expected. In addition, her husband is struggling to get his new firm off the ground... which just adds to Alice's pressure at work and home. She sees her kids less and less, depends more and more on her babysitter, and finds that she's not at all happy. And then Scroll changes strategic direction and Alice is forced to evaluate what she really wants out of her life!

I absolutely adored A WINDOW OPENS. I liked Alice and I really was able to relate to her even though our lives aren't all that similar. It didn't hurt that she had a love of books, and I admit I relished with all the "book talk." I also appreciated how entertaining the novel was... while also being heartwarming. All in all, I think it might be one of my favorites of the year!

I found A WINDOW OPENS to be highly readable -- I honestly couldn't put it down. And then, I was sad when it ended. I think the author's ability to create a character like Alice is what made me enjoy it so much. Alice was very real to me. She was a wife, mother, friend, and daughter; and she took these roles very seriously. However, Alice also wanted to have a career. She honestly thought she could have it all, and in many ways she did... until she didn't. (And in this way, A WINDOW OPENS reminded me a bit of author Allison Pearson's I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT -- note the similar name.) I guarantee that Alice will resonate with many women in today's society.

I really appreciated the humor in the story. While A WINDOW OPENS touches upon some very serious issues, it also kept me smiling. The novel was written in Alice's voice and I loved her insight into not only her life but others too. In addition, there were many references to pop culture and current social trends that were laugh out funny. The author's descriptions of PTO moms, bratty kids, and more were spot on.

Another thing I enjoyed about A WINDOW OPENS was how it focused on books and literature. As a book blogger and lover of books, this really made the novel extra-special to me. Ms. Egan is the books editor at Glamour, and I'd love to meet her! There were many references to books (including the "tribute" to I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT), and the initial concept of Scroll even made me excited. (Once again I could relate to Alice's passion for her role in the company!) I also loved that the author had Alice's best friend be the owner of the local bookstore. Needless to say, there were a few important dilemmas presented about the roles of major companies vs. independent stores.

But what I loved the most about A WINDOW OPENS were the messages from the story... or at least the ones that I took away with me after I finished the novel. Alice tried to have it all and found the it's almost impossible. Like many women, she was a mom to three busy kids, a daughter to aging parents, a wife to a troubled husband, and a full-time corporate worker. She had to deal with constantly being exhausted as well as the guilt of being a working woman, and I don't think she ever felt like she was able to do her best. My heart broke for her and my initial envy of her life quickly became a reality check (and eye opener) for my own situation. I felt Alice's pain and truly appreciated that she was able to look at her life and discover what was most important to her.

A WINDOW OPENS would make a wonderful book club pick especially if your group if made up of moms. The book really explores the issues of both stay-at-home and working moms which can be a touchy subject. (I think some women are their own worst enemy!) There is a reading group guide available with fifteen topics for discussion as well as some ideas to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include marriage, family, duty, career, friendship, literature, sacrifice, guilt, parent/child relationships, technology, communication, choices, grief, and self awareness.

I loved A WINDOW OPENS! It was both smart and entertaining, but most importantly it touched my heart. Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Review: Yes Please

Summary: Do you want to get to know the woman we first came to love on Comedy Central's Upright Citizens Brigade? Do you want to spend some time with the lady who made you howl with laughter on Saturday Night Live, and in movies like Baby Mama, Blades of Glory, and They Came Together? Do you find yourself daydreaming about hanging out with the actor behind the brilliant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation? Did you wish you were in the audience at the last two Golden Globes ceremonies, so you could bask in the hilarity of Amy's one-liners?

If your answer to these questions is "Yes Please!" then you are in luck. In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like "Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend," "Plain Girl Versus the Demon" and "The Robots Will Kill Us All" Yes Please will make you think as much as it will make you laugh. Honest, personal, real, and righteous, Yes Please is full of words to live by. -- Dey Street Books

At last year's BEA (2014!), one of the books that I knew I wanted to read was YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler. I loved Ms. Poehler on Saturday Night Live, and the folks at Dey Street shared that she was really down-to-earth and actually wrote her own book. After enjoying her friend Tina Fey's book BOSSYPANTS a few years ago, I thought YES PLEASE would be a good fit for me... and for the most part, it was.

YES PLEASE is a funny look at actress and comedienne Amy Poehler's life and career. The is some background on her family and childhood which I found interesting, and then there's quite a bit on her life as a famous Hollywood actress, writer, and producer. As a big fan of SNL, I most appreciated the inside scoop she gave about the show -- many of the stories were hilarious. However, it was also fun to discover how she got started in comedy doing improv around the country.

Poehler also gives readers a few glimpses into her personal life. She discusses her friends, like fellow comedians Tina Fey and Seth Meyers (who makes a guest appearance in the book with a sweet and funny essay); and she also shares her adoration for her two young sons in addition to how much work kids are. What she doesn't really go into, though, is her divorce from actor Will Arnett. She says it's much too painful, and I respect that she decided to keep it private.

I thought YES PLEASE really started with a bang. I laughed and laughed at the preface which is titled "Writing is Hard." Poehler admits that writing a book was very difficult for her (even if you aren't supposed to admit that!), and her anecdotes are hilarious. The struggles of both writing a book and taking care of kids is kind of a recurring theme through the book.

I admit that the beginning of the book worked better for me than the end of the book. While I do think the stories were funnier at the beginning, I think I would have appreciated the entire book more had I spaced out my reading. I read this book in a day and I think I just tired of a bit Poehler's humor. That's definitely not a knock on the writing or the book. I just regret not taking more time to appreciate her stories.

I really liked the way that Ms. Poehler approached her life story. This book was definitely a memoir but it was also an advice book with plenty of life lessons. In fact, the book's chapters are titled "Say Whatever You Want," "Do Whatever You Want," and Be Whoever You Are." She then fills in these chapters with various stories, photographs, lists, poems, and more. She tries to take what she's learned in her life and help readers apply it to theirs... in a lighthearted and funny way.

One thing that I loved about YES PLEASE was the honesty in which Ms. Poehler tells her story. I'm not sure there's any topic (expect her divorce) which was off limits. She discusses drugs, sex, and more while also sharing some funny stories about being pregnant while starring on SNL. I truly appreciated how up front she was about so much her of life!

YES PLEASE is an entertaining look at Amy Poehler's life. Recommended to her fans and reader who enjoy humorous memoirs.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: The Art of Crash Landing

Summary: From a bright new talent comes this debut novel about a young woman who travels for the first time to her mother’s hometown, and gets sucked into the mystery that changed her family forever

Mattie Wallace has really screwed up this time. Broke and knocked up, she’s got all her worldly possessions crammed into six giant trash bags, and nowhere to go. Try as she might, Mattie can no longer deny that she really is turning into her mother, a broken alcoholic who never met a bad choice she didn’t make.

When Mattie gets news of a possible inheritance left by a grandmother she’s never met, she jumps at this one last chance to turn things around. Leaving the Florida Panhandle, she drives eight hundred miles to her mother’s birthplace—the tiny town of Gandy, Oklahoma. There, she soon learns that her mother remains a local mystery—a happy, talented teenager who inexplicably skipped town thirty-five years ago with nothing but the clothes on her back. But the girl they describe bears little resemblance to the damaged woman Mattie knew, and before long it becomes clear that something terrible happened to her mother, and it happened here. The harder Mattie digs for answers, the more obstacles she encounters. Giving up, however, isn’t an option. Uncovering what started her mother’s downward spiral might be the only way to stop her own. Hilarious, gripping, and unexpectedly wise, The Art of Crash Landing is a poignant novel from an assured new voice. -- Harper

At this year's BEA, I was overwhelmed by the number of books that I wanted to read -- that's not unusual for me. However, there were a few books that really stood out to me. One of those books was
THE ART OF CRASH LANDING by Melissa DeCarlo. I attended an event hosted by Harper Collins and I was so excited by this novel that I even tweeted about it!

THE ART OF CRASH LANDING tells the story of Mattie Wallace. Mattie is a bit of a mess. She's pregnant and broke, and she seems to make one bad decision after another. When Mattie arrives on the doorstep of her ex step-father Captain Queeg, the one person in the world who really cares about her, she has hit rock bottom. All she has left is has a run-down car and her worldly possessions fit in six trash bags. Mattie can't help but she that she might be turning into her alcoholic mother.

Mattie learns that her maternal grandmother (whom she's never met) has recently died, and Mattie's due an inheritance. She travels to the small town Gandy, Oklahoma, where she learns that her mother is a bit of a mystery. What caused her mother, who was once a well-adjusted teen, to leave town thirty five years ago without a trace? Mattie realizes that something terrible must have happened to her mom in Gandy that permanently damaged her and led to her premature death.

Mattie decides to investigate her mother's past, but gathering information isn't easy. As Mattie begins to realize the truth about her mother, she also discovers some important things about herself. And this knowledge just might be what Mattie needs to save herself!

I adored THE ART OF CRASH LANDING. This book had it all -- great writing, memorable characters, and a mystery. It was also both funny and touching. I devoured this novel and fell in love with the characters, especially Mattie and Captain Queeg. I honestly couldn't put this book down. I wanted to know the truth about Mattie's mom, but I also wanted to know if Mattie had what it took to survive.

THE ART OF CRASH LANDING is Ms. DeCarlo's first novel, and it's quite a start to what I hope is a long career. Ms. DeCarlo wrote a fantastic story but she also told it in an impressive way. The novel is written in Mattie's voice and what a voice it is. Mattie is both crude and snarky (and even sometimes smart), but she also has a vulnerability about her. In fact often times I had to remind myself that Mattie was a grown woman and not a teenager. The pacing of the story was also good as it went back and forth between the present and Mattie's memories of her past.

Mattie is just an amazing character -- one that is sure to stay in your heart and mind for a very long time. Mattie's insight into her life (and life in general) was hilarious but also very sad. I loved her determination to get to the bottom of her mom's past, and it was entertaining (albeit in a twisted way) to see how many mistakes Mattie could make. I also enjoyed how THE ART OF CRASH LANDING took me on an emotional roller coaster. At times, I was laughing out loud at Mattie, and then I'd feel like crying for what she was experiencing and learning about her mother.

Another aspect of this novel that I liked was the exploration of mother/daughter dynamics. One of the major themes of THE ART OF CRASH LANDING was Mattie's discovery of her mother's past. Mattie realized that the alcoholic mother that she grew up with was vastly different from the girl who grew up in Gandy. Discovering the truth about her mom allowed Mattie to truly understand her and forgive her... and it allowed Mattie to accept and forgive herself. These events led Mattie to evaluate her own pregnancy and mothering skills.

I would love to see lots of book clubs reading THE ART OF CRASH LANDING. It's truly perfect because it has complex characters and covers so much ground. There is a reading guide available with 14 thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include mother/daughter dynamics, choices, the past, secrets, self image, trust, friendships, memories, guilt and forgiveness.

I loved THE ART OF CRASH LANDING! Highly recommended to fans of women's fiction and fans of novels about dysfunctional families.

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Review: Ice Cold

Summary: Andrea Maria Schenkel’s second novel Ice Cold recreates Munich, Germany in the 1930s to revisit a terrible crime, and offers thrilling crime fiction that draws on historical events. Ice Cold, like The Murder Farm, is told through several voices and documentation, including interrogation logs, witness statements, and the murderer’s own internal monologue.

Munich in the late 1930s-the first years of fascism and the last before the war-is a dangerous place. Kathie is desperate to leave her sheltered village life and sets out for the city, determined that she’ll get by, one way or another. She is dark-haired, buxom and pretty, like the women who recently disappeared without a trace.

Young women are being found around Munich, abused and murdered. Josef Kalteis has been arrested, but is he really responsible for all those misdeeds? Did they execute the wrong one while the murderer is still on the loose?

Lost somewhere in between her naive search for luck and existential concerns, occasional prostitution and the desire for true love, Kathie is in grave danger. -- Quercus

ICE COLD by Andrea Maria Schenkel is probably one of the shortest novels that I've ever covered for Mystery Mondays. It's only 140 pages, but it's extremely unique and packs a powerful punch. Author Schenkel wrote the critically acclaimed THE MURDER FARM which my father reviewed here. It seems like she's a major force to be reckoned with when it comes to crime novels.

ICE COLD takes place in Munich, Germany in the late 1930s, and it's based on the true crime events. The story follows possible serial killer Josef Kalteis, who might be responsible for the abuse and death of young women, and Kathie a young girl who looks a lot like Kalteis' victims. Kathie is desperate to escape from her life in a small town and move to the city -- no matter the cost!

ICE COLD is dark and depressing story that's very well written. The prose is powerful and the translation by Anthea Bell is very good. The story is actually told in a very original way. Kalteis' story is made up of police documents including interrogation logs and witness statements as well as his own internal thoughts. Kathie's story, on the other hand, is told through in third person narrative. The novel moves quickly between the characters and the various storytelling methods. Sound confusing for such a short story? It definitely could have been; however, the author writes so well that the transitions appear effortless.

Both of the main characters are fascinating in their own right. Of course, Kaltheis' story is disconcerting and some of the scenes are downright uncomfortable to read. I appreciated learning more about Kaltheis through the witness and police accounts'; and I liked that there was a little doubt about whether they got the right guy. Kathie is also interesting because she's a girl trying to find herself. She is both naive and looking for love, but she's also reckless and finds herself in a great deal of danger.

I really enjoyed the pacing of the novel. It's a very quick read because it's so short (I actually read it in one sitting), but it's also quite literary. The story moves quickly as the tension builds; however, the story also provides food for thought. It's really a smart book that is already capturing it's fair share of attention. It won the German Crime Prize and was awarded a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

ICE COLD is a solid piece of crime fiction from a very talented author. High recommended.

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, September 19, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Marvels & 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 truly incredible book by none other than Brian Selznick.

Summary: Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and takes readers on an awe-inspiring voyage! Two seemingly unrelated stories-one in words, the other in pictures-come together with spellbinding synergy! The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries. How the picture and word stories intersect will leave readers marveling over Selznick's storytelling prowess.

Filled with mystery, vibrant characters, surprise twists, and heartrending beauty, and featuring Selznick's most arresting art to date, The Marvels is a moving tribute to the power of story. -- Scholastic

I am so excited to have the opportunity to share my adoration for THE MARVELS by Caldecott Medal winning author Brian Selznick! This book is fantastic and I'm finding that there aren't enough words to truly convey how amazing it is. If you are familiar with Mr. Selznick's other books, then you know his work is magical. His illustrations are jaw-dropping with their exquisite detail, and he also manages to write beautiful stories to complement them. He's done it again with THE MARVELS.

I am not alone in my praise for THE MARVELS -- it is getting rave reviews! It has already received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal; and it was selected as an Autumn 2015 Kids' Indie Next List Selection. If you can't tell already, THE MARVELS is a must-read for kids of all ages!

THE MARVELS is unlike any book I've ever read. It's absolutely huge with almost 500 pages of drawings before the text parts of the story even begin. The pictures are, of course, beautiful as you can see from the examples below; and the written part of the novel is both powerful and surprising. I am honestly blown away by how much Mr. Selznick's accomplishes with this book -- it's epic!

THE MARVELS begins by telling the history of the Marvel family from a shipwreck in 1766 to the successes the family experienced in theatre in 1900. Oh! And did I mention that this entire story is told in almost 500 pages of pencil drawings? The book then fast forwards to 1990 when text takes over for the next 200 pages of the story.

Joseph Jervis is a 13 year old boy who escapes from his boarding school and sets out to find his Uncle Albert. Albert, a recluse, and his house look like they are both from the 1800s rather than 1990, and Joseph has a hard time reconciling his uncle's behavior as well as the mysterious voices he hears in the house. As Joseph and his new friend Frankie are determined to get to the bottom of the mysteries.

Readers will be amazed by this "marvelous" story. The book pays tribute to the Dennis Severs' House, a tourist attraction in England that is meticulously maintained to look like the 1800s. However, it's so much more than that too. THE MARVELS provides a mystery for the reader full of secrets and clues. It also is a moving look at friendship and family as well as the beauty in all forms of art.

THE MARVELS would make a wonderful discussion book for middle graders. I was so excited to find a discussion guide with ten questions and some ideas for further "explorations." Some of the themes you might want to explore include stories and books, fire, family, the house, time, grief, forgiveness, love, and perception vs. reality.

There is a website devoted to THE MARVELS that has some interesting supplemental information. There is information about the house and the theatre that the book is based on as well as Mr. Selznick's other books. Scholastic also has a terrific site that provides examples of the amazing drawings in the book and a listing of Mr. Selznick's multi-city tour.

Make sure you check out this video about THE MARVELS!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE MARVELS and a custom The Marvels jigsaw puzzle to share with one lucky reader courtesy of Scholastic! To enter, just fill out the form below before October 2nd 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, September 17, 2015

Guest Review: Reagan

Summary: In his magisterial new biography, H. W. Brands brilliantly establishes Ronald Reagan as one of the two great presidents of the twentieth century, a true peer to Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan conveys with sweep and vigor how the confident force of Reagan’s personality and the unwavering nature of his beliefs enabled him to engineer a conservative revolution in American politics and play a crucial role in ending communism in the Soviet Union. Reagan shut down the age of liberalism, Brands shows, and ushered in the age of Reagan, whose defining principles are still powerfully felt today.

Reagan follows young Ronald Reagan as his ambition for ever larger stages compelled him to leave behind small-town Illinois to become first a radio announcer and then that quintessential public figure of modern America, a movie star. When his acting career stalled, his reinvention as the voice of The General Electric Theater on television made him an unlikely spokesman for corporate America. Then began Reagan’s improbable political ascension, starting in the 1960s, when he was first elected governor of California, and culminating in his election in 1980 as president of the United States.

Employing archival sources not available to previous biographers and drawing on dozens of interviews with surviving members of Reagan’s administration, Brands has crafted a richly detailed and fascinating narrative of the presidential years. He offers new insights into Reagan’s remote management style and fractious West Wing staff, his deft handling of public sentiment to transform the tax code, and his deeply misunderstood relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on which nothing less than the fate of the world turned.

Reagan is a storytelling triumph, an irresistible portrait of an underestimated politician whose pragmatic leadership and steadfast vision transformed the nation. -- Doubleday

When I received the opportunity to review REAGAN: THE LIFE by H.W. Brands, I knew that my father would really appreciate this book... and he did. Here are his thoughts:

The life of Ronald Reagan is brilliantly portrayed in REAGAN, THE LIFE by H.W. Brands. He tells the reader of a young Reagan who grew up poor in Illinois as the son of an alcoholic father. He follows Reagan as a sports broadcaster in the mid-west and then on to Hollywood where he achieved some success as a B-movie actor, led the actors’ union, worked as a spokesman for General Electric, was elected governor of California and became the most influential conservative politician in America. It may be surprising to some that Reagan spent much of his life as a Democrat and admired Franklin Roosevelt throughout his life. Brands then follows Reagan’s climb in national politics and his election as the 40th President of the United States in 1980. Reagan actually ran for president two times before he won the Republican Party nomination and was elected president. Many of the major moments in the Reagan presidency are brought to life in this biography. The reader is reminded of the assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr.; first lady Nancy Reagans relationship with an astrologer; the Iran-Contra affair with John Poindexter, William Casey and Oliver North; the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 Marines; the air traffic controller strike and the nuclear reduction talks with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Brands also recounts the difficult relationship with Tip O’Neill and the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter where the famous “There you go again line” was uttered by Reagan. The reader is also given ample examples of the oratory skills that earned Reagan the title of “The Great Communicator.” Some of the more famous include Reagan’s address to Congress after returning from the Hinckley assassination attempt; the speech after the Challenger explosion; his speech at the 40th anniversary of D-Day; and his Berlin speech where he challenged Gorbachev to “tear down that wall”.

Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994 at age 83 and passed away in 2004 at the age of 93.

Author H. W. Brands believed the Ronald Reagan, along with Franklin Roosevelt were the two most influential politicians of the 20th century. However, Reagan’s success or failure as president is very much influenced by the perspective and political persuasion of the reviewer. I don’t believe this biography would change opinions that have already been established.

REAGAN, THE LIFE is overall a fair and balanced account of Reagan’s presidency, giving success and failure equal billing. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in modern U.S. history.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Summary: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent. -- Pamela Dorman Books

At this year's BEA, I asked a woman who works for Penguin what were her must-read books for Fall 2015. She listed a few including KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal. This novel is the author's debut, and all I can say is "wow!" This book was both original and a treat to read. It will definitely go down as one of my favorites of the year!

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST centers around Eva Thorvald. Eva had a difficult childhood between the abandonment of her mother and the sudden loss of her father; however, prior to his death, he shared his passion of food with her. It ends up that Eva developed quite the sophisticated palate.. and that's an understatement.The novel then follows Eva's life from her birth until her success as a legendary chef at a secretive pop-up super club.

I kept my description short and sweet because I knew very little about this book when I picked it up, and I ended up loving the little surprises that I found. KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is truly special and so incredibly well done. This book has a little bit of everything! It has food, love, family, mother/daughter drama, and more. Fans of food novels and literary fiction will devour this novel. (Sorry for the pun, but I couldn't help it!)

One thing I truly appreciated about this book is how the author decided to tell Eva's story. The story is told from points of view from different characters who knew Eva throughout her life. Each chapter reveals something about Eva as well as featuring a special food or ingredient, many of which are from her native Minnesota. Naturally, I enjoyed getting insight into Eva through the various people in her life; however, I also loved that each chapter almost read like a short story.

I also loved Mr. Stradal's writing style -- he has major skills. KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is a beautifully written novel that captures the essence of Eva, a complicated and impressive woman. His descriptions of the beauty of the Midwest and all of the foods and ingredients were nothing short of amazing. However what was even more impressive is how he managed to tie together all the separate chapters (and the food references in them) and wrap up everything in a satisfying conclusion. And I have to be honest, there were times when I wasn't sure where this book was going and if he could pull it off!

I honestly loved KITCHEN OF THE GREAT MIDWEST and think it would be an ideal book club selection. Just think of how amazing your food and wine selections could be for your meeting! In fact, the author put together a terrific book club kit that includes lots of recipes, wine and music suggestions, and even a Q&A. There is also a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include food and cooking, mother/daughter relationships, loss, grief, comfort, connections, and memories.

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST is a must-read for both foodies and fans of literary fiction. Highly recommended!

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

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: All the Difference

Summary: New Year’s Eve. A time for resolutions. A chance to make a change. And for thirty-year-old Molly Sullivan, a night that will transform her life forever…

All it takes is one word—yes or no—to decide Molly’s future. As the clock counts down to midnight and the ball slowly begins to drop, Molly’s picture-perfect boyfriend gets down on one knee and asks her to marry him. She knows she should say yes, especially considering the baby-sized surprise she just discovered she’s carrying. But something in her heart is telling her to say no…

Now, Molly’s future can follow two very different paths: one where she stays with her baby’s father, despite her misgivings and his family’s unreasonable expectations, and one where she ventures out on her own as a single mother, embracing all the hardships that come with it.

And by the time the next New Year is rung in, Molly will know which choice was right—following her head or listening to her heart… -- Berkley

I received a copy of ALL THE DIFFERENCE by Leah Ferguson and didn't really give it much thought. (Isn't that horrible to say?) The cover was cute enough but I placed the book on my shelves and thought that I might get around to it sometime. And then lo and behold... I read that the author lives in Mechanicsburg, PA -- the same small town that where I live; and I decided to read this book right away! Needless to say, there aren't many published authors hanging out in Central PA!

ALL THE DIFFERENCE is a very original and cute story. It begins on New Year's Eve when Molly Sullivan, a 30 year old single woman who works at a PR firm, discovers that she's pregnant. Molly always knew she wanted to be a mom, but she's not sure that the timing is quite right. She lives with her boyfriend, who is seemingly perfect -- rich and handsome; however, when he unexpectedly proposes at the New Year's Eve party in front of all of their friends, Molly finds that she is at a loss for words. She thought she'd be happy when he proposed, especially in light of the pregnancy, but she isn't sure that saying "I Do" is the right thing for her.

Molly has two choices. She can either say "yes" or "no," right? And interestingly enough, Ms. Ferguson decides to explore both options in ALL THE DIFFERENCE. In alternating chapters, the reader gets to see Molly's life and what happens if she accepts his proposal or decides to break up with him. It's a unique novel about life's choices and the after effects, and I thought the author did a great job by featuring both sides... and effectively using her back and forth storytelling method to progress the story.

One thing I definitely liked about this story was Molly. She was a great character and much more complex than I was expecting. Even though her boyfriend was a bit of a cad and quite shallow (almost one-dimensional), I thought Molly was a complicated and well developed character. She was definitely at a cross-roads in her life, both personally and professionally; and she had both internal pressure and external pressure (i.e. from her family) to do the "right" thing.

I also liked that this book allowed the reader to see the positives and negatives for both of Molly's choices. Every complicated life decision that we make has good things and not-so-good things about it. ALL THE DIFFERENCE really showcases the difficult choices and the repercussions from them. I don't want to give too much away about this novel, but sometimes the most difficult choices are the best ones for everyone involved.

And finally, I appreciated many of the messages in this story. I've already mentioned the life lessons about making difficult choices, but ALL THE DIFFERENCE also showed the importance of family and friends in our lives. In addition, it also demonstrated the importance of staying true to one's self and empowerment.

ALL THE DIFFERENCE would make a fun book club selection. There is a reading guide with eleven questions in the back of the book; however, I couldn't find an on-line link. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include choices, hindsight, sacrifice, career, family, friendship, selfishness, control, stress, second chances, infertility, and motherhood.

I thought ALL THE DIFFERENCE was an original and fun book that was also thought-provoking. Recommended to fans of women's fiction!

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: Evergreen Falls

Summary: From internationally bestselling author Kimberley Freeman comes a captivating new novel about a scandalous attraction, a long-forgotten secret, and a place where two women’s lives are changed forever.

It’s 1926 and Violet Armstrong is a waitress at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel, where Australia’s glitterati are spending a winter vacation. Among the guests who remain are Sam and Flora Honeychurch-Blacks, a wealthy brother and sister ensconced in the hotel for an extended stay. Violet and Sam have an attraction that is as passionate as it is forbidden as the hotel closes down for the winter season. When a snowstorm moves in, trapping them all, no one could have imagined what would unfold. The group must let their secrets be buried by the snow, but all snow melts, exposing the truth beneath…

Eighty-eight years later, Lauren Beck takes a job at a café in the Blue Mountains, built as the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel’s return to grandeur. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect overseeing the project. As their budding relationship grows, Lauren discovers a series of passionate love letters dating back to 1926 that allude to a whirlwind affair—and a tragic secret. Lauren begins to unravel this long-forgotten mystery, but will discovering the truth finally make her brave enough to take a risk that could change her entire life?

Inspired by elements of her grandmother’s life, Kimberley Freeman has created a complex tale of mystery, heartbreak, and love that will keep you guessing with every twist until the very last page. -- Touchstone

EVERGREEN FALLS by Kimberley Freeman isn't the type of book that I traditionally review for Mystery Mondays; however when a book begins with the hiding of a dead body, I think it qualifies. EVERGREEN FALLS is part mystery/part love story with a little family drama thrown in, and it takes place in a gorgeous setting in Australia.

EVERGREEN FALLS has two stories separated by 88 years. Violet Armstrong is a waitress at the Evergreen Spa Hotel in 1926 and falls passionately in love with the charming Sam Honeychurch-Blacks, a very wealthy man who also happen to be a drug addict. Sam and his sister Flora (and an entourage of friends) are staying at the hotel for an extended stay in the hopes that Sam will overcome his addiction.

Meanwhile, fast forward 88 years to the present when Lauren Beck is working at a coffee shop in the Blue Mountains. The coffee shop is the first part of a huge renovation planned for the resort, and Tomas, an architect from Denmark, is in charge of the project. Lauren has a sheltered past and an unusual relationship with her family; however, she is determined to make a fresh start and she even finds herself falling for Tomas.

One day while snooping around in the old hotel, Lauren finds a set of love letters from 1926. She is determined to figure out not only who wrote the letters but also the tragic secrets referenced in them. As Lauren breaks free from the constraints of her past, she begins to discover truths about her family as well as her own inner strength.

I was initially drawn to EVERGREEN FALLS because of the mystery angle, and while there were definitely some intriguing mysteries in this novel, I didn't realize how much romance took place in this book. I'm not a huge fan of love stories and I admit that I probably am not the ideal reader for this novel. Having said that, I did enjoy this book and the writing quite a bit; and I thought the secrets in the story were interesting and revealed in a smart way.

One thing I really appreciated about this novel was how it was written. I enjoyed the alternating chapters between the present and the past, and I like how she set up the story with the dead body right at the beginning. The rest of the novel was flashbacks to the past and answers were revealed gradually, and I loved the little twists and turns. I also thought the author did a good job in building suspense, especially with the snow storm; and I did appreciate the pacing of the novel.

Another aspect of the story that I appreciated was the setting. Naturally a story taking place in the mountains of Australia provides some opportunities for some beautiful descriptions. However, I also really liked the time period in which the past story took place. (The author drew a lot from her grandmother's memoir!) The portrayal of women during this time was very interesting and the differences in class structure were also well done. I thought the author also did a good job in juxtaposing Flora and Lauren's lives even though 88 years separated them.

And finally, I really appreciated the character development, especially the women in the novel. Violet, Flora and Lauren were complex characters and their relationships in their lives were portrayed in a realistic way. All three of the women had different personalities, but there were similarities in what they were experiencing. I thought Ms. Freeman did a wonderful job of bringing them to life and making the reader care about all of them.

EVERGREEN FALLS would make a terrific book club selection. There was a reading guide (and author interview) in the back of my book; however, I couldn't find an on-line link for the discussion questions. There are also a few suggestions for ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family dynamics, marriage, class structure, obligations, secrets, happiness, the role of women in society, and love.

EVERGREEN FALLS is an intriguing story about love and secrets. Recommended to fans of women's fiction, mysteries, and romance stories.

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, September 12, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Nuts: Sing and Dance in Your Polka-Dot Pants

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun picture book that just might make your child want to sing and dance!

Summary: Hazel Nut wants her family to sing and dance along with her, but they are just too busy! Who can she call? Why... her super-hip, disco-dancing Grandma Nut! In the second book of the Nuts series, Eric Litwin's playful call-and-response rhymes and Scott Magoon's hilarious illustrations invite readers young and old to join in on the fun. -- Little, Brown

THE NUTS: SING AND DANCE IN YOUR POLKA-DOT PANTS by Eric Litwin and illustrated by Scott Magoon is an adorable book that definitely made me smile. It's the second book in the Nuts series (which is new to me), and I can see the appeal of this "nutty"family.

In SING AND DANCE IN YOUR POLKA-DOT PANTS, Hazel Nut (cracks me up everytime!) loves to sing and dance, so one rainy day, she wrote a song. She desperately wanted her family to sing and dance with her but they were just too busy. She finally calls Grandma Nut, who is very cool, and she decides to dance with Hazel! It was so much fun that everyone joined in.

I thought SING AND DANCE IN YOUR POLKA-DOT PANTS was adorable... and very silly. I loved all of the "nutty" puns and the illustrations were terrific. The book is actually great for read-aloud with it's call-and-response rhymes (that phrase is new to me too but describes it perfectly!), and the there are plenty of laugh out loud parts. By the end of the story, both the adult and the child will be chanting this adorable song!

Eric Litwin is also famous for his Pete the Cat picture books which have sold over 1.5 million copies, and he's a popular singer, songwriter, and speaker for interactive literary and music. The song in SING AND DANCE IN YOUR POLKA-DOT PANTS and some other special songs are available to download for free here.

SING AND DANCE IN YOUR POLKA-DOT PANTS is great fun for little ones... and the adults in their lives!

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!