Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kid Konnection: Picture Book Fun

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 the second book in a series that I adore!

Summary: What do you feed a trapeze family to keep them up in the air? A fire eater with a penchant for hot sauce? Or a lion with a gourmet palate? How do you satisfy a sweet-toothed human cannonball who's outgrowing his cannon?

Find out what keeps these performers juggling, balancing, and entertaining—meals prepared by their tireless chef! Poems from this jolly cook give a glimpse of his unusual perspective, from delightful to downright funny. Enjoy a front-row seat for this whimsical look at circus life that just might make you hungry! -- Carolrhoda Books

FEEDING THE FLYING FANELLIS AND OTHER POEMS FROM A CIRCUS CHEF by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Cosei Kawa is a very fun picture book and a great way to introduce poetry to your youngsters. The book is a collection of poems from the circus chef about the various members of the circus and what they enjoy eating. There are poems for the juggler, the ringmaster, the tightrope walker and more.

I found these poems to be adorable!  The chef's "voice" is fantastic and I love how he caters the meals to the individual performers. The poems are rhyming which makes them ideal for out-loud readalongs, and they are also a little silly... which makes them especially fun! For example, the the tightrope walked enjoys a "balanced" diet, and the fire-eater loves Flaming Chili Sauce!

The illustrations in this book are very special. The artist, Cosei Kawa, has won the Macmillan Prize for Children's books in 2007, and I think his skills shine through with the gorgeous illustrations of the circus performers.  He uses a variety of mediums including acrylic, watercolor, and collage. I loved the variety of colors and the whimsical nature of the drawings.

FEEDING THE FLYING FANELLIS is a cute book of poems that is certain to entertain parents and kids alike. Recommended to fans of poetry and playful picture books!

Summary: Introducing the Rookie Book series from the #1 sports brand for kids--featuring real NFL action photography!

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED KIDS kicks off the football season with a brand-new illustrated nonfiction series designed for young kids to learn the rules, plays, and basics about popular sports.

In the first Rookie Book, My First Book of Football, an illustrated rookie player character introduces the next generation of fans to the world of football and guides them through a visual retelling of an actual NFL game--from the coin toss to the winning touchdown.

Simple text with engaging action photography and a glossary of essential football terms throughout--punt, tackle, kickoff, end zone and more--help kids easily understand complex concepts and reinforce the message on each page.

A perfect book for beginning readers, My First Book of Football is meant to be a shared reading experience between parents and their young football rookies before, during, and after game day. -- Sports Illustrated Kids/Time Inc. Books

MY FIRST BOOK OF FOOTBALL: A ROOKIE BOOK is a book that's very near and dear to my heart. In our household, we take our football very seriously and our children are expected to follow football from the moment they are born! It's not quite that bad, but we do love Saturday college games and Red Zone of Sundays!

I would have loved to have had MY FIRST BOOK OF FOOTBALL when my kids were younger. This book is fantastic and a great way to introduce the sport to kids. It's a Sport Illustrated Kids book so the photographs of real NFL players are amazing, but there are also cute little football guys that have really funny "comments" on football.

The book starts with the basics -- how many people play, how many quarters and how long they are, how long the field is, etc. It then explains how the game is played -- from the kickoff, to the responsibilities of the players, to how to score and even how turn the ball over. It also briefly explains penalties.

The book is presented in a very clear way. There are only a few words per page that are extremely easy to understand, and there's also a ton of fantastic color photographs. The football terms are in big, bold print for easy reference. In addition, the football players and the little football guys have caption bubbles which are pretty darn funny. I thought the running play clock in the corners of the pages was especially cute!

MY FIRST BOOK OF FOOTBALL is a wonderful way to introduce kids (or maybe even some adults) to football. It's both educational and entertaining... and what more can you ask from a picture book?

Thanks to Blue Slip Media and Media Masters Publicity for providing a review copy of this novel.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Guest Review: Duplicity

Summary: The greatest nightmare for the free world today would be a master terrorist hiding somewhere, controlling and coordinating radical Islamic groups at the highest level around the globe.

In DUPLICITY, the newest thriller from former Speaker of the House and bestselling author Newt Gingrich, such an invisible hand overseeing havoc worldwide plays a major role. Gingrich has teamed with former Washington Post reporter and bestselling author Pete Earley to create a highly plausible mix of domestic and global action in this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller.

And of course, it's set during an American presidential election.

When President Sally Allworth decides to reestablish America's Mogadishu embassy in Somalia weeks before Election Day, her challenger says she is playing politics with American lives. That turns out to be true when the embassy is attacked and hostages are taken. Embassy station chief Gunter Conner and Marine captain Brooke Grant end up the unlikely survivors of this Benghazi-style attack. Suddenly, they are the only hope for saving their captured colleagues.

The firestorm of drama is compelling, set off by the intersection of Washington power and politics, a fragile third-world Islamic country, and Somali Americans here at home.

Only Newt Gingrich's unique in-depth knowledge of the political realities of friend and foe could weave such a spellbinding tale of events and personalities, one that could actually happen . . . if America's leaders aren't wary of a world full of DUPLICITY. - Center Street

Booking Pap Pap is on a roll this week -- two days in a row with a review! Today, he is joining us with a review of DUPLICITY, the new thriller by Newt Gingrich (yes that Newt Gingrich!) and Pete Earley. Here are his thoughts:

DUPLICITY by Newt Gingrich and Pete Earley brings together international intrigue, Washington politics and terrorism in one fast paced political thriller. The novel is set during the final weeks of an American presidential election campaign. President Sally Allworth decides to reopen the embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia to show her as tough on terrorism and give her an edge in the campaign.

A report by the CIA declaring Mogadishu safe for the embassy plans is written to support the president and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee remains silent despite some valid concerns about the project. Things soon turn chaotic when the embassy is attacked, several lives are lost and hostages are taken. In order to save her re-election, the president must now focus on saving the hostages.

One of the survivors of the embassy assault is Marine Captain Brooke Grant who was assigned to the embassy as military attaché. Captain Grant is a recent hero for stopping a terrorist bombing outside the U. S. Embassy in London. Coincidently, the bomber was a member of the Somalia based terrorist group Al-Shabaab, Grant now becomes the key to getting the hostages released.

Concurrent with this activity, a Somali, Rudy Adeogo, is running for Congress out of a district in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Adeogo was a dark horse candidate until the opposition candidates were implicated with corruption. With his new found fame and Somali ethnicity, he is caught up in the politics of the presidential election. He also carries a secret about his relationship with a high ranking Al-Shabaab terrorist.

DUPLICITY comes across as very real and reminds the reader of some past U.S. Embassy assaults, including one in Mogadishu. It is also interesting that the authors developed the main characters as a females, one as president and the other as an African-American Marine.

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, brings a knowledge of inside Washington, D.C. that adds an air of plausibility to the novel. DUPLICITY shines a light on the brutal world of terrorism as well as the politics and power that runs Washington D.C. today.

DUPLICITY is a realistic fast paced novel that will be of interest to those who enjoy a good political thriller. Authors Gingrich and Earley also plan a follow-up novel, TREASON, featuring Captain Brooke Grant and several other characters from this book.

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

Newt Gingrich is the former House Speaker and 2012 Presidential Candidate. Gettysburg, Pearl Harborand To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine are three of his 14 New York Timesbestsellers. He is a regular guest on national political shows.

Pete Earley is a former Washington Post reporter and author of 13 books, including four New York Timesbestsellers. He was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Guest Review: The Indifferent Stars Above

Summary: In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of pioneers led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes, and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors. In this gripping narrative, New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most legendary events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah’s journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative. -- William Morrow

My father reviewed  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS by Daniel James Brown a few years ago. He couldn't stop talking about this book and I know he's not alone with his praise. My husband listened to the audio version and thought it was fantastic too. I recently discovered that the author wrote a book titled THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE: THE HARROWING SAGA OF THE DONNER PARTY earlier in his writing career that is being re-released, and I thought my dad might enjoy this one. Here are his thoughts:

THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE: THE HARROWING SAGE OF THE DONNER PARTY is author Daniel James Brown’s take on the harrowing journey of 80+ people in route to California in 1846. The Donner Party was trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter of 1846-47 and resorted to cannibalism to survive the ordeal. At the end of the journey 47 members of the party died.

Many books have been written about the Donner Party, but Brown takes a unique approach. He chose Sarah Graves, a 21 year-old pioneer from Illinois, as his main character and narrated the story from her point of view. Sarah started the journey with her new husband, mother and father and eight siblings. After getting stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the travelers became starving and desperate and Sara and 14 others set out from the camp to find help while mothers and small children stayed at a campsite. Over the next 32 days they suffered unbelievable horrors. During the ordeal, Sarah lost her parents and several siblings, ate companions that died, watched as others ate her husband and father and lost the entire family fortune. Sarah did survive, married two more times and gave birth to six children.

While history has painted a picture of the survivors of the Donner party as cannibals and murderers, Brown attempts to humanize the pioneers. He explains the dire conditions they faced including limited water and food, difficult terrain, poor sanitation and Indian raids. Brown suggests that hypothermia, hyperthermia and dementia plagued both the group seeking help and the one at the campsite and may have led to the cannibalism. He also explains the poor decision that was made to follow the “shortcut route” suggested by publisher Lansford Warren Hastings without fully understanding the perils involved. They also were not aware that Hastings was somewhat of a con man.

Brown apparently did a tremendous amount of research to update the story of the Donner Party and provided significant detail as to what the pioneers may have encountered. He provided an interesting perspective by stepping outside the narrative to comment on the social and medical issues impacting the tragedy. For example, he discussed the science of starvation, the effects of both hypothermia and hyperthermia, birth control and hygiene at the time and the psychology of trauma. 

THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE is a suspenseful story about a group of pioneers who were filled with hopes of a better life; but because of ignorance, misplaced trust and extreme weather conditions suffered unimaginable disaster and death.

Daniel James Brown is the author of The Boys in the Boat and Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. He lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, with his wife and two daughters.
Find out more about Daniel at his website and connect with him on Facebook.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his fine review and to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Purchase Links

Tuesday, September 29th: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Wednesday, October 7th: Jancee Reads
Monday, October 19th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, October 26th: My Book Strings
Tuesday, October 27th: 50 Books Project
Wednesday, October 28th: Booking Mama
Thursday, October 29th: Man of La Book
Thursday, October 29th: Books on the Table
Friday, October 30th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, November 3rd: Books & Tea
Wednesday, November 4th: The Cue Card
Thursday, November 5th: Read. Write. Repeat.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: All the Stars in the Heavens

Summary: Adriana Trigiani, the New York Times bestselling author of the blockbuster epic The Shoemaker's Wife, returns with her biggest and boldest novel yet, a hypnotic tale based on a true story and filled with her signature elements: family ties, artistry, romance, and adventure. Born in the golden age of Hollywood, All the Stars in the Heavens captures the luster, drama, power, and secrets that could only thrive in the studio system—viewed through the lives of an unforgettable cast of players creating magic on the screen and behind the scenes.

In this spectacular saga as radiant, thrilling, and beguiling as Hollywood itself, Adriana Trigiani takes us back to Tinsel Town's golden age—an era as brutal as it was resplendent—and into the complex and glamorous world of a young actress hungry for fame and success. With meticulous, beautiful detail, Trigiani paints a rich, historical landscape of 1930s Los Angeles, where European and American artisans flocked to pursue the ultimate dream: to tell stories on the silver screen.

The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he's already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly.

Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young's secretary, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives.

Anchored by Trigiani's masterful storytelling that takes you on a worldwide ride of adventure from Hollywood to the shores of southern Italy, this mesmerizing epic is, at its heart, a luminous tale of the most cherished ties that bind. Brimming with larger-than-life characters both real and fictional—including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel and more—it is it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema's greatest love affairs during the golden age of American movie making. -- Harper

It is with my pleasure that I am part of TLC Book Tours' tour for Adriana Trigiani's new novel ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS. I have been anxiously awaiting this book for some time, and it seems appropriate that her latest story is about movie stars and the golden age of Hollywood given that she recently released her first feature film Big Stone Gap.

ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS is a fictional account of Loretta Young and Clark Gable's love affair. The two met in 1935 when a 21 year old Loretta Young met an older (and married) Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. The cast and crew of The Call of the Wild were on location for the shoot, and the Loretta and Clark's flirtation escalated quickly into a full-blown romance.

Meanwhile, Alda Ducci is asked to leave the convent where she's in preparation to become a nun. Despite leading a rather sheltered life, growing up in Italy and then entering a convent, Alda now finds herself in Los Angeles working as Loretta's personal secretary. Alda attempts to keep Loretta, who has tendency of falling for her leading men, out of trouble while also discovering love for herself with a set painter.

When Loretta finds herself facing a serious scandal that could potentially ruin her career, she realizes that she needs Alda more than ever. Alda tries to protect Loretta by keeping her private life separate from her very public one, and together they from a special bond that exists for the rest of their lives.

I absolutely loved ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS! Adriana has done it again -- although that's no surprise to those of us who are fans of her novels. This novel and the story are larger-than-life (just like Adriana!), and I loved seeing how Adriana blended fact with fiction to make a terrific story.

I should probably preface this review by saying that I knew next to nothing about Loretta Young.  Basically, I knew her name and that she was an actress during the golden age of Hollywood but that was pretty much it. I had no idea that she was such a famous actress, and I was even more clueless about her possible love affair with Clark Gable. When I read books based on real people, I tend to do a little research on my own; and in the case of Loretta Young and Clark Gable, I couldn't believe what I "discovered!" Now, I'm not going to say much more about this because I don't want to give away what happens in ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS if you are like me and don't know the background!

Suffice it to say that I was impressed with Adriana's portrayal of their love story. She did a wonderful job of incorporating the factual evidence with her fictionalized account, and together the stories blended into a special novel. I absolutely loved how she brought 1930s Hollywood and its characters to life, and I was impressed with the amount of detail about movie making and the practices of the studios.

Make no mistake about it, ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS is a chunkster. The book is almost 450 pages, and I tend to shy away from books over 350 pages. However, this novel was so good that I didn't mind its length. And that's because Adriana is a gifted storyteller... and because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! Adriana picked some fascinating characters and a pretty special story to tell, and then she wove everything together to make an compelling story.

However, this book is so much more special than just the story of Loretta and Clark's love affair and the fall-out. This story is beautiful! Adriana's writing just keeps getting better and better, and I could tell that this book was especially close to her heart (although I suspect I say that about every project Adriana works on!) Adriana is known for her gorgeous descriptions of... just about everything, and the prose in ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS was no exception. I could vividly picture the scenery, the houses, the costumes, the sets, and more; and I do believe that her writing brought this story to the next level.

Another very special thing about ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS was the side story of Alda. I adored Alda and I do think Adriana's writing skills really shined through with her story. Alda was wonderful character and much more complex than I was initially expecting. I appreciated how Adriana used Alma to incorporate her love of Italy and its culture into the story, and Alma definitely made the book that much better with her background story and life lessons.

And finally, I found so many feel-good messages in this novel. Adriana is known for writing stories about strong women, and ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS definitely had two very strong female characters. Despite having little in common, Alma and Loretta forged a friendship that lasted a life-time. I appreciated their loyalty to each other as well as the ends they were willing to go to protect those they love.

It's no surprise that ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS would make a wonderful book club selection. All of Adriana's books are perfect for book clubs! I wasn't able to find a reading guide at this time, but I'm certain that there will be one available in the very near future. Some of the major themes you might want to explore include loss, second chances, friendship, loyalty, secrets, sacrifice, marriage, and love. It would also be interesting to discuss how much things have changed for women through the years.

I adored ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS and highly recommend it to fans of historical and women's fiction!

Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Timesbestseller The Shoemaker's Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don't Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She wrote the screenplay for Big Stone Gap, which she also directed. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Visit Adriana at her website:, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Purchase Links

Tuesday, October 13th: Books Like Breathing
Wednesday, October 14th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, October 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, October 16th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, October 19th: A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, October 20th: View from a Birdhouse
Wednesday, October 21st: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, October 22nd: Walking With Nora
Friday, October 23rd: BermudaOnion’s Weblog
Monday, October 26th: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, October 27th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, October 28th: Curling Up by the Fire
Thursday, October 29th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Monday, November 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, November 3rd: Books on the Table
Thursday, November 5th: I’m Shelf-ish
Thursday, November 5th: Beth Fish Reads
Friday, November 6th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Monday, November 9th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, November 10th: Drey’s Library
Thursday, November 13th: Book Journey
Friday, November 13th: Write Meg

Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: The Last Midwife

Summary: It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

She didn't commit the crime, but clearing her name isn't so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that's dangerous. Invited into her neighbors' homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can't help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.

With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it's worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now...especially since she's been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

With Sandra Dallas's incomparable gift for creating a sense of time and place and characters that capture your heart, The Last Midwife tells the story of family, community, and the secrets that can destroy and unite them. -- St. Martin's Press

It's been years since I've read a novel by Sandra Dallas, but I have always loved her novels and characters. She seems to really be able to capture the essence of the past, and her characters just stay in your heart after the last page of the book. After reading the description for her latest novel, THE LAST MIDWIFE, I knew I had to read it. I am drawn to stories about midwives, and it sounded like there was an underlying mystery too.

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is a midwife in a small Colorado mining town who has been delivering babies for most of her life -- since she was around 10 years old! She has played a major role in the lives of the women of this community (and really the community as a whole) for decades, and she has delivered almost every baby born over the past 40+ years.

However, Gracy's life is turned upside when the unthinkable happens. A baby is found dead and the family is claiming Gracy killed it. Of course through the years, Gracy has lost some babies and mothers... but there is absolutely no way that Gracy would ever deliberately do harm to a child. As part of her job as a midwife, Gracy has seen and heard a great deal; and she's learned many secrets about the women in town.

Gracy has a kind of second sense when it comes to mothers and their deliveries, and she's pretty sure she knows what happened to the baby; however, she isn't sure she wants to reveal the family's (or her own) dark secrets. As a result, Gracy might end up protecting others at the expense of her own freedom.

I absolutely loved THE LAST MIDWIFE! It's Sandra Dallas and her storytelling abilities at their best. I loved the characters, especially Gracy, and I also appreciated how Ms. Dallas brought this small Colorado mining town and it's inhabitants to to life. In addition, the book definitely showcased the strength and power of women which will make it winner for book clubs.

I decided to feature THE LAST MIDWIFE as part of Mystery Mondays, but it isn't a mystery in the traditional whodunit sense. However, there is a mystery surrounding this story about a midwife accused of murdering a baby. It's apparent to the reader that Gracy didn't murder the baby, and it's pretty obvious what did happen; however, the events surrounding the mother and child do have an element of intrigue. And there's even a surprise or two in store for the reader at the end of the novel!

I was drawn into Gracy's story from the get-go. I loved how the book revealed her past through flashbacks and they really helped to complete the character. Gracy was an extremely complex character who provided a service to the community. For the most part, she was deeply appreciated; however, there were some in the town that questioned her abilities. When she was accused of the crime, the town was divided over whether she was guilty; and there was even some dissension on whether midwifery was the right way to go for childbirth. I thought Ms. Dallas did a good job of showing the divisiveness of the town as well as the debate between the past and the future of medicine.

As I mentioned earlier, THE LAST MIDWIFE would make a fantastic book club selection. There is a  reading guide available with ten interesting questions. Because the book delves into the subjects of motherhood, midwives, and the resilience of women, I do think many women will relate to the story. Some of the other themes you might want to explore include friendship, marriage, secrets, sacrifice, and love.

THE LAST MIDWIFE is a touching story about the power of women and what they are willing to do to protect those they love. Highly recommended for fans of women's fiction.

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, October 24, 2015

Kid Konnection: The Tapper Twins Tear Up New York

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 the second book in a series that I adore!

Summary: The Tapper twins' scavenger hunt takes cutthroat competition to hilarious new heights!

In the follow up to The Tapper Twins Go to War, Geoff Rodkey delivers another ultra-modern comedy told as oral history with texts, screenshots and smartphone photos. When Claudia initiates a citywide scavenger hunt to raise money for charity, it's not just the twins' opposing teams that run riot. With the whole school racing to trade in sights seen for points to score front row tickets at Madison Square Garden, they may not get to the finish line with their dignity-and social lives-intact! -- Little, Brown

Earlier this year, I reviewed THE TAPPER TWINS GO TO WAR (WITH EACH OTHER) by Geoff Rodkey. I absolutely loved this book and was so excited to learn that it was the first book in a planned series. The followup story, THE TAPPER TWINS TEAR UP NEW YORK, is now available; and I think I loved it even more... if that's possible.

In THE TAPPER TWINS TEAR UP NEW YORK, twins Claudia and Reese are back with more of their fun antics. This time, Claudia comes up with a great idea to make money for a charity -- a scavenger hunt in New York City. Reese and Claudia are, of course, on opposing teams (with a totally different strategy!); however, both kids find themselves up against some serious competition. Everyone wants to win the grand prize -- from row tickets for an event at Madison Square Garden! When the entire school is set loose on the streets of New York, just about everything thing that can go wrong does!

I thought THE TAPPER TWINS TEAR UP NEW YORK was fantastic and even funnier than the first book. That's really saying something because I loved the sibling rivalry and the all-out war in THE TAPPER TWINS GO TO WAR (WITH EACH OTHER.) In this book, the twins are technically against each other in their quest to complete the scavenger hunt with the most points; however, there are a few other teams from their school that give them quite the challenge. Don't worry, though, the twins still manage to make plenty of jabs at each other!

I loved Claudia and Reese from the moment I first "met" them in the first book, but now I can claim to adore their parents too. In this story, the twins' father exhibits some pretty irresponsible behavior, and I loved the banter between the parents that occurred as a result. I also liked that there was a group of popular (or mean) girls that made the scavenger hunt extra challenging for Claudia's team!

Once again, Mr. Rodkey has made a fun book that even the most reluctant readers will have a hard time putting down. The humor is just right for middle grade readers, and there are enough interesting "things" to look at in the book. THE TAPPER TWINS TEAR UP NEW YORK isn't a traditional graphic novel (mainly because the author claims he can't draw), but it does have a lot of "graphics" on the pages of this book. Since the book is written as an oral history, the author has included photographs, copies of emails, text message streams, maps and more to bring the story to life. They help to break up the reading for readers who aren't comfortable with a lot of text, but I think they are just plain fun!

THE TAPPER TWINS TEAR UP NEW YORK is very fast-paced and exciting but it also shows New York City in a fun way. I love New York so I especially enjoyed "visiting" landmarks with the various scavenger hunt teams. In addition, I think kids who aren't familiar with the city will appreciate seeing some of the famous (and not-so-famous) sights.

Finally, I enjoyed that THE TAPPER TWINS TEAR UP NEW YORK had a bit of a surprise ending. I don't want to give too much away but I will say that things aren't quite as they initially appear. I guess that's why it's up to Claudia and Reese to explain the entire catastrophe and clear up what local newspapers are reporting about the event!

I actually waited in line for an autographed copy of this book at the 2015 BEA.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: Big Stone Gap

Summary: Writer and director Adriana Trigiani brings her best-selling novel Big Stone Gap to the screen in a heartwarming tale of family secrets and self-discovery in a tiny mountain town during the late 1970s. Shot entirely on location in the real Big Stone Gap, Trigiani’s hometown, the film is captures the joys, the tribulations and the rewards of life deep in the Appalachian Mountains.

Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd) has lived her whole life in tiny Big Stone Gap, a picturesque coal-mining town nestled in the hollers of southwestern Virginia. When she’s not making deliveries from her family’s pharmacy to far-flung neighbors, Ave Maria directs the annual outdoor drama festival, keeps chaste company with her longtime beau, Theodore (John Benjamin Hickey), and exchanges good-natured barbs with local hunk Jack MacChesney (Patrick Wilson). Just as Ave Maria has resigned herself to life as a self-proclaimed “old maid,”she is caught off guard by a family secret, an unexpected marriage proposal and a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Big Stone Gap by movie legend Elizabeth Taylor. With everything she knows changing before her eyes, Ave Maria plans the adventure of a lifetime in Big Stone Gap, a homespun romantic comedy about small-town life, working people and the triumph of love.

A few weeks ago, I re-read and reviewed the novel BIG STONE GAP by my favorite artist (and special friend!) Adriana Trigiani. I wanted the characters and events in the book to be fresh in my mind because I would soon be seeing the movie BIG STONE GAP. I have known this movie was in the works for years and I couldn't believe it was finally on the big screen.

I had so much fun following the events leading up to the movie's release. It was great to see Adriana and the crew on various television shows like The View, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and The Today Show. I just loved the buzz surrounding the movie and I was so excited for Adriana to finally be living her dream!

The following paragraphs aren't really part of my review of the movie, but there were pretty traumatic so I thought I'd include them!

My good friend and I planned to see BIG STONE GAP at the very first showing in our local theater. I was so darn excited! Seriously, I was almost giddy as I drove to the theater. When I arrived, I jumped out of the car to buy the tickets and went to the window... and there was no BIG STONE GAP playing. The guy told me it switched to another theater last minute, and then he told me not to really depend on Fandango for film times. I almost cried -- literally cried!

Naturally, I couldn't get to the other theater in time for the showing (the showtimes were different too and the movie was actually earlier.) My friend felt so bad for me that she offered to go with me the following day. Thank goodness because I was feeling especially sad because Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) was actually watching the movie... at the first showing! I was so jealous!

Twenty-eight hours later, I was at the right theater watching BIG STONE GAP. I am definitely not a movie-goer so this was a pretty big deal. I see maybe one movie a year! After almost 15 minutes of trailers (and boy are there some good movies coming out!), the music started and Ashley Judd began speaking. It was finally happening! I sat back for the next hour and a half and just enjoyed the heartwarming story about a Ave Maria and Big Stone Gap.

Now, we all know that there is absolutely no way that I wasn't going to love BIG STONE GAP! I loved the book; and I trusted Adriana, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, to do justice to her novel. She definitely did. Of course, there is absolutely no way that every element of what I loved about the book could appear in the movie, but Adriana included what was important... and even a few surprises!

Needless to say, BIG STONE GAP had an amazing cast -- Ashley Judd as Ave Maria Mulligan, Patrick Wilson as Jack MacChesney, Whoopi Goldberg as Fleeta Mullin, John Benjamin Hickey as Theodore Tipton, Jane Krakowski as Sweet Sue Tinsley, Jenna Elfman as Iva Lou Wade, and Anthony LaPaglia as Spec Broadwater. I was blown away by the star power and talent, and each one of these fine actors brought their characters to life. Ashley Judd was stunning, and Whoopi Goldberg and Jenna Elfman were hilarious. It was just a fantastic ensemble of professionals!

I think what most surprised me about BIG STONE GAP was how funny it was. I thought there were some cute scenes in the novel that thad the potential to be funny, but Adriana (and the actors!) really brought out the humor in the story. There were a few one-liners (thank you Ms. Goldberg) and scenes (thank you Ms. Elfman) that were absolutely hilarious, and it felt good to be able to just get away from the chaos of daily life and smile!

A few months ago when Adriana was talking about BIG STONE GAP, she told me that this movie deserved to be on the big-screen, and I couldn't agree more. It's a wonderful story that is perfect for audiences of all ages. You can take your mom, grandmother and daughter to see it... and it will appeal to all of them. Plus, it will make them laugh and cry and just feel good about life. There aren't too many major feature films that you can say that about! In addition, the scenery is breathtakingly gorgeous. Adriana filmed the entire movie in the small town of Big Stone Gap (who does that anymore?) and it's one beautiful place as evidenced in the trailer below:

I can't recommend BIG STONE GAP enough -- both the movie and the book! It's a romantic comedy about one woman's attempt to find herself, and I guarantee it will both entertain you and touch your heart.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: We Never Asked for Wings

Summary: From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers comes her much-anticipated new novel about young love, hard choices, and hope against all odds.

For fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, fifteen, and Luna, just six—in their tiny apartment on a forgotten spit of wetlands near the bay. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh blends gorgeous prose with compelling themes of motherhood, undocumented immigration, and the American Dream in a powerful and prescient story about family. -- Ballantine Books

I absolutely loved THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh -- you can read my review here. I appreciated Ms. Diffenbaugh's writing and the way she created such memorable characters, and I couldn't wait to read her next novel. It's been about four years and her second book
WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS was released late summer. I'm not sure I enjoyed it quite as much as THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS but it was definitely a worthwhile read.

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS tells the story of Letty Espinosa and her two children. Letty has always worked hard to support her children; however, she left the major job of raising Alex (15) and Luna (6) to her mother. When Letty's parents return to their home in Mexico, Letty finally realizes that she has to step up and be a mother in the true sense of the word.

Letty is pretty much clueless about what it takes to bring up her children. She is so desperate for her mother's help that heads to Mexico to bring her home... leaving behind both kids to pretty much fend for themselves. When Letty finally realizes that she has to choice but to act like a mother, she tries to protect her children by sending them to a better school, even if that means lying about her address. Things are pretty bad for Letty as she tries to balance work, managing a house, and taking care of her kids; and she is forced to battle her own guilt in the process. Fortunately, she meets Rick, a co-worker who wants to help her succeed both professionally and personally.

Meanwhile, Alex is forced to grow up rather quickly as he tries to not follow in his mother's footsteps. He tries to take care of his sister, keep his own life on track, and handle his first girlfriend with almost no help from his mother... and he finally gets to meet his real father. When Alex and his girlfriend try to make things "more right and fair" for themselves, they discover that the risk involved might jeopardize everything in their lives.

I enjoyed WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS and thought it was not only an interesting story but also a thought-provoking one. This novel has some very interesting characters -- I especially loved Alex and his girlfriend; and it really does delve into some relevant issues about immigration and citizenship. It touched my heart and definitely made many of the issues that undocumented immigrants face real to me.

I did have a slight problem with Letty's character. I understand her background and that she depended on her mother for almost everything when it came to her children, but I had issues accepting that she was that clueless... and that she could just leave her kids to chase down her mother. It was almost like Letty couldn't think straight some of the time. And then, once she finally accepted her responsibilities, she became so consumed with guilt and self-doubt that I found it a little annoying. Thankfully, Letty did a lot of growing up in the pages of this novel; and she did redeem herself by the end. I actually found myself liking her more and more as the story went on and even rooting for her to find happiness with Rick.

I always say that if a book can make me think, then it's a good one. And that's definitely the case with WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS. There is no doubt that this book touches upon some relevant social issues in our country as far as undocumented immigrants go, and it really got me thinking about what we can do with this huge and growing concern. (Needless to say, I have no idea!) However, it also touches upon some serious themes like poverty, motherhood, sacrifice, and love.

As a result, I think WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS would make a wonderful book club selection. There is truly so much to discuss from the plight of immigrants in this country to what constitutes being a good parent. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions. Some additional themes you might want to touch upon include the challenges of being a mother, secrets, second chances, and redemption. In addition, there are many, many references to birds and flight in this novel which might be interesting to discuss.

WE NEVER ASKED FOR WINGS is an intriguing story about parenting that also touches upon some major social issues in our country. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel from the Book of the Month Club.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: The Rumor (Audio)

Summary: A friendship is tested in this irresistible page-turner from New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand. 

Nantucket writer Madeline King couldn't have picked a worse time to have writer's block. Her deadline is looming, her bills are piling up, and inspiration is in short supply. Madeline's best friend Grace, is hard at work transforming her garden into the envy of the island with the help of a ruggedly handsome landscape architect. Before she realizes it, Grace is on the verge of a decision that will irrevocably change her life. Could Grace's crisis be Madeline's salvation? As the gossip escalates, and the summer's explosive events come to a head, Grace and Madeline try desperately to set the record straight--but the truth might be even worse than rumor has it. -- Hachette Audio

Summer wouldn't be summer with a novel by Elin Hildebrand -- although I suspect I might be saying the same thing about the holiday season if she continues to write Christmas books. I was a little late to the Hildebrand party this summer because I only had an audio version of her latest novel THE RUMOR. I just can't read audiobooks at the same pace as print ones. So it's now fall and pumpkin spice season and I'm just getting around to reviewing THE RUMOR.

THE RUMOR takes place in Nantucket (no surprise there!) and shows the impact that rumors can have on a small town. Madeline is writer who once had success but is now experience writer's block. She's under a strict deadline from her publisher and has her fair share of bills that need to be paid. Meanwhile her best friend Grace is working a little too closely with her handsome landscape architect whose bill is being footed by none other than her husband.

Grace is confiding in her best friend Madeline about her affair, and when Madeline can find absolutely nothing to write about, she turns to her best friend's story. When the manuscript gets into the wrong hands, rumors start flying about Grace. However, Madeline also finds that her actions result in some rumors being spread across the island. As the gossip escalates about these women and their families, Grace and Madeline try to do damage control but ultimately find that the truth just might even worse than the rumors.

THE RUMOR is an entertaining story that fans of Ms. Hildebrand will enjoy. It has the gorgeous setting of Nantucket which Ms. Hildebrand brings vividly to life... as she always does. And once again, her characters and their lives are complex. I found the way she wrote this book to be very clever, and I especially appreciated how the tension between the characters escalated throughout the story.

THE RUMOR is a fun story with some memorable characters. I found it interesting that I didn't actually love any of the characters. Of course, some are more likable than others, but for the most part, Grace and her husband Eddie (and even Madeline at times) weren't characters that resonated with me. That's not to say that I didn't find them interesting. Grace was having an affair and was pretty much obsessed with her gardener -- so much so that she was willing to give up her family for him, while her husband Eddie was having major financial problems that "forced" him to start a small prostitution ring. I really didn't "like" either one of them, but what was interesting is that I cared very much about their stories. By the end of the novel, I almost felt bad for Eddie and Grace despite some of their actions.

Even though I only mentioned Grace, Madeline, and Eddie's actions that caused rumors, there were also side stories about their teen-age children. Grace and Eddie were the parents of twins girls while Madeline and her husband had a teenage son who just happened to be dating one of Grace and Eddie's girls. There was lots of teenage drama in the story with a good twin/bad twin storyline, and as a mother to a daughter close to their ages, I found it interesting albeit a little scary!

One thing's for sure in THE RUMOR -- the main characters all learned valuable lessons. I actually thing that's one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much. There were plenty of secrets and lots of gossip, but those involved in these actions paid a price. The toll on the relationships was pretty severe but eventually the characters' love for each other persevered. It was a satisfying ending, and in many ways, justice was served -- both good and bad.

As I mentioned earlier, I listened to the audiobook version of THE RUMOR. It was read by Kathleen McInerney, Erin Bennett, and Rick Zieff. I enjoyed having the variety of narrators for the different characters, and I thought they all did a great job. I've listed to quite a few books read by Kathleen McInerney and she's always a treat!

As a big fan of Elin Hildebrand, I really enjoyed THE RUMOR. Definitely recommended to fans of women's fiction and fans of Hildebrand's other novels.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this audiobook.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: Smaller and Smaller Circles

Summary: This harrowing mystery, winner of the Philippine National Book Award, follows two Catholic priests on the hunt through Manila for a brutal serial killer

Payatas, a 50-acre dump northeast of Manila’s Quezon City is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge there. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is already stretched thin, devoid of forensic resources and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of preteen boys begin to appear in the dump heaps, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf.

In the rainy summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. Father Gus Saenz is a respected forensic anthropologist, one of the few in the Philippines, and has been tapped by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations as a backup for police efforts. Together with his protégé, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, Saenz dedicates himself to tracking down the monster preying on these impoverished boys.

Smaller and Smaller Circles, widely regarded as the first Filipino crime novel, is a poetic masterpiece of literary noir, a sensitive depiction of a time and place, and a fascinating story about the Catholic Church and its place in its devotees’ lives. -- Soho Crime

I was fortunate enough to receive a complementary three month subscription to the Book of the Month Club. October is my final month and I decided to select a book that I had never heard of -- SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES by F.H. Batacan. This mystery won the Philippine National Book Award, and I don't recall ever reading a book that took place in the Philippines. I decided it was worth a shot!

And it most definitely was a worthwhile read. I absolutely devoured SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES, and I was definitely impressed with just about everything about this novel. SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES is about a serial killer who is murdering preteen boys and leaving their mutilated bodies in the dumps outside of Manila's Quezon City. Because the neighborhood is extremely poor and full of corruption, these murders aren't exactly a priority... until two Jesuit priests become involved.

Father Saenz is a forensic anthropologist (in addition to being a priest!) and the National Bureau of Investigations has asked for his help. His protege, Father Lucero who is psychologist, become involved in helping to profile the killer too. Together, these two men work diligently to solve the murders of these young boys even when they find themselves at risk.

SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES was a fantastic read! I loved the characters, the writing, and of course the mystery. In addition, I thought the book brought the Philippines to life and truly gave an insider's look into the problems within this country; and I thought there was a great deal of very smart social commentary in the novel.

One of the best things about this book was the character of Father Gus Saenz. I adored him! He was not only a respected anthropologist, but he was also a Jesuit priest... which made his character extremely interesting. The novel definitely touched upon some of the more controversial aspects of priests in the Philippines including the cover up at high levels for priests accused of molesting children; however, it wasn't at all preachy (if that's what you were wondering.) Rather, his religion gave him a sense of serenity and compassion that was critical to helping him solve the crimes.

I also enjoyed that this novel gave me insight into the conditions in the Philippines. Granted, the story takes place in 1997 so it some of the conditions might have changed in almost 20 years. However, I found it to be so interesting... and so terribly sad. The poverty of the victims' families was gut-wrenching -- these boys scavenged for food for their families in dumps. In addition, I found it incredibly interesting to learn about not only the religious aspects of the country, but also the amount of corruption in the country and the church.

As far as mysteries go, this was definitely a good one. It wasn't a whodunit in the traditional sense of the word. Instead it was more of a police procedural... which I love! I liked that there were a few sections in the story which gave a view into the mind of the killer. These were written in first person and got more and more desperate as the novel went on. I especially appreciated that the book provided so much insight into the serial killer, rather than just making him a flat "bad guy."

SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES was a great mystery. I certainly hope that Ms. Batacan continues to write more of them. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel from the Book of the Month Club.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Review: The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep & 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 an adorable book that is supposed to help children sleep better!

Summary: The groundbreaking #1 bestseller is sure to turn nightly bedtime battles into a loving and special end-of-day ritual. This child-tested, parent-approved story uses an innovative technique that brings a calm end to any child’s day.

Do you struggle with getting your child to fall asleep?

Join parents all over the world who have embraced The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep as their new nightly routine.

When Roger can’t fall asleep, Mommy Rabbit takes him to see Uncle Yawn, who knows just what to do. Children will join Roger on his journey and be lulled to sleep alongside their new friend.

Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin’s simple story uses a unique and distinct language pattern that will help your child relax and fall asleep—at bedtime or naptime.

Reclaim bedtime today! -- Crown

How I wish there had been a book like THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP by Carl-Johan Foressen Ehrlin when my daughter was little. She was never a good sleeper and I swear she didn't sleep through the night until she was four years old. THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP pretty much guarantees that it will make anyone fall asleep... if you read it the right way!

THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP is already a bestseller -- evidently there are a lot of kids out there similar to my daughter. And many parents swear by it. (Of course, there are also parents who have not had the same luck!) Basically, the general idea is that the content in THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP is based on powerful psychological techniques for relaxation. I think it almost sounds like a type of hypnosis.

There actually is a story to THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP. Unlike his many siblings, Roger Rabbit can't fall asleep even though he really wanted to. He tried to calm his mind, but nothing worked. He went to talk to Mommy Rabbit and she decided to take him to see Uncle Yawn. Uncle Yawn has magic spells and magic sleeping powder which have worked before. Along the way, Roger Rabbit encounters other animals who had good sleeping advice like breathe slowly and let your body be heavy.

I honestly wish I could try this book out on a little one. On one hand, I can see that the cadence and story itself would help kids to relax and eventually fall asleep. However, on the other hand, I'm not sure if would have worked with a three year old Booking Daughter. The book is rather long for little ones with each page spread having pictures on one side and a fair amount of text on the other. I don't know that either one of my kids could have sat through the entire story. Of course, that's kind of the idea... that they can fall asleep before even finishing the book.

You might be wondering how this book works. Well, there are specific instructions to the reader on how to read THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP. For example, it recommends that the child use up excess energy before listening to the story, and it also mentions that it might take a few tries of reading the book before the child can relax. As the reader, you are supposed to use "your best fairy-tale voice" and have no interruptions. You are also supposed to read the bold, italic and parenthetical sections a specific way.

I love the idea of THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP, and I do think it can help kids fall asleep faster. Like anything else, it's probably not going to work one hundred percent of the time, but I definitely think it's worth a shot if your child is having difficulty falling asleep!

Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin is a behavioral scientist with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a teacher of communications at a Swedish university. He is also a life coach and leadership trainer. Carl-Johan has combined all these skills and experiences in developing the techniques in this book. Read more about the author at

Thanks to Random House Kids for providing a review copy of this book.

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP and a $25 Carters gift card to get some cozy pajamas for your little rabbit!
To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, October 30 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, October 15, 2015

Review: The Summer of Good Intentions

Summary: Cape Cod summers are supposed to remain reassuringly the same, but everything falls apart when three sisters and their families come together for their annual summer vacation—and they are carrying more secrets than suitcases.

Maggie is the oldest. She feels responsible for managing the summer house and making sure everything is as it always has been. But she’s hurt that her parents’ recent divorce has destroyed the family’s comfortable summer routines, and her own kids seem to be growing up at high speed. Is it too late to have another baby?

Jess is the middle sister. She loves her job but isn’t as passionate about her marriage. She’s not sure she can find the courage to tell Maggie what she’s done—much less talk to her husband about it.

Virgie is the youngest, her dad’s favorite. She’s always been the career girl, but now there’s a man in her life. Her television job on the west coast is beyond stressful, and it’s taking its toll on her—emotionally and physically. She’s counting on this vacation to erase the symptoms she’s not talking about.

The Herington girls are together again, with their husbands and kids, for another summer in the family’s old Cape Cod house. When their mother, Gloria, announces she’s coming for an unscheduled visit—with her new boyfriend—no one is more surprised than their father, Arthur, who has not quite gotten over his divorce. Still, everyone manages to navigate the challenges of living grown-up lives in close quarters, until an accident reveals a new secret that brings everyone together in heartbreak…and then healing.

Poignant, compelling, and so real that you could shake the sand out of the pages, The Summer of Good Intentions is by a rising star who aims her fiction square at the heart of readers who love Elin Hilderbrand, Dorothea Benton Frank, and Mary Kay Andrews. -- Simon & Schuster

I actually read THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS by Wendy Francis the first week of September, but I forgot to review it. I'm not near as organized with review writing as I used to be. I remember selecting it because summer was coming to an end, and I wanted to squeeze in one more "beach" book. This novel was a beach book in that it took place in Cape Cod during the summer; however, it definitely wasn't a light and fluffy read. I am happy to say that this book surprised me with its depth, the complexity of the characters, and the quality of writing -- it was truly a wonderful read.

THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS tells the story of the Herington family. The three sisters and their parents spent their summer vacations on Cape Cod making wonderful memories; however, this year things might be tricky. The parents are recently divorced and, due to a scheduling mishap, will both be there at the same time. Their dad has been acting strange ever since the divorce and it's obvious he isn't over their mother. Meanwhile, their mom has moved on and is even bringing her new boyfriend on vacation.

In addition, all three girls are having issues with their lives. Maggie, the eldest, is trying to keep the family intact and create a special time for all of the grandchildren. Jess, the middle daughter, is having marital problems and an emotional affair with her neighbor. And Virgie, the youngest one, is having issues with her television career and her health. Doesn't sound like a very fun vacation, does it?

When a horrible accident occurs and secrets are revealed, the family members find themselves facing a great deal of heartache. As their individual lives seem to be falling apart, can this tragedy allow them to come together as a family and face their challenges together?

I found THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS to be a really good book. Even though I thought I wanted an escape read, I am so glad that this book had so much substance. I liked the individual characters (of course, some more than others), and I appreciated their struggles. I loved that the overall messages of the story were so special and actually quite uplifting given the sadness that resonated throughout the novel.

This is the first novel that I've read by Ms. Francis and I have to say it won't be my last. I thought she did a great job of creating interesting characters and an intriguing family dynamic, and the characters in her story seemed to be very real. I wouldn't be surprised if readers find themselves relating to one or more of the characters and their situations.

In addition, I appreciated that Ms. Francis chose to tell the Herington family's story through the different characters' viewpoints. The story was told through the eyes of the three daughters and the father, and it definitely helped me to understand and sympathize more with their characters. Plus, it was interesting to see what was happening to the family as a whole given the different characters' impressions. What really impressed me, though, is that she managed to tell each of the character's stories so well given that she was juggling so many of them.

Finally, I really loved how this novel explored the theme of memory. I don't want to give too much away but the father does experience some signs of dementia in this story; and it causes to reader (or at least this one) to really think about aging and memories. In addition, Maggie is desperately trying to create beautiful memories for the family. So much so, that there is actually a book where the family records their memories each year on vacation. I loved how the theme of memory resonated throughout the story, and I thought the author did an excellent job of making the reader think about the importance of memories in our lives.

THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS would make an excellent book club selection. The characters are so interesting and what they are facing is definitely worth some analysis. There is a reading guide with fifteen questions along with some ways to enhance your book club experience. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, aging, parent/child relationships, second chances, memories, adultery, marriage, acceptance, and secrets.

I highly recommend THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS is you enjoy well written stories about family drama.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: If I Could Turn Back Time

Summary: Told with Beth Harbison's wit and warmth, If I Could Turn Back Time is the fantasy of every woman who has ever thought, "If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I'd do things so differently..."

Thirty-seven year old Ramie Phillips has led a very successful life. She made her fortune and now she hob nobs with the very rich and occasionally the semi-famous, and she enjoys luxuries she only dreamed of as a middle-class kid growing up in Potomac, Maryland. But despite it all, she can't ignore the fact that she isn't necessarily happy. In fact, lately Ramie has begun to feel more than a little empty.

On a boat with friends off the Florida coast, she tries to fight her feelings of discontent with steel will and hard liquor. No one even notices as she gets up and goes to the diving board and dives off...

Suddenly Ramie is waking up, straining to understand a voice calling in the distance...It's her mother: "Wake up! You're going to be late for school again. I'm not writing a note this time..."

Ramie finds herself back on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, with a second chance to see the people she's lost and change the choices she regrets. How did she get back here? Has she gone off the deep end? Is she really back in time? Above all, she'll have to answer the question that no one else can: What it is that she really wants from the past, and for her future? -- St. Martin's Press

Every once in awhile, I just want to read a book that allows me to escape from it all. Thankfully, the day I got a flat tire on the highway and ended up waiting 5 hours to get my tires replaced, I had a copy of IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME by Beth Harbison. This novel was definitely a quick and fun read that, in many ways, was like a trip down memory lane for me!

IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME tells the story of Ramie Phillips, a woman who has a successful career but not exactly a happy personal life. One day she is "celebrating" a little too much on a yacht after learning that her best friend is pregnant and her other best friend is ready to adopt a child with his partner. She ends up falling and hitting her head while diving overboard, and she wakes up as her 18 year old self in her childhood bedroom!

Ramie isn't quite sure what to make of things but she eventually realizes that she is a senior in high school approaching graduation -- a time when her entire life was just out there for the taking. She actually has a chance to do it all over again, but this time with the mind of a 38 year old! She can experience the excitement of her high school days including her hot boyfriend and wonder what would have happened if she had stayed with him. (Although it was a little odd to me that Ramie had a 38 year old mind and was having sex with an 18 year old boy!)

But Ramie's new life isn't all fun and games. The 38 year old Ramie knows her father will die in less than two years, and she tries to treasure each and every moment with him. As Ramie re-navigates early adulthood, she tries to figure out what she actually wants out of life and would she make the same decisions again.

I enjoyed IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME. It was a cute story and definitely funny. I found Ramie to be an interesting character because she was so unsatisfied as an adult; however, I will admit that I found that her to be a little selfish at times. She embraced that she was allowed to be an 18 year old again and everything that came with it, and she definitely had few issues with reverting to the selfish behavior that teenagers can exhibit. There were times that I found her just a little to irresponsible and selfish.

However, I do think that the author did a decent job of juxtaposing the fun and games that Ramie experienced with the bittersweet times with her father. Since Ramie knew her father was going to suffer a massive stroke in two years, she was able to treasure the times with him. Even though I knew that Ramie was probably correct in thinking that she couldn't change those events surrounding her father's death, I wanted her to pull those cigarettes out of his mouth and at least try!

As entertaining as this story was, I think I most appreciated that Ramie's high school years reminded me of my own. Not that Ramie and I had all that similar of experiences, but I felt as if Ms. Harbison did a fantastic job of bringing the essence of that time to life. I don't spend much time thinking about my high school years and especially the time around graduation, but reading this novel definitely took me back. It even made me think about the choices I made and what I might (or might not have) done differently!

If you are looking for a fun and light read, then I recommend checking out IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME. For many middle-aged women, it will be a fun way to reminisce about the past and maybe even think about the choices they made.

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