Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kid Konnection: House of Robots

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 middle grade book that by one of the world's most successful authors.

Summary: In this new highly-illustrated series from James Patterson, an extraordinary robot signs up for an ordinary fifth grade class... and elementary school will never be the same! 

It was never easy for Sammy Hayes-Rodriguez to fit in, so he's dreading the day when his genius mom insists he bring her newest invention to school: a walking, talking robot he calls E--for "Error". Sammy's no stranger to robots--his house is full of a colorful cast of them. But this one not only thinks it's Sammy's brother... it's actually even nerdier than Sammy. Will E be Sammy's one-way ticket to Loserville? Or will he prove to the world that it's cool to be square? It's a roller-coaster ride for Sammy to discover the amazing secret E holds that could change family forever... if all goes well on the trial run! -Little Brown Books for Young Readers

I wasn't planning on reading HOUSE OF ROBOTS by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein this week, but my reading schedule had a slight change of plans. Booking Son read HOUSE OF ROBOTS for his next book report (which is actually a book project!), and he needed some assistance. I tried to help him based on just the book's description, but I quickly discovered that I was of little help. He'd probably tell you that I made things more confusing trying to interpret just the description!

Anyway... about two hours later, I finished HOUSE OF ROBOTS, and I have to say it was a cute read. Booking Son would agree but probably not use the term "cute." He liked it a lot, as he does almost all of the James Patterson middle grade books he's read; and I think he understood the book and its themes pretty well. I will probably know more when we actually have to work on the book report (i.e. a book jacket) this weekend!

HOUSE OF ROBOTS is Sammy Hayes-Rodriguez's story about living in a house of robots. Sammy is a pretty normal kid, if a little on the geeky side, who lives with his mother, his father, and his sister Maddie who has SCID. Maddie can't be exposed to germs so she doesn't attend school; however, she's just about the coolest and most upbeat kid you'd ever meet... and that's according to her brother!

Sammy's mother is a brilliant inventor who has created robots to handle most of the household chores. There is a robot that cleans (I need one!), and one that cooks (I want one!), but it's the robot named E that's she's created that has really changed Sammy's life. You see, E is supposed to go to school with Sammy!

E's first day of school was a disaster and didn't do much to help Sammy's standing with the other kids. After Sammy's parents were called into school, Sammy's mom reworked E so that his behavior was more appropriate. As a result, E became pretty darn popular in his own right, and Sammy had to admit that he wasn't all bad. In fact, he actually began to appreciate his new friend!

When something happens to E (can't tell you what!), Sammy is determined to figure out the mystery and save the day. Unfortunately, it might be too late! As Sammy sets out to solve the mystery, he ends up discovering that there is a lot more to E than he initially thought.

I thought HOUSE OF ROBOTS was a fun read, and I can definitely see why Booking Son enjoyed it so much. The book really is a fast read with short chapters and lots of illustrations. Additionally, the pace of the book is terrific even for those kids who are reluctant readers. The book has lots of action and even a mystery or two. It's definitely a story that you can't put down... unless you're Booking Son and your 16 required reading minutes a night are up!

As a mom, I really liked some things about HOUSE OF ROBOTS.  First of all, I loved Sammy. He was a pretty typical kid that I think many readers will relate to, and he was also a wonderful big brother. Naturally, he was upset and embarrassed to have to take a robot to school with him; however, he was also open-minded enough to see the good in E. I especially loved how Sammy was willing to do anything to save E!

I also really appreciated some of the messages in HOUSE OF ROBOTS. There were definitely anti-bullying and pro-acceptance messages which all kids need to hear. In addition, there were some other messages about courage and friendship. I was glad to learn that Booking Son understood what the book was trying to say and that he was able to articulate these ideas to me!

Overall, HOUSE OF ROBOTS is a fun read that's certain to appeal to a lot of middle grade readers. Booking Son would most definitely recommend it to his friends!

Booking Son received a copy of this book from Santa.

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Giveaway: Give Books Not Roses

Summary: Sarah Yoder is learning to help the people in her Amish community as a Dokterfraa, creating teas and tinctures from the herbs she grows. But her latest patient seems to have a problem that can't be resolved with Sarah's remedies-a woman who, in Sarah's mind, would flourish anywhere other than where she lives. Meanwhile, as Sarah's relatives attempt a little matchmaking between her and a visiting Amish man, she struggles to let God show her His choice of partner and not allow her friendship with her neighbor, Henry Byler, to grow into anything more.

Henry has seen some success as a potter since a major store commissioned his work for their catalog. But the trouble is they want to market him as Amish. Though he was raised in the faith and lives in Amish country, Henry has never joined church and doesn't plan to. Which also means, despite the attraction between them, he must keep his distance from Sarah. But what will happen when Sarah and Henry are called upon to help a runaway whose Englisch family is blind to how lost their son has become? The plant Sarah calls Keys of Heaven can grow in impossible places, but it's hard for people to find their own place, which creates quite a temptation for Sarah to take matters into her own hands... -- Faith Words

Summary: Rita Jansen is living her dream as a hairstylist in Hollywood when her father calls with news that her mother has suffered a stroke. When she gets home to Chicago, Rita finds her mother is healing but facing a long recovery. Worse, without being able to run their family-owned salon, her mother could lose the business. Rita decides to help, but she only has until Valentine's Day to come up with a plan.

As Rita takes her mother's place at work, the nearby skating rink she loved as a child brings back fond memories. Rita also finds herself renewing friendships with her childhood best friend, Marley, as well as her classmate Johnny. Although they now lead such seemingly different lives, Rita is surprised by how well she and Johnny connect and how far he will go to help her. Though Rita believes Johnny is only being kind, with romance kindling in the air and on the ice, their friendship may just fall into something more. -- Center Street

I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of flowers for Valentine's Day. My husband doesn't quite get it, but I'd rather have something that lasts longer than a few days.... like books! What is more perfect than getting a set of romantic books along with a chocolate bar for Valentine's Day?

I am so excited to say that the fine folks at Hachette Books are sponsoring this Give Books Not Roses giveaway. I have copies of KEYS OF HEAVEN by Adina Senft and LOVE GENTLY FALLING by Melody Carlson along with a delicious chocolate bar by Olive & Sinclair Chocolate.

To enter, just fill our form below before February 9th 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!

Barnes & Noble:

Barnes & Noble:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Giveaway: An Appetite for Violets

Summary: “That’s how it is for us servants. No one pays you much heed; mostly you're invisible as furniture. Yet you overhear a conversation here, and add a little gossip there. Then you find something, something you should not have found.”

Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at forbidding Mawton Hall, only wants to marry her childhood sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries young Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up in a world of scheming, secrets, and lies. Forced to accompany her new mistress to Italy, she documents her adventures and culinary discoveries in an old household book of recipes, The Cook’s Jewel. Biddy grows intrigued by her fellow travelers, but her secretive and unconventional mistress is the most intriguing of all.

In London, Biddy finds herself attracted to her mistress’s younger brother. In France, she discovers her mistress’s dark secret. At last in Italy, Biddy becomes embroiled in a murderous conspiracy, knowing the secrets she holds could be a key to a better life, or her downfall.

Inspired by eighteenth-century household books of recipes and set at the time of the invention of the first restaurants, An Appetite for Violets is a literary feast for lovers of historical fiction. Martine Bailey's novel opens a window into the fascinating lives of servants, while also delivering a suspenseful tale of obsession and betrayal. -- Thomas Dunne

Don't let the cover of AN APPETITE FOR VIOLETS by Martine Bailey fool you! Initially I thought this book looked like a sweet piece of historical fiction, but upon further review, I think this sounds like one juicy novel. There are secrets, obsessions and betrayals -- I can't wait to read it!

In the meantime, I am so excited that the fine folks at St. Martin's Press are sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of AN APPETITE FOR VIOLETS. To enter, just fill out the form below before February 11th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Guest Review: Busted

Summary: In the vein of Erin Brockovich, The Departed, and T. J. English's Savage City comes Busted, the shocking true story of the biggest police corruption scandal in Philadelphia history, a tale of drugs, power, and abuse involving a rogue narcotics squad, a confidential informant, and two veteran journalists whose reporting drove a full-scale FBI probe, rocked the City of Brotherly Love, and earned a Pulitzer Prize. 

In 2003, Benny Martinez became a Confidential Informant for a member of the Philadelphia Police Department's narcotics squad, helping arrest nearly 200 drug and gun dealers over seven years. But that success masked a dark and dangerous reality: the cops were as corrupt as the criminals they targeted. 

In addition to fabricating busts, the squad systematically looted mom-and-pop stores, terrorizing hardworking immigrant owners. One squad member also sexually assaulted three women during raids. Frightened for his life, Martinez turned to Philadelphia Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker. 

Busted chronicles how these two journalists—both middle-class working mothers—formed an unlikely bond with a convicted street dealer to uncover the secrets of ruthless kingpins and dirty cops. Professionals in an industry shrinking from severe financial cutbacks, Ruderman and Laker had few resources—besides their own grit and tenacity—to break a dangerous, complex story that would expose the rotten underbelly of a modern American city and earn them a Pulitzer Prize. A page-turning thriller based on superb reportage, illustrated with eight pages of photos, Busted is modern true crime at its finest. -- Harper

Booking Pap Pap gently reminded me that I forgot to post his review for BUSTED: A TALE OF CORRUPTION AND BETRAYAL IN THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker. I am so glad he caught my misstep because this book looks terrific. Here are his thoughts!

Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, investigative reporters for the Philadelphia Daily News, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for their series on a corrupt police narcotics squad. BUSTED: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love tells the story of a real newspaper investigation.

The story begins in December, 2008 when Benny Martinez entered the newsroom to talk about his activity as a police informant, a “job” that had recently put his life in danger. Martinez claimed that he worked for narcotics police officer Jeff Cujdik who often asked Martinez to provide fake information in order to get search warrants to raid homes of suspected drug dealers. Ruderman and Laker followed up on the stories Martinez told them and were able to verify the facts sufficiently to write the initial installment of their investigation called “TAINTED JUSTICE”. The reporters learned that the narcotics squad led by Cujdik also raided bodegas where they destroyed security cameras, stole cash and merchandise and intimidated owners and their families. The owners of these small corner stores were mostly immigrants and hesitated to report these actions to the police. The fact that these owners were of different nationalities and told the same story to the reporters, coupled with a recording of one raid, added the credibility necessary to write additional stories.

Ruderman and Laker also discovered that one cop, Officer Tom Tolstoy, was accused by several women of molestation during the raids. As the reporters tracked down leads they were able to publish ten installments to the series over a ten month period. The stories led to an FBI investigation and the transfer of several officers from the street to desk duty. Ruderman and Laker met with much hate mail and threats because people saw the series as a criticism of police work at a time when the city of Philadelphia police was experiencing an all-time high in policemen deaths. The reporters also faced many serious risks on the street as they tracked leads.

BUSTED gives the reader a behind the scenes look at a real newspaper investigation with both humorous and horrible stories. Adding to the drama was the Daily News’ bankruptcy filing with its associated employee and cost cutbacks. The authors also added a human aspect to the book as the reader gets a look at their personal lives and the impact of the investigation on their family and friends.

It’s kind of sad to learn that the FBI investigation led to no criminal charges and it wasn’t until 2014 that the Philadelphia Police Department took action by firing Cujdik and placing three other officers on 30 day suspensions. Tolstoy’s sexual abuse allegations are still under investigation.

If you’re interested in reading about a real old-fashioned newspaper investigation you will enjoy reading BUSTED.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Giveaway: A Very Valentine's Giveaway

Valentine's Day will be here before you know it and I have just the thing to get you "in the mood!" Thanks to the fine folks at Harlequin, I have an amazing Valentine's Giveaway! Just check out these great prizes:

o 1 finished copy of each:
o Limited edition Harlequin notebook
o $25.00 Victoria Secret gift card

To enter, just fill out the form below before February 1st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify a winner the following day. This contest is open to US address entries only (due to gift card). Good luck!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kid Konnection: Everything I Need to Know About Love

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 book that's perfect for Valentine's Day!

Summary: Next in the EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW... series comes a book perfect for your valentine, your family, or YOU. Charming and witty as ever, this new treasury of insights reveals that, for all the love-related mystery and confusion we face as adults, those Little Golden Books may have had the answers all along. -- Random House BFYR

A few months ago, I shared with you a cute book called EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHRISTMAS I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK by Diane Muldrow. I loved how this book reminded me of some of my favorite childhood reads while also offering some wonderful wisdom for dealing with the holidays.

So you can imagine how excited I was to open a package containing EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOVE I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK. This book is adorable and absolutely perfect for Valentine's Day. I think I had a big smile on my face the entire time I read this book. It's funny and full of wisdom, but it also has many precious illustrations from some classic Little Golden Books.

I honestly don't know what I appreciate more about this book -- the advice on love and relationships or the pictures of the classic characters. In EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOVE I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK, you will see favorites including the Tawny Scrawny Lion, the Little Fat Policeman, and the Saggy Baggy Elephant.

I also really love reminiscing about so many books that I loved as a child. In EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOVE I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK, you will find illustrations from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, TOOTLE, THE PAPER DOLL WEDDING, and A DAY AT THE FARM to name just a few. I even discovered books that I had long forgotten like GOOD-BYE, TONSILS. Isn't it sweet that this book allows you to share memories and pictures of your childhood books with your kids?

In addition to the special characters and illustrations, you will also receive plenty of solid advice about love -- both the good and the bad aspects. You will be warned about the "wolves" out there, but you will also be reminded to never forget your friends! I was pleasantly surprised by how many words of wisdom are packed into this cute little book.

One thing I should probably point out is that EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOVE I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK is longer than the traditional Little Golden Books. It's actually 96 pages, so when I say there is a great deal of advice and some great illustrations from classic stories, I'm not kidding!

EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOVE I LEARNED FROM A LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK is a terrific book and would make a wonderful Valentine's gift for someone special in your life. 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, January 22, 2015

Review: House Broken

Summary: In this compelling and poignant debut novel, a woman skilled at caring for animals must learn to mend the broken relationships in her family.…

For veterinarian Geneva Novak, animals can be easier to understand than people. They’re also easier to forgive. But when her mother, Helen, is injured in a vodka-fueled accident, it’s up to Geneva to give her the care she needs.

Since her teens, Geneva has kept her self-destructive mother at arm’s length. Now, with two slippery teenagers of her own at home, the last thing she wants is to add Helen to the mix. But Geneva’s husband convinces her that letting Helen live with them could be her golden chance to repair their relationship.

Geneva isn’t expecting her mother to change anytime soon, but she may finally get answers to the questions she’s been asking for so long. As the truth about her family unfolds, however, Geneva may find secrets too painful to bear and too terrible to forgive. -- NAL Accent

If you are a regular follower of my blog, then you might have noticed that I'm in a bit of a reading slump. Initially, I blamed the holidays, but now that they are long gone, I'm realizing that it's me. I just don't have the time or even the desire some days to sit down and read. It's almost like I can't focus on books or writing right now -- hopefully it's a phase, right?

Anyway... I recently read a book titled HOUSE BROKEN by Sonja Yoerg that I did enjoy quite a bit, and it most definitely wasn't a chore for me! This novel tells the story of Geneva, a mom and veterinarian, that is finally coming to terms with her relationships with her mother and family.

Geneva began distancing herself from Helen, her mother, in her teens when it was apparent that she was not making good decisions about her life; however, after a drunk driving accident injures Helen, Geneva reluctantly decides to take her into her home while she recovers. She was concerned about the effect it would have on her family, especially her two impressionable teens, but her husband convinced her it was the right thing to do. Maybe, just maybe, it was time for Helen and Geneva to "fix" their relationship.

It's no surprise to Geneva that her mother hasn't changed and is still making some very selfish choices. But what Geneva discovers is that her mother has been covering up a lot of horrific family secrets. Geneva is forced to face the truth about her past while also trying to keep her family together.

I thought HOUSE BROKEN was both an intriguing and touching story about one very dysfunctional family... and I do appreciate stories about messed-up families. I was very impressed with Ms. Yoerg's writing, and I was surprised to learn that this is her first novel. She has a unique ability to weave a story that way always interesting, and at the same time, create some well-developed characters. I am looking forward to seeing what's next for this very promising author.

There were quite a few things that I enjoyed about HOUSE BROKEN, but what stood out to me was the way the author revealed the story. It didn't take long for me to start figuring out some of the dirty secrets from Helen's past and Geneva's childhood; however, there was so much more to their story that did catch me off-guard. I loved how complex the story was -- it was almost a mystery of sorts; and I really liked how the author decided to reveal the truth in bits and pieces.

In addition, I loved the characters in this story... and by that, I mean I appreciated how well written they were, not that I necessarily liked them. At first, I thought Helen was a stereotypical "bad" mom and alcoholic; however, I discovered that she was much more complex than I initially thought. I even began to feel bad for her and that was a stretch because I was furious with her for most of the novel.

Likewise, I thought Geneva was a fantastic character. She certainly had her fair share of quirks (many of which I share), but it was understandable why she was the way she was given her upbringing. It was interesting to see how she coped with learning about her past as well as how she was able to move forward with that information. As a mother, I definitely appreciated the portrayal of her relationship with her daughter; and I truly think Ms. Yoerg got the relationship "stuff" in this novel right!

I'm sure you can tell by the book's description that HOUSE BROKEN would make an excellent choice for book clubs. There is a reading guide included in the back of the book, but it does contain spoilers so I don't recommend checking it out until after you've read the story. Some of the themes you might want to explore include alcoholism, marriage, mother/daughter relationships, forgiveness, honestly, trust, abuse, and secrets.

HOUSE BROKEN is a terrific debut novel. It will capture your interest and your heart. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review: Art & Sole

Summary: A Spectacular Selection of More Than 150 Fantasy Art Shoes from the Stuart Weitzman Collection

When Stuart Weitzman opened its first boutique on Madison Avenue, its displays of specially commissioned fantasy shoes quickly became a destination, drawing crowds form all over the world to its magical windows. The best of this carefully curated collection is on display in book form for the first time in this unique gift volume, where these imaginative creations are presented in vivid detail. With its inventive and beautifully crafted footwear in a vast range of materials—from watercolor paper to playing cards, from fresh flowers to frosting—this stunning showcase where fashion and fantasy meet will thrill shoe and art lovers alike. -- Harper Design

I know it seems like we've just finished celebrating the holidays and New Year's, but Valentine's Day will be here before we know it; and I think I've discovered a terrific gift idea for the art and/or shoe lover in your life. It's called ART & SOLE by Jane GershonWeitzman and the photography is by Lucas Zarebinski. The book is absolutely gorgeous and so much fun!

Jane Weitzman is the wife of shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. In ART & SOLE, Ms. Weitzman has presented 150 fantasy art shoes made of some pretty unusual materials like feathers, paper, metal, flowers, and even frosting. These shoes are some of the ones that were commissioned for the windows of the first Stuart Weitzman retail shop on Madison Avenue in the mid 1990s.

I adore shoes so this book is right up my alley. Each page features a very unique "shoe," and one is more gorgeous than the next. It's difficult to pick a favorite because each shoe is special in its own right. I have looked through ART & SOLE a number of times, and I find a new "favorite" each time. Some of the ones that are most memorable for me are the shoe made of playing cards and poker chips, the shoe made of yarn, and the ones representing The Wizard of Oz.

I also appreciated that in the back of the book, there are specifics about the various artists who have created these shoes. I enjoyed learning about their work, and it was even fun to check out a few of their websites.

Not only are the images inside wonderful, but this book cover is special too. It's bound in a lovely red fabric cover with gold text and even has pages with gold edges. The shoe on the front is actually raised too. I just think it's a beautiful book that would look perfect sitting out on a coffee table.

Just take a look at an excerpt from the book to see how amazing these shoes are:

ART & SOLE is a wonderful book for shoe and art lovers alike, so keep it in mind for Valentine's Day gift-giving.

Thanks to Paula Rosado Public Relations for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guest Review: Asylum City

Summary: In this edgy thriller from the #1 international bestselling author of Lineup, which was described by New York Times bestselling author Joseph Finder as "a marvel of tight plotting, spare prose, and relentless pacing," a young police officer's investigation of a murder plunges her into the dark underworld of Tel Aviv.

When young social activist Michal Poleg is found dead in her Tel Aviv apartment, her body showing signs of severe violence, officer Anat Nachmias is given the lead on her first murder investigation. Eager to find answers, the talented and sensitive cop looks to the victim's past for clues, focusing on the last days before her death. Could one of the asylum seekers Michal worked with be behind this crime?

Then a young African man confesses to the murder, and Anat's commanders say the case is closed. But the cop isn't convinced. She believes that Michal, a tiny girl with a gift for irritating people, got involved in something far too big and dangerous for her to handle.

Joined by Michal's clumsy yet charming boss, Anat is pulled deep into a perplexing shadow world where war victims and criminals, angels and demons, idealists and cynics, aid organizations and criminal syndicates intersect. But the truth may be more than Anat can handle, bringing her face to face with an evil she's never before experienced. -- Harper

ASYLUM CITY by Liad Shoham has received some rave reviews so I decided to share it with  my dad. When I read the book's description, it definitely sounded like on he'd enjoy. Here are his thoughts:

Michal Poleg, a passionate young activist volunteer who works to aid the African migrant community in Tel Aviv, learns of information that will adversely impact the migrant community. Before she can inform her director, she is found dead in her apartment by Gabriel Takela, a refugee she’s been helping. Gabriel flees the scene and is quickly apprehended.

Anat Nachmia, Deputy Chief Special Investigations, is assigned the case and quickly antagonizes her superiors when she is reluctant to close the case even after Gabriel confesses. Her problem is that he had no real motive and had little knowledge of the murder scene. As she expands her investigation several suspects arise including a state attorney who prosecutes illegal immigrants and an accountant working for a crime boss who has found a way to take financial advantage of the refugees. Michal, who has a way of rubbing people the wrong way, had filed a charge against the attorney and had tried to expose the illegal lending scheme. Anat finds herself deep into an unfamiliar world where refugees, aid workers, politicians, police and crime syndicates collide. In spite of internal police pressure and the dangerous world she has entered, Anat brings the case to a successful conclusion. 

ASYLUM CITY is classified as a murder mystery and is fast paced with several engaging characters; but it is much more. It is a microcosm of the current world problem of refugees. Israeli author Liad Shoham gives the reader an insight into Israeli society as it deals with its African migrant problem. It gives the reader a glimpse of the plight of the refugees and how they are preyed on by others. The one minor complaint I had with the book was the difficulty in differentiating the like-sounding Jewish names. The name confusion did not detract from the story or the excellent translation into English.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery or is interested in learning more about the African refugee problem in Israel.

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Kid Konnection: Emmanuel's Dream & 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 inspiring picture book that's certainly timely for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Summary: Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah's inspiring true story—which was turned into a film, Emmanuel's Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey—is nothing short of remarkable.

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Thompson's lyrical prose and Qualls's bold collage illustrations offer a powerful celebration of triumphing over adversity.

Includes an author's note with more information about Emmanuel's charity. -- Schwartz & Wade

Every so often, I run across a picture book that is truly spectacular. That's exactly how I felt after reading EMMANUEL'S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls. There is no doubt that this is a beautiful book with an inspiring story. However, that the story is true makes it all the more special in my mind.

EMMANUEL'S DREAM tells the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. He was born in Ghana, West Africa with a deformed leg. Many people felt that Emmanuel would be useless and some even thought he was cursed, but his mother truly believed in her son and encouraged him to never give up. Emmanuel took his mother's wisdom to heart and, as a boy, he hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer and even ride a bike.

At 13 years old, Emmanuel left home to get a job and provide for his family. He continued riding a bike and eventually became a cyclist. In 2001, he rode 400 miles across Ghana and proved to everyone that a disability won't stop him... or others. Today, Emmanuel continues to share his powerful message.

EMMANUEL'S DREAM is a wonderful book that should be in every elementary school library! I loved the inspiring story of Emmanuel and it definitely warmed my heart... while also making me shed a tear or two. Not only was the story amazing, but the illustrations were gorgeous. Sean Qualls is an acclaimed illustrator and has received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award.

I guess I've been living under a rock, but reading EMMANUEL'S DREAM was the first time I had ever heard of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. His story was made into a film called Emmanuel's Gift which was narrated by Oprah Winfrey, and Emmanuel is a national hero in Ghana. It's no wonder because his story is truly incredible.

Included in the back of the book is an author's note which goes into more detail about Emmanuel's accomplishments. His political activism encouraged the Ghanaian Parliament to pass the Persons with Disability Act and he also maintains a scholarship fund to help children with disabilities attend school. What an amazing man!

I would love to see more books like EMMANUEL'S DREAM presented in our schools. Fortunately, there is a CCSS-aligned curriculum guide which is available here that can help teacher's present this story to their students.

EMMANUEL'S DREAM is a very special book and I truly can't rave enough about it. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this book.

Follow all the stops on Laurie’s blog tour!

Mon, Jan 12 Great Kid Books
Tues, Jan 13 5 Minutes for Books
Wed, Jan 14 Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Jan 15 Sharpread
Fri, Jan 16 Cracking the Cover
Mon, Jan 19 Once Upon a Story
Tues, Jan 20 Proseandkahn
Wed, Jan 21 Geo Librarian
Thurs, Jan 22 Nonfiction Detectives
Fri, Jan 23 The Fourth Musketeer AND Kirby’s Lane
Mon, Jan 26 NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Jan 27 Teach Mentor Texts

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of EMMANUEL'S DREAM to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before January 30th 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, January 15, 2015

Review: Fahrenheit 451 (Audio)

Summary: Ray Bradbury's internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of 20th-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future, narrated here by Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins.

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television "family". But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life. -- Audible

Last year, my daughter read FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury, and she couldn't believe I had never read it. Come to think of it, it is a bit surprising. She actually liked the book -- didn't love it -- but did like it, and she encouraged me to read it. Well, you know the story. Too many books, too little time.

So a few months ago, I was contacted by Audible about their newly released version of FAHRENHEIT 451 read by Tim Robbins. I figured it was a sign that it was high-time for me to read this dystopian classic. And I did really appreciate it! I think the book is, of course, so profound; and the audio version narrated by Mr. Robbins was amazing. His voice brought an interesting element to this story and he definitely set the right tone with his narration.

I probably don't need to summarize FAHRENHEIT 451 for most of you, but just in case... FAHRENHEIT 451 tells the story of a future that's definitely not bright. Books are pretty much nonexistent and television is huge (a pretty scary thought for us book lovers but not exactly too hard to imagine, right?) Guy Montag is a fireman, and in this world, firemen don't fight fires. Rather they set fires if they find literature or other items that are illegal.

Like many others, Montag just accepts his life and all of the rules until he meets Clarisse, a young girl who starts to make him think. She describes a time when there weren't so many rules, when people were allowed to think for themselves, and when there were books! Montag begins to actually question what he has taken for granted, and he begins stealing books and hiding them in his home. When his crime is discovered, Montag is forced to flee his home and try to escape from his punishment.

I really enjoyed FAHRENHEIT 451 and I definitely see why it's considered a classic. This novel was interesting and eventually exciting; however, it was how this book resonated with me that made it such a special read. Unfortunately, the future described in this book is horribly bleak and not entirely out of the realm of possibility. And that scared the heck out of me! Just imagine a world with no literature and one where our world revolves around television!

I also loved how this book made me think about creative thinking and complacency. Seeing how Montag began to examine his world and the things he took for granted was very enlightening. It actually  made me think about my life and my children's lives. I can certainly see why this book is mandatory for so many high school curriculums.

I can't rave enough about Tim Robbins' narration. He captured the essence of this novel perfectly. I can't take credit for this, but one review mentioned how well he used quiet and silence. I couldn't put my finger on it, but that's exactly right! This aspect of his storytelling made this book even more thought-provoking and intriguing.

Whether you've read FAHRENHEIT 451 or not, I highly recommend checking out this newly released book on audio.

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train

Summary: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut. -- Riverhead

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins is out today, and I suspect it's going to be a huge hit. I just finished this novel on Sunday night and I couldn't wait to share my thoughts with you. This book is fantastic! It's intriguing, suspenseful, and most definitely played with my mind -- talk about an unreliable narrator. Even though it's only January 13th, I know this book will be one of my favorite reads for 2015!

If you are a frequent follower of my blog, then you might remember that I'm kind of burned out on unreliable narrators. I loved the concept in GONE GIRL, but it's seemed like far too many novels have tried to capitalize on it in recent years. I've even gone so far as to say that I feel almost manipulated with unreliable narrators. However, after reading THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, I can say say that if an unreliable narrator is done well, it's a wonderful thing!

In THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, Rachel is an unreliable narrator and I mean that in the very best way possible. She rides a commuter train every day, despite losing her job a few months ago because of one too many drinks at a business lunch meeting; and she has created a story around one house she sees. Rachel has named the couple Jason and Jess, and she has imagined a life for them that includes everything she desires... everything she thinks she's lost since her divorce.

Strangely enough and probably a bit of a torture for her, Rachel also passes her old home (just a few doors down from Jess and Jason's house) in which her ex-husband and his new wife and baby now live. Truth be told, Rachel is a bit of a mess (or rather a HUGE mess.) She has no job, continues to drink way too much, and calls her ex at all hours of the night. Her ex's new wife is less than thrilled with Rachel's behavior, and she's very near her breaking point!

One day, Rachel sees "Jess" kissing another man, and Rachel's image of their perfect life is shattered. When she discovers that Jess, really Megan, has mysteriously disappeared, she feels obligated to report what she's seen. She calls the police and then tries situate herself into "Jason's/Scott's" life. There is no way Scott could have killed his wife -- she "knows" him. Rachel becomes very involved in helping Scott, probably too involved; and she finds right smack dab in the middle of the mystery surrounding what's happened to Megan.

Wow! Just wow! This book sure is something I've been in a bit of a reading slump and this book definitely hit the spot. I honestly couldn't put it down and that's really saying something given my current reading patterns. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is exactly the type of thriller I love -- smart, complicated, and even a bit twisted. I truly didn't know what to think.

And that is mainly a testament to Ms. Hawkins' writing style. She managed to write an intriguing thriller with a most memorable narrator. In fact, Rachel just might be the most unreliable narrator I've ever encountered in my reading, and I couldn't get a grasp on her. I didn't find her likable one bit and I even found myself getting mad at her for a number of reasons -- her abuse of alcohol, her self-pity, her nosiness, her lies and even her lack of judgment. However, in a strange way, I wanted her to be good and her intentions to be honest. I guess you could say I was rooting for her... kind of.

As far as mysteries go, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN had a good one. I was blindsided a few times and the ending sure did pack a powerful punch. I honestly can't get over how well written this novel was. The storyline was terrific, but so many things could have gone wrong in the execution of the story and characters. I'm so happy to say that Ms. Hawkins did everything right -- this novel is a winner!

I discovered that the book has already been optioned for film by Dreamworks, and I'm so not surprised! I can only imagine how it will translate to the big screen! I'm sure it will take years, but I'm anxiously awaiting the movie. In the meantime, I just hope Ms. Hawkins is busy at work with another thriller!

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: To Dwell in Darkness

Summary: In the tradition of Elizabeth George, Louise Penny, and P. D. James, New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie delivers a powerful tale of intrigue, betrayal, and lies that will plunge married London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James into the unspeakable darkness that lies at the heart of murder.

Recently transferred to the London borough of Camden from Scotland Yard headquarters, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his new murder investigation team are called to a deadly bombing at historic St. Pancras Station. By fortunate coincidence, Melody Talbot, Gemma's trusted colleague, witnesses the explosion. The victim was taking part in an organized protest, yet the other group members swear the young man only meant to set off a smoke bomb. As Kincaid begins to gather the facts, he finds every piece of the puzzle yields an unexpected pattern, including the disappearance of a mysterious bystander.

The bombing isn't the only mystery troubling Kincaid. He's still questioning the reasons behind his transfer, and when his former boss—who's been avoiding him—is attacked, those suspicions deepen. With the help of his former sergeant, Doug Cullen, Melody Talbot, and Gemma, Kincaid begins to untangle the truth. But what he discovers will leave him questioning his belief in the job that has shaped his life and his values—and remind him just how vulnerable his precious family is. -- William Morrow

Unfortunately, I was very late to the game with the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels by Deborah Crombie. I discovered these books in audio, and I loved the characters and the complexity of the mysteries. I also love the historical tidbits that are thrown in about the various settings in the story. I was lucky enough to read the latest installment in the series TO DWELL IN DARKNESS in print, and I have to say that I enjoyed this novel too. Frankly, I just think I'm a fan of this series in any form!

TO DWELL IN DARKNESS focuses on a bombing that occurs at the St. Pancras Station... so of course, Ms. Crombie includes lots of historical details about the station which just adds to the story. Duncan Kincaid is assigned to the case; and fortunately, Melody Talbot, Gemma's friend and colleague just happened to be there for the explosion. The bomber, who also ended up being the victim, appeared to be part of an organized protest; however, the other members of the protest swear that it was only supposed to be a smoke bomb.

Duncan begins to delve into the bombing and he discovers that there are many unanswered questions about the members of the group including who gave the victim the bomb as well as what happened to one of the members who has mysteriously disappeared. With the help of Melody and his trustworthy friend Doug, Duncan begins to figure out the truth behind this shocking and twisted mystery.

I just love Ms. Crombie's novels and I sure wish I had started this series at the beginning! (I know I could go back and catch up, but it seems unlikely at this time in my life.) I absolutely love Duncan and Gemma... and their friends, and I also love the way the author weaves her mysteries. These books are just so good!

In TO DWELL IN DARKNESS, Duncan has the lead with Gemma taking more of a backseat. She's definitely holding down the fort at home and there is even some mention of a case she's working on; however, this novel is definitely more focused on Duncan and his career. (Truthfully, I kind of wish Gemma's case took a slightly more prominent role in this story.) In addition to trying to solve a complicated crime, Duncan is still coming to terms with his new assignment as well as the politics in the police department. I truly appreciate how these novels are a wonderful blend of both Duncan and Gemma's cases and their personal lives.

The mystery in TO DWELL IN DARKNESS is pretty darn intriguing and I was definitely kept guessing for much of the book. There were quite a few twists that threw Duncan (and me) for a loop, and I was impressed with how the clues unfolded and were eventually revealed. The ending of this book packs a powerful punch and I'm still scratching my head -- I honestly didn't see it coming. I should also add that the ending is quite the cliffhanger, and I'm know desperate for the next book. So be warned: don't read TO DWELL IN DARKNESS if you don't want to read the next book or don't like to wait!

I am a serious fan of Ms. Crombie's and TO DWELL IN DARKNESS didn't disappoint. I recommend this novel, and the entire series for that matter, to fans of mysteries!

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

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

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kid Konnection: When Otis Courted Mama & 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 terrific  picture book by a two time National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor winning author.

Summary: Apart from sticker burrs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful. He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy. They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay—Cardell is mostly used to it. Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a grrr form in his throat. Otis can’t make jalapeño flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy. And so Cardell waits for Mama to say "Adiós, Otis." But what will happen if she doesn’t? -Houghton Mifflin Court

WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jill McElmurry is adorable and a wonderful picture book to help kids deal with a potentially difficult situation... having so share your a new step-parent.

Cardell is an adorable coyote whose life is pretty good. He has a good mom and a good dad, but they live in different parts of the dessert. Cardell is fine with that because he's used to spending time with both of them. However, when Otis comes to court his mama, Cardell isn't too thrilled and even feels a grrr form in his throat. Cardell's mom has dated a few other coyotes and always found a reason to kick them to the curb, so Cardell is confident that she will part ways with Otis sooner rather than later. But that's not the case....

In addition to courting Cardell's mom, Otis has also tried to show Cardell that he's a good coyote. He can't cook or play like Cardell's dad, but he can tell seem pretty fantastic stories. Eventually, Otis wins over Cardell and his mom!

I thought WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA was positively adorable. Not only did the book have a wonderful message for kids, but it was also entertaining and had beautiful illustrations. This picture book aimed at kids four to eight has the perfect blend of humor and insight; and it's no wonder that WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA has already received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

I also appreciate that there are both fun and educational materials that complement WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA. There is a free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guide as well as a full-color door hanger and other fun downloadables. Check out Ms. Appelt's website at

In addition, there is this adorable trailer which shows how sweet this book is:

Follow sweet Cardell on all of the tour stops!

Mon, Jan 5                5 Minutes for Books
Tues, Jan 6                Cracking the Cover
Wed, Jan 7                Sharpread
Thurs, Jan 8              Unleashing Readers
Fri, Jan 9                   Once Upon a Story
Mon, Jan 12              Geo Librarian
Tues, Jan 13              The Late Bloomer's Book Blog AND NC Teacher Stuff
Wed, Jan 14              Teach Mentor Texts
Thurs, Jan 15            Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Jan 16                 The Fourth Musketeer

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before January 24th 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, January 8, 2015

Review: The Rosie Effect

Summary: The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Rosie Project, starring the same extraordinary couple now living in New York and unexpectedly expecting their first child. Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are back. The Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge because— surprise!—Rosie is pregnant.

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

As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia to reconcile, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business, and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him the most.

Graeme Simsion first introduced these unforgettable characters in The Rosie Project, which NPR called “sparkling entertainment along the lines of Where’d You Go Bernadette and When Harry Met Sally.” The San Francisco Chronicle said, “sometimes you just need a smart love story that will make anyone, man or woman, laugh out loud.” If you were swept away by the book that’s captivated a million readers worldwide, you will love The Rosie Effect. -Simon & Schuster

I still remember when I learned that Graeme Simsion was writing a sequel to THE ROSIE PROJECT -- I was absolutely thrilled! Like many readers, I fell in love a little with Don and Rosie and their incredibly entertaining romance. In fact, THE ROSIE PROJECT was one of my favorite books of 2013. (You can read my review here.) I laughed so much at Don, but he also touched me heart. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to see what was next in store for Don and Rosie's relationship.

Well, THE ROSIE EFFECT is that book! It tells the next phase of Don and Rosie's lives, and I am 100% sure that fans of THE ROSIE PROJECT will love this book too. In THE ROSIE EFFECT, Don and Rosie have moved to New York, and (surprise, surprise!) Rosie finds herself pregnant. Don isn't quite sure what to make about the pregnancy, Rosie's new behaviors, and his ability to be a good dad.

So what does Don do? He decides to research the subject like only Don can research. I don't want to give too much away, but I almost peed my pants when Don began his investigation. Suffice it to say, Don becomes a bit overwhelmed with becoming a father as well as a few other interesting tasks he takes on, and his odder than normal behavior begins to threaten his and Rosie's relationship.

I adored THE ROSIE EFFECT, and of course, Don! In this novel, readers will experience the same dry sense of humor mixed with a beautiful love story; and it's just a wonderfully entertaining read. Personally, I was glad to see that Don was still Don -- you know what I mean, and I loved how desperate he was to make things right for Rosie... despite his awkward ways. It was just plain fun to read about these two and wonder if their love could endure.

Don managed to get himself into quite a few messes in this novel. As a result, he began keeping secrets from Rosie. Not because he was being mean-spirited. Rather because he wanted to protect her... and himself a little. I couldn't stop laughing at how Don saw his predicaments, knowing that his wife wouldn't see them the same way. I admit there were quite a few times when I was worried that Don might not be able to recover. Fortunately, I should know that Don is nothing if not determined!

THE ROSIE EFFECT would make a cute book club selection. Despite being a romantic comedy, there are quite a few topics worth discussing. There is a reading guide with sixteen questions and some ideas for enhancing your discussion. Some of the themes you might want to talk about include control, organization, sacrifice, secrets, relationships, marriage, friendships, parenting, and of course love.

Overall, I highly recommend THE ROSIE EFFECT! I sure hope Mr. Simsion is busy at work with his next installment of Don and Rosie's lives!

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: We Are Not Ourselves

Summary: Destined to be a classic, this “powerfully moving” (Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding), multigenerational debut novel of an Irish-American family is nothing short of a “masterwork” (Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End).

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.

When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.

Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.

Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.

Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction. -- Simon & Schuster

I realize that I missed the boat with an end of the year "Best of 2014" list, but there is one particular book that really stood out to me. It's hard for me to definitely say that one book was my very favorite of the year, but if I were forced to choose, I'm pretty sure I'd say that book is WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas. This book was incredible!

And because this book was so amazing on so many levels, I've been procrastinating writing a review. I just don't think I can do justice to this book. It was beautifully written and I couldn't stop reading it... although I didn't want it to end either; and I was both touched and challenged as a reader. This book encompassed everything I want an epic novel to be; and quite frankly, it blew me away!

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES tells the story of Eileen and Ed Leary. Eileen was raised by Irish immigrant parents, and their house was full of both heartache and laughter. She married Ed, a scientist who was both kind and practical. Eileen hopes that Ed can increase her social status; however, Ed doesn't have the same drive to live in that world.

Through the years, Eileen pushes Ed to aspire to more, but he's content with his house, family, and job. One day, Ed becomes more reluctant and it's apparent to Eileen that something is terribly wrong. Eileen and their son try to keep the family together and protect Ed, but even the best intentions ares futile in this situation.

I am well aware that my brief description doesn't even begin to detail the events of this novel, but I knew nothing going into this story; and I believe it's best not to know too much about the Leary family. Suffice it to say, that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES delves into many of the same situations that family's face each and every day as well as a few that we can only hope never happen. This 600+ page book takes readers through the ups and downs of Eileen and Ed's relationship and gave me some powerful things to think about including living, dying, love, and grief.

On a larger scale, WE ARE NOT OURSELVES explores middle class family values in the 20th century, and I am pretty sure it will resonate with every reader who wisely picks up this book. I could relate to the immigrant experience that my grandparents had, as well as the aspirations of Eileen. Unfortunately, I could also relate to what eventually happens to Ed.

I would love to go into specifics about how much this novel affected me and broke my heart, but I'm afraid I'd spoil it for others. I cried over and over again as I read this book and it was apparent to me that Mr. Thomas is either one incredibly gifted writer or someone who has experienced similar pain. (I'm pretty certain it's both!) The pain and rawness of this novel is so real and so well done that I actually can say with confidence that I consider this novel a masterpiece, and that it will have a special place on my bookshelf. In fact, I know I will read this book again someday... and I don't say that very often!

It's is incredible to me that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES is Matthew Thomas' first novel. It is epic and he accomplished so much in it. I really think it might become a classic. No pressure, but I have no idea how he's going to top it! He truly has a way with words and I can't say enough about beautiful of a storyteller he is.

This isn't going to be a surprise, but WE ARE NOT OURSELVES should be a must-read for every book club. I actually think it is a must-read for everyone but that might be going a little too far. There is a reading guide available with fifteen discussion questions and some ideas for ways to enhance your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, loss, marriage, parenting, control, the role of women, appearances, fear, coping, and love.

I realize I've gushed about WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, but this novel is truly "gush-worthy." Highly recommended!

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Guest Review: I Am Pilgrim

Summary: A breakneck race against time…and an implacable enemy.

An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid.

A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square.

A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard.

Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan.

A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity.

One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey.

Pilgrim. -- Atria/Emily Bestler

I have heard so many wonderful things about I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes. I knew I wanted to read it and feature it on Mystery Mondays, so I checked it out of the library when the hardcover came out. Unfortunately, I never got around to reading it before it was due! Fortunately, I was pitched the trade paperback version of the novel and my father did have the time. Here are his thoughts:

When I first looked at I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes I was intimidated by the more than 600 pages of small print. However it didn’t take more than reading a few pages to realize this was a terrific thriller.

It begins with a murder of a woman in a trashy New York hotel where all identifying features have been erased by acid. NYPD Homicide Lieutenant Ben Bradley calls in a retired member of one of the most secret US intelligent agencies because he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation – a book that apparently was read by the killer. Ironically it was the same book that allowed Bradley to track this agent down despite his constant changing of identities.

At this point the author uses flashbacks to tell the story of the agent’s outstanding career from his life as an adopted son of wealthy parents, his necessary killing of his boss in Russia to his entanglement with a powerful Greek gang.

As our agent is working the homicide case in New York the book cuts away to Saudi Arabia where a teenage boy watches his father being beheaded in a public square in Jeddah. The boy later becomes the terrorist known as Saracen who is determined to wage war on America. Over several decades, Saracen wanders from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to Afghanistan to Germany to Turkey. Along the way, with the destruction of America always on his mind, he fights the Soviets, becomes a doctor, leaves a notorious biotech expert to die in a junk yard and infects three foreigners with a lethal dose of small pox and watches them die in agony.

Once the United States learns of the small pox deaths, the retired agent is called back to duty to track down Saracen before he can inflict his dangerous virus on the United States. Using the murder of a wealthy American as an excuse to travel to Turkey, the agent now using the code name “Pilgrim” begins his investigation. From this point it becomes clear that the story is headed to a showdown between the radical jihadist and the seasoned American secret agent.

The author utilizes several interesting subplots, a significant amount of death and destruction and nonstop suspense to hold the readers’ interest. Another effective technique is the use of “Pilgrim” as the story narrator. Even though the author neatly pulls together all the subplots including the New York murder and the murder of the wealthy American in Turkey at the end, he left enough loose threads for a sequel. Since author Terry Hayes is a producer and writer of several movies, it is not a surprise that he is working on an adaption for the big screen.

I AM PILGRIM is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time and I recommend it to all who enjoy this genre.

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

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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Kid Konnection: Cute Board Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you two cute board books by two of my very favorite children's book authors.

Summary: Learn colors with New York Times bestselling odd couple Duck & Goose! Duck & Goose introduce basic colors in this sturdy board book, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. Here's another concept book starring our favorite feathered friends. -- Schwartz & Wade

Duck and Goose are back in DUCK & GOOSE COLORS! by Tad Hills. In this delightful board book, Duck and Goose teach toddlers their colors. Fans of Duck and Goose will appreciate that these two adorable characters have returned in yet another cute installment of this series, and new fans will definitely fall in love with these sweet and fun animals.

The illustrations in DUCK AND GOOSE COLORS! are too sweet. They are simple but very fun to look at, and the text on each page is perfect for even the most active of toddlers. As my kids were growing up, we have a lot of books in our house that teach the main colors but none as cute as this one!

Summary: You’ve got front-row seats to the cutest revue in town—hop on down to The Bunny Rabbit Show! The latest addition to Sandra Boynton’s phenomenal bestselling Boynton on Board series, this book stars a cast of high-kicking bunnies performing in perfect unison to a lively song all about . . . them.

We are ten terrific rabbits
And we like to dance and sing.
Ten terrific rabbits.
We can do most anything.

Bunnies are very welcoming, so everyone (Boynton’s pigs, sheep, chickens, and YOU) can come join the chorus line—bunny ears mandatory, of course. Available for download will be an exuberant original song by Sandra Boynton and Mike Ford. -- Workman

At last year's BEA, I couldn't help but watch some Workman employees don bunny ears and break out in dance to this song! Naturally, a bunch of adults wearing bunny ears caught quite a few eyes; and it was a great way to promote Sandra Boynton's new book THE BUNNY RABBIT SHOW!

THE BUNNY RABBIT SHOW is another very cute board book that's guaranteed to make readers giggle. The book illustrates the song I linked to above, and it's terrific fun. I have been a huge fan of Ms. Boynton's for over 30 years and I absolutely love her books and music. THE BUNNY RABBIT SHOW is another winner for little ones... especially if played in concert with the song.

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

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