Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Giveaway: The Longest Ride Film Release

Summary: Based on the bestselling novel by master storyteller Nicholas Sparks, THE LONGEST RIDE centers on the star-crossed love affair between Luke, a former champion bull rider looking to make a comeback, and Sophia, a college student who is about to embark upon her dream job in New York City’s art world. As conflicting paths and ideals test their relationship, Sophia and Luke make an unexpected connection with Ira, whose memories of his own decades-long romance with his beloved wife deeply inspire the young couple. Spanning generations and two intertwining love stories, THE LONGEST RIDE explores the challenges and infinite rewards of enduring love. 

Starring: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, and Alan Alda
Directed by: George Tillman, Jr.

In Theaters April 10, 2015

I know many of you loved THE LONGEST RIDE by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks. This love story between a former bull rider and a young woman embarking on an art career in New York City captured many readers' hearts, and now it's been turned into a movie. I have a feeling that fans of the book are going to flock to this film and that it's going to be a big hit. The weather around here is finally beginning to look like spring and what's better than a love story (or love stories) to kick off the season!

Check out this trailer:

Thanks to the fine folks at 20th Century Fox, I have a fantastic The Longest Ride Film Release Prize Pack!

One (1) winner receives:
·         $25 Visa gift card to see the film in theaters
·         Tote Bag
·         Copy of the book (movie tie-in book cover)

To enter, just fill out the form below before April 13th 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!

Official Websites
Like The Longest Ride on Facebook
Follow on Twitter,  Google+Instagram
Subscribe on YouTube
Visit the Official Website

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Cold Cold Heart

Summary: Dana Nolan was a promising young TV reporter until a notorious serial killer tried to add her to his list of victims. Nearly a year has passed since surviving her ordeal, but the physical, emotional, and psychological scars run deep. Struggling with the torment of post-traumatic stress syndrome, plagued by flashbacks and nightmares as dark as the heart of a killer, Dana returns to her hometown in an attempt to begin to put her life back together. But home doesn’t provide the comfort she expects.

Dana’s harrowing story and her return to small town life have rekindled police and media interest in the unsolved case of her childhood best friend, Casey Grant, who disappeared without a trace the summer after their graduation from high school. Terrified of truths long-buried, Dana reluctantly begins to look back at her past. Viewed through the dark filter of PTSD, old friends and loved ones become suspects and enemies. Questioning everything she knows, refusing to be defined by the traumas of her past and struggling against excruciating odds, Dana seeks out a truth that may prove too terrible to be believed… -- Dutton

Recently, I've been in a bit of a reading slump; however, I've found that psychological thrillers seem to be doing the trick. I've always been drawn to mysteries (hence Mystery  Mondays), but I am really appreciated "smart" mysteries especially if they deal with the human psyche.  COLD COLD HEART by Tami Hoag definitely worked for me on all levels!

COLD COLD HEART tells the story of Dana Nolan, a television reporter who was kidnapped by a serial killer. Fortunately, Dana was able to survive his brutal attacks and eventually escape; however, a year later, she's still trying to recover from the traumatic experience. She has returned home to live with her mother and stepfather, and she's doing her best to handle post-traumatic stress syndrome. Not only is she experiencing flashbacks and nightmares from her time with the serial killer, but she's also trying to deal with the memories from the loss of her childhood best friend Casey Grant. Casey went missing right after graduation, and Dana begins to wonder if the very same serial killer was responsible for Dana's disappearance. Coincidence or not?

As Dana tries to put the pieces of her life together, she begins to reexamine her teenage years. Her memory isn't exactly sharp considering everything she's been through; and as a result, she begins to wonder about the roles of her family and friends in Dana's disappearance. She begins her own investigation into Dana's last few days but has many setbacks as her brain struggles to make sense of the present and the past. Can Dana uncover the truth about the mystery of Casey while also keeping everything together in her life?

COLD COLD HEART was a strong literary thriller that I enjoyed quite a bit. It pretty much encompassed everything I've come to appreciate about a Tami Hoag novel. The characters were complex, the mystery was intriguing, and the conclusion was satisfying. Overall, it was an outstanding read.

I should probably mention that COLD COLD HEART was a bit long for me, coming in at almost 450 pages. The beginning of the novel was a little slow for me; however, it quickly ratcheted up and was quite the ride. The first 100 pages or so of the novel were more like an exploration of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the effects it has on a person's brain, which were definitely interesting in their own right. But personally, I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the story where the author combined Dana's investigation with the recovery (and misfires) of her brain.

One very special thing about COLD COLD HEART was how well Ms. Hoag portrayed a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome. It was apparent that she researched the heck out of these subjects and then was able to incorporate them into the characters in this novel. There is no doubt that the brain in an amazing part of our bodies, and the way it recovers (and doesn't recover) is fascinating.

Another really strong aspect of COLD COLD HEART were the characters. Naturally, Dana was an intriguing person, but so were some of the supporting cast like her stepfather/politician and his campaign manager, her mother, her ex-boyfriend turned town cop, and more. I especially appreciated how dark some of the characters were... especially the retired cop who initially investigated Casey's disappearance. This interesting mix of characters definitely added to the flavor of the story, but they also incorporated quite a bit of suspects into the picture.

Finally, I enjoyed the mysteries in this novel. While the conclusion was most definitely satisfying, the author took me on quite the ride to get there. There were numerous twists and turns, and quite honestly, I wasn't sure who I could trust. Because Dana was still recovering from her traumatic past, he thought processes weren't exactly reliable; and this angle of the story made it even more interesting.

COLD COLD HEART was a thought-provoking novel, not only because it was a complex mystery but also because it delved into the way a damaged brain works. I was happy to discover that there is a reading guide available with 15 questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include post-traumatic stress syndrome, brain damage, memory, guilt, victims, instincts, father/child dynamics, friendship, betrayal, trust, and recovery.

COLD COLD HEART is a smart psychological thriller. Highly recommended!

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, March 28, 2015

Kid Konnection: Counting Crows

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 very cute picture book by an awarding winning author who is no stranger to this blog!

Summary: Help hungry crows avoid a feline foe in this clever concept book from the author of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and The Underneath.

One, two, three, crows in a tree, bedecked in red scarves and hungry as can be. So they fly out of their nest with snacking in mind, and snack they do. Snack one, snack two, snack three—all the way to a dozen! But before they have time to complain about bellyaches, they have a bigger problem: a cat has been eyeing them… as potential snacks! Can these well-fed crows become well-FLED crows? Read and find out in this counting book from Newbery Finalist and two-time National Book Award Nominee Kathi Appelt, with spot-on illustrations from Rob Dunlavey. It’s the cat’s meow! -- Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Children's author Kathi Appelt, Newbery Finalist and two-timid National Book Award Nominee, has done it again. This time it's with an adorable picture book called COUNTING CROWS which has already received three starred reviews!

COUNTING CROWS is a very smart concept book and a fun way to learn to count. The book begins with three crows who are very hungry (and boy do I mean hungry.) They decide to leave their nest to find some snacks and eat just about everything in site from three roly-poly bugs, to to six salty peanuts, to a dozen slimy snails. After eating a lot and feeling rather full, these crows see a cat just waiting for them! Can they escape from the cat as easily as they devoured their snacks?

This picture book is positively adorable. I loved the fun way it teaches little ones to count, with both repetition and short phrases. The book is short enough to keep kids' attention while also providing enough silliness to keep them entertained. There's even a little suspense when the cat appears in the story. It really is a wonderful picture book for preschoolers!

As cute as the story is, the illustrations are even cuter! COUNTING CROWS is illustrated by Rob Dunlavey and I absolutely loved his black and white... and red drawings of these little crows. They are just precious and totally fit with the whimsical tone of the story. I am almost positive that little ones will adore these silly characters, especially given that they are portrayed in such a fun way.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are activity sheets associated with COUNTING CROWS. These activity sheets are perfect for youngsters and will enhance their enjoyment of the story. There is a matching worksheet along with a maze, and there is even one of those "spot the differences" pictures.

COUNTING CROWS is another winner by an already accomplished children's author! Highly recommended.

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

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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook

Summary: The Mystery Writers of America have joined forces to deliver this superb collection of more than 100 wickedly good recipes.

From Mary Higgins Clark’s Game Night Chili and Harlan Coben’s Crab Meat Dip to Scott Turow’s Innocent Frittata and Kathy Reich’s Shrimp Scampi, this cookbook offers one tasty treat after another.

Complete with a glamorous art-deco design and intriguing sidebars on the surprising—and sometimes deadly—links between food and foul play, this is the ultimate cookbook for crime aficionados. -- Quirk

As many of you know, I love mysteries! So much so that I try to feature a different one every Monday. I also love cookbooks and trying new recipes... even though I haven't exactly been writing many reviews for them lately.  THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: WICKEDLY GOOD RECIPES FROM LEE CHILD, MARY HIGGINS CLARK, HARLAN COBEN, NELSON DEMILLE, GILLIAN FLYNN, SUE GRAFTON, CHARLAINE HARRIS, JAMES PATTERSON, LOUISE PENNY, SCOTT TUROW AND OTHER ACCLAIMED PLOT STIRRERS is a newly released cookbook that is ideal for mystery and food lovers like me. I'm sure many of you will feel the same way!

The Mystery Writers of America is the "premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime-writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those devoted to the genre." They also have one of my favorite booths at BEA each year. Over the past few years, I've met so many incredible authors and received so many wonderful mysteries and thrillers. If you attend BEA, you have to stop by. You can meet up to four authors at any given time!

But back to the cookbook.... THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK is absolutely gorgeous. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but this cookbook is almost too pretty to use -- it looks like a coffee table book with the textured cover and gold text. And that's only the beginning! The inside of the book is a stunning too with full color photographs of the recipes.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many mystery authors contributed to this book. First of all, one of my favorites, Kate White, edited the book. (She has a new book coming up which I will be reviewing shortly!) In addition, there are over 100 recipes submitted by so many great writers -- all of them are listed alphabetically in the front of the book.  I don't know about you, but I always appreciate recipe compilations because each person submits their very favorite or most special recipe. It's like a "best of" cookbook! I also enjoyed reading the various mystery writers bios -- I even found a new author or two to try!

I don't want to make it sound like I wasn't expecting much of this cookbook because I was told it's a beauty; however, the recipes are amazing! The very first recipe is from Alafair Burke for Ellie Hatcher's Run-Soaked Nutella French Toast -- the very first one! As soon as I started reading this book, I knew I was in for a treat. Most of the recipes have tie-ins to the author's books or famous characters too, so it's a fun read for fans. I especially got a kick out of Sue Grafton's submission for Kinsey Millhone's Famous Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich.

The cookbook is divided into the following sections -- Breakfast, Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Entrees, Side Dishes, Desserts, and Drinks -- much like a regular cookbook. I wondered if THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK would be a little too gimmicky, but it's so well done -- far from gimmicky. It has some amazing recipes and I honestly think it's a great cookbook with recipes that I can make on a regular basis... that just happen to be submitted by famous mystery writers!

THE MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK is a great gift for mystery and/or cookbook lovers. Highly recommended!

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: The Boston Girl

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.

Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.

Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world. -- Scribner

Ever since I read THE RED TENT, I have been interested in anything and everything Anita Diamant writes. Her latest novel THE BOSTON GIRL and it tells the story of a Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

The story begins when an 85 year old Addie Baum is asked by her 22 year old granddaughter, "How did you get to be the woman you are today?" Addie begins with describes her youth where she lived in Boston's North End, a multicultural neighborhood, with her immigrant parents and two sisters. She explains that she always wanted to be a "real" American and she was drawn to a world where women had opportunities outside of being homemakers and mothers. Addie wants to not only finish high school, but attend college; and she also wants to find the man of her dreams. Needless to say, she didn't feel as if her parents really understood her.

Addie continues her story throughout her young adult life as she joins a reading club at her local library, attends a summer camp for young women, and gets a secretarial job and then a writing gig at a newspaper. In addition, she shares with her granddaughter the special relationships she formed along the way.

I enjoyed THE BOSTON GIRL and found it interesting to follow Addie's story about growing up in the 20th century in Boston. I thought Addie was a terrific character and I truly rooted for her to find success and happiness. I also appreciated how Ms. Diamant incorporated so much of 20th century history into the book through Addie's story. There were some fascinating details about wars, the flu epidemic and more.

As I reflect on THE BOSTON GIRL, I did enjoy the novel quite a bit, but it wasn't exactly a book I couldn't put down. Addie's story was interesting, but it was almost too real... if that makes sense. As I read this novel, I often times had to remind myself that this book was fiction. Addie's story was heartwarming, but it wasn't exactly full of jaw-dropping scenes.

Having said that, I do think Addie's story is an important one. It's hard to believe how much woman and their roles have changed during that past century, and I thought Addie was a wonderful example to demonstrate this theme. I definitely appreciate how this novel gives today's reader an idea of how our grandmothers and great grandmothers (and all the women who lived before us) paved the way for us to be whatever we want to be -- whether it be career women, mothers, stay-at-home moms, etc. And Addie's story proved that it wasn't always easy to be "different" -- a valuable lesson for individuals of all ages.

THE BOSTON GIRL would make a wonderful book club selection. I think it would be interesting for everyone to share some stories about their female ancestors. In addition, there is a reading guide available with twelve questions along with some ideas to enhance your book club meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include parent/child relationships, friendships, art, the role of women through the ages, immigrants, grief, and guilt.

THE BOSTON GIRL is an interesting look at how the roles of women have changed throughout the 20th century through the eyes of one woman's story. Recommended to fans of Ms. Diamant and women's literature.

Thanks to the publisher who provided a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: The Precious One

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father. Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices—Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings—The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works. -- William Morrow

I look forward to reading every book that Marisa de los Santos writes. She's definitely one of my go-to authors. Her latest novel hits stores today and is titled THE PRECIOUS ONE. It offers a special story about two sisters who are both trying to get the attention of their father while finding their own way in life.

THE PRECIOUS ONE tells the story of Taisy and Willow, both daughters of a domineering (and that's putting it mildly) father. Wilson is a self-made man and has found success as a professor and inventor at the expense of being a husband a father. Taisy, Wilson's daughter from his first marriage, doesn't have much of a relationship with her father ever since he left her, her twin brother, and her mother to start a new family with Caroline.

When Wilson becomes ill, he invites Taisy for an extended stay. He wants her to meet her teenage sister Willow and write his memoir. Taisy, who knows next to nothing about Wilson and his new family, decides to visit; and in the back of her mind, she is still hoping to gain his approval. When she arrives in her father's home, she discovers that her sister Willow doesn't want much to do with Taisy. Willow is not exactly your typical teen (she's been sheltered by Wilson... once again, an understatement), and she isn't too happy about having her older sister show up.

Naturally when Taisy arrives back home, a lot of memories from her past, both good and bad, come rushing back to her. Even as she begins her travels, she reflects back on her relationship (or lack thereof) with Wilson. She also remembers one of the loves of her life -- Ben... and how her father ruined her relationship with him.

Meanwhile, Willow has some major changes occurring in her life too. She is finally allowed to attend high school, rather than being home schooled. Willow quickly learns that she doesn't exactly fit in with the other kids; however, she does have an affinity with her English teacher.

As Taisy and Willow are brought together under these unusual conditions, they not only learn a great deal about their relationships with Wilson but also with each other. In addition, both women struggle to find their own identities and form new relationships.

THE PRECIOUS ONE is told in both Taisy and Willow's voices, and the chapters alternate between their stories. I was impressed with how Ms. de los Santos managed to give each woman a distinct voice and I found both stories to be compelling in their own right. I should probably mention that I didn't exactly love either Taisy or Willow for much of the novel -- they both had their fair share of issues. However by the end of the story, I found that both had captured my heart and I was certainly hoping they found some happiness and sense of peace.

One thing I really appreciated about this novel was how it explored family relationships. Wilson was definitely a piece of work, and while I doubt most of us have fathers like him, I do think women will relate to both Taisy and Willow. Granted they were both pretty extreme characters with extreme issues, but I do think they had some definitely personality traits that are found in every woman. In addition, I think the dynamics of the characters, especially those associated with the two marriages, were very realistic. Taisy's initial resentment of Willow and Willow's initial jealousy seemed to be quite authentic, and I was glad to see both characters were eventually willing to have an open mind about the other.

THE PRECIOUS ONE would make a great selection for a book club. There is a reading guide available with thirteen questions. Some of the themes you  might want to explore include family, loss,  second chances, relationships, forgiveness, resentment, the need for acceptance, and finding one's true identity. I do think many of the characters in this novel are well drawn and complex, so there should be a great deal to discuss about their actions and their motivations.

Overall, I enjoyed THE PRECIOUS ONE a great deal. I think fans of Ms. de los Santos and women's fiction in general will appreciate this novel.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: The Stranger

Summary: The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them. -- Dutton

One thing is for sure... when I read a novel by Harlan Coben, I can always be assured that I'm in for a treat. That was certainly the case with his latest thriller THE STRANGER. This book was, of course, a well written story (for those of you who are familiar with Mr. Coben's works, you know what I mean.) However, it was also a bit disturbing for me. THE STRANGER had its fair share of twists and some very intriguing characters. I honestly wasn't sure what was going to happen, but rest assured, everything was resolved by the end. Trust me when I say that readers are in good hands with Mr. Coben.

It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the main characters in THE STRANGER is, in fact, a stranger. This stranger appears out of the blue one night at a bar where Adam Price, a man whose life is seemingly perfect, is attending a meeting for his son's lacrosse league. Adam has a beautiful wife, a good job, a nice house, and two great sons; however, the stranger turns his life upside down with just a few whispered words.

The stranger tells Adam that his wife, Corinne, faked her last pregnancy and miscarriage. He even gives him enough details that Adam begins to wonder if it's true... or even if his two sons are actually his. He confronts Corinne and she doesn't exactly deny it, nor does she give him any information. Instead, she just asks for some time and disappears from her family's life.

The stranger doesn't just rock Adam's world. He also tells devastating secrets to a wife and mother in Florida and a medical student in New York City. Needless to say, all of the stranger's whisperings wreak havoc on these victim's lives; and some lives are forever ruined.

Adam decides to look into Corinne's "secret" and he doesn't like what he's finding -- nothing makes any sense. But Adam has to shift his resources to finding the missing Corinne. His investigation actually turns even darker when he realizes that he has to track down the stranger if he wants to get to the bottom of his wife's strange behavior.

I thought THE STRANGER was a terrific story. It was fast-paced and most definitely intriguing, and the story was more than a little creepy too. The stranger, and the people involved with him, were insane; and it made for a fun read. I was extremely curious about Corinne and all of the elements of the mystery surrounding her. Overall, I was impressed with Mr. Coben's novel on many levels.

One thing I love about Mr. Coben's novels are how easy they are to read. I have found that I don't want to put down his books. They are definitely page turners, and THE STRANGER was no exception. I think Mr. Coben is just a great storyteller and the way this novel unfolded was action-packed. I just loved how everything came together at the end and ultimately made sense of all the craziness!

I think one of the reasons that THE STRANGER was so appealing to me was the character of Adam. At the beginning of the novel, he is just a normal guy with a pretty nice life -- kind of like every suburban dad I seem to know. He was a nice guy who loved his family. So when his word was forever changed because of the stranger, it was uncomfortable for me as a reader... in a good way! I loved how much he changed throughout the story as he tried to find not only his wife, but also the stranger. Some might even say that Adam became a bit of a stranger given how he was at the start of the novel.

Overall, I think fans of Coben will enjoy THE STRANGER as much as I did.

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, March 21, 2015

Kid Konnection: Careers

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 informative book for kids who are ready to start thinking about their futures.

Summary: It's never too early for your teen or tween to start thinking about a career, and Careers is the perfect way to do it. Inspiring and imaginative as well as practical, Careers has charts and tables that help young people gauge interest about possible careers — it's like having a personal career advisor by your side whenever you need it!

Speech pathologist? Check. Zookeeper? Check. Jewelry designer? Check.

Nurse? Architect? Chef? Check, check, and check.

Covering more than 400 jobs, Careers is organized in an easy-to-navigate, clear structure that helps guide teen and tween readers. Check at-a-glance summary panels for chosen careers to learn about salary, working hours, training, and career paths. Cross-referenced job matrix tables offer another way to learn about all the options. Tweens and teens with no idea of what kind of job to look for can start with their favorite school subjects or hobbies and find relevant careers from there. It may not be time for your teen or tween to prepare a resume and find a job, but the advice in Careers can help young people start thinking about the future! -- DK

Booking Daughter is a sophomore in high school and she's already thinking about colleges. Of course, Penn State is in the lead (actually the only one she's really considering); however, she's not entirely sure what she wants to do with the rest of her life. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, but she is feeling pressure from guidance counselors to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. As a mom, I keep telling her it's okay to keep her mind open -- I certainly didn't know what I wanted to "be" when I was 15 years old. But all the same, it's a stressful time for her.

Evidently, she's not alone. According to a study by Dr. Fritz Grupe on NBCNews, 80% of students applying to college haven't picked a career path. And that's where the new book CAREERS: THE GRAPHIC GUIDE TO FINDING THE PERFECT JOB FOR YOU can come in handy. This guide covers just about any career you can think of -- from politician, to microbiologist, to a professional athlete. Over 400 careers are featured in this handy dandy book, and it can definitely help teens to at least see what's available to them.

I love CAREERS! It's a fantastic book and so much fun to read. I'm not even looking for a new career and I enjoyed reading this book. One thing I appreciated is how this material is presented. It's so user-friendly and appealing especially for teens. Each profession is featured on a two page spread and has different graphics, charts, and panels. Here's an example:
Information that is included for each job includes industry profiles, salary figures, working hours, required training and skills guides, and career path maps. In addition, teens can learn about related professions tied to a specific area of interest by referencing a job matrix table. And for those teens who don't have a clue, they can find career paths based on their interests or favorite school subjects.

I think CAREERS is an excellent resource for today's middle school and high school teens -- this book should be in every library. 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, March 19, 2015

Review: Dirty Chick (Audio)

Summary: "One month into our stay, we'd managed to dispatch most of our charges. We executed the chickens. One of the cats disappeared, clearly disgusted with our urban ways. And Lucky [the cow] was escaping almost daily. It seemed we didn't have much of a talent for farming. And we still had eleven months to go." Antonia Murphy, you might say, is an unlikely farmer. Born and bred in San Francisco, she spent much of her life as a liberal urban cliché, and her interactions with the animal kingdom rarely extended past dinner. But then she became a mother. And when her eldest son was born with a rare, mysterious genetic condition, she and her husband, Peter, decided it was time to slow down and find a supportive community. So the Murphys moved to Purua, New Zealand - a rural area where most residents maintained private farms, complete with chickens, goats, and (this being New Zealand) sheep. The result was a comic disaster, and when one day their son had a medical crisis, it was also a little bit terrifying.

Dirty Chick chronicles Antonia's first year of life as an artisan farmer. Having bought into the myth that farming is a peaceful, fulfilling endeavor that allows one to commune with nature and live the way humans were meant to live, Antonia soon realized that the reality is far dirtier and way more disgusting than she ever imagined. Among the things she learned the hard way: Cows are prone to a number of serious bowel ailments, goat mating involves an astounding amount of urine, and roosters are complete and unredeemable assholes. But for all its traumas, Antonia quickly embraced farm life, getting drunk on homemade wine (it doesn't cause hangovers!), making cheese (except for the cat hair, it's a tremendously satisfying hobby), and raising a baby lamb (which was addictively cute until it grew into a sheep). -- Audible

DIRTY CHICK: ADVENTURES OF AN UNLIKELY FARMER by Antonia Murphy probably wouldn't be a book that I'd normally seek out. I enjoy the occasional memoir, but I am about as far from a farmer as anyone you'd ever meet. In fact, Ms. Murphy's story just seemed a bit crazy to me; however, there was something about it that appealed to me.

I am definitely glad I listened to DIRTY CHICK because it was a very entertaining story.  When I consider that the story was based on Ms. Murphy's own life, it makes it all the more interesting. Ms. Murphy was a city girl, born and bred in San Francisco, and lived the stereotypical urban life. However after she got married and gave birth to a little guy with a rare genetic condition, she and her husband's priorities changed. They decided to move to Purua, New Zealand, a rural community where most of the residents were farmers.

And boy did their life change! Ms. Murphy and her husband became artisan farmers in the hopes that a simpler life would bring them in touch with nature. Ha! Simpler is definitely not the right word for what this family experienced over the next twelve months. Crazy, insane, dirty, unbelievable, gross, scary, and more would be my descriptions!

DIRTY CHICK is an extremely entertaining story about what Ms. Murphy and her family endured during their first year as farmers in New Zealand, and I have to say I might be permanently scarred by some of the things I learned about farm animals. There were so many animal scenes that were disgusting, yet interesting in a strange way; and I couldn't help but find myself giggling as I listened to this book. Ms. Murphy's account isn't for the faint of heart and she doesn't shy away from telling it like it is... and these things make for some very funny stories.

It is Ms. Murphy's "tell it like it is" personality, though, that made this book so good. Not only does the reader (or listener) get the animal stories in all their glory, but he or she also gets an inside look into the more serious aspects of Ms. Murphy's life including the challenges she faced with her son. Ms. Murphy does offer some semblance of humor when telling the stories, but as a mother, I can only imagine how scary and difficult it would be to constantly worry about your child.

DIRTY CHICK was actually read by Ms. Murphy; and while I usually tend to avoid books read by the author, this one worked. In fact, I thought Ms. Murphy did a terrific job with her story. Not only did her adventures sound real (And why wouldn't they? They were her adventures!), but she also managed to execute quite a few different accents. I'm certainly no expert on New Zealand accents, but they sounded good to me. In addition, I loved Ms. Murphy's ability to tell the stories with a dry wit and perfect timing!

Overall, DIRTY CHICK was a fun way to get through seven hours on the treadmill! Definitely recommended for fans of memoirs and readers who appreciate humorous adventure/animal stories!

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Mademoiselle Chanel

Summary: For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel—the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her. An enthralling novel of an extraordinary woman who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark. -- William Morrow

When I first started blogging many moons ago, I discovered some historical fiction novels by C.W. Gortner. Granted, I was much more interested in books about kings and queens than I am now, but I really loved the way he told stories. Recently, I learned that Mr. Gortner wrote another novel about an iconic figure in the history of fashion called MADEMOISELLE CHANEL, and I had a feeling that it would be an interesting book.

MADEMOISELLE CHANEL is a perfect example of a rags to riches story. What makes it even more intriguing is that it's based on true events. Gabrielle Chanel, the daughter of a laundrywoman and mender, was sent to a Catholic orphanage after her mother's death. There, she honed her sewing skills which were the foundation of her life as one of the world's most famous fashion designers.

After Chanel left she orphanage, she became a seamstress a lounge singer (for lack of a better word.) Her nightlife gave her an entry into an entirely new world -- one with wealth and opulence. She also happened to meet a rich man who took her to Paris. There she was allowed to discover herself and her talent with fashion. And the rest is pretty much history....

Now called Coco, Chanel revolutionized fashion in the 1920s discarding corsets for sleek, simple designs that reflect modern women. Coco failed more attention and fame as her career skyrockets; however, she also faced her fair share of heartache. As Europe approaches World War II, Chanel also finds herself making difficult decisions about her role in the war effort.

I really liked MADEMOISELLE CHANEL and I found parts of this book to be fascinating. It goes to prove that truth can be stranger than fiction (although I do realize that this is a fictionalized account of her life!) I am once again admitting my ignorance, but I knew little about Coco Chanel outside of her famous perfume and her logo. Of course, I knew she was one of the most famous fashion designers ever, but I  had no idea about her upbringing and her role in World War II.

It's apparent that Mr. Gortner understood his subject matter, and he actually admits that he has always idolized Coco Chanel. Prior to becoming a successful writer, he worked in the fashion industry; and I suspect this book has been in his thoughts for some time. There is no doubt that he did his research on her, so much so that he felt he could write this novel in her voice. What I truly appreciated was how well he mixed the fact with the fiction, and the result is a very good novel!

I like to joke that I get my history lessons through historical fiction, and that was definitely the case with MADEMOISELLE CHANEL. I was absolutely riveted to the end of this novel -- the parts which portrayed Chanel's involvement in the war. In fact, this book actually inspired me to do some research of my own about Chanel's life. And I have to say that I think Mr. Gortner portrayed this aspect of her life in a slightly kinder way than what might have actually happened. In all honestly, I liked his interpretation and thought it made for a great story!

One thing that really stood out to me about this novel is how he portrayed Coco Chanel from her childhood to her death. Obviously for a woman to have this much success in the 1920s and on, she had to be tough. And tough she was! I actually thought she sounded a little cold-hearted (and maybe even ruthless) in this novel when she dealt with her employees; and after I researched her life a bit, I think that was definitely the case. She was a woman with a mission and no one was going to stop her.

However, Mr. Gortner also portrayed a softer side of Chanel by showing the relationship with her lovers and her nephew. It was interesting to see how much loss Chanel faced in her life -- many of it early on in her childhood and young adult life. I thought Mr. Gortner did an excellent job of explaining Chanel's actions by showing how her past formed her.

MADEMOISELLE CHANEL would make an excellent book club discussion. There is a little bit of everything in this novel including love, loss, success, friendship, Russian royalty, and even Nazis! I was happy to see that there is a reading guide available with eleven questions. Most groups would have no problems with discussing Chanel's actions and motivations for some time.

Overall, I liked MADEMOISELLE CHANEL a great deal. Recommended to fans of historical fiction and those individuals interested in the history of fashion.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Public School Superhero & Giveaway

Summary: Kenny Wright is a kid with a secret identity. In his mind, he's Stainlezz Steel, super-powered defender of the weak. In reality, he's a chess club devotee known as a "Grandma's Boy," a label that makes him an easy target for bullies. Kenny wants to bring a little more Steel to the real world, but the question is: can he recognize his own true strength before peer pressure forces him to make the worst choice of his life?

Featuring more than 150 pieces of line art and comic-style sequences, James Patterson's newest illustrated novel is a genuinely funny yet poignant look at middle school in a challenging urban setting, where a kid's life can depend on the everyday decisions he makes. -- Little Brown

When PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts arrived at our house, there was one very excited 10 year old! Booking Son is a relatively reluctant reader, but he's found so many James Patterson books that he's enjoyed. He was excited to see that there is a new one out... and that he got an "early" copy!

PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO tells the story of Kenny Wright, otherwise known as the superhero Stainlezz Steel... but only in his mind! He actually plays chess and is called "Grandma's Boy;" and as you can probably tell by his nickname, he's often times the victim of school bullies. He attends a public, inner city middle school that's definitely seen its better days.

Kenny finds himself in a little trouble and his "punishment" is to teach one of the bullies chess. Naturally Kenny is less than thrilled with his circumstances, but he finds that he's not the only one learning something!

I really liked PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO and I suspect middle grade readers are going to agree... even/especially the most reluctant ones! PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO is a fast-paced (and funny!) story that is guaranteed to keep kids' interest. In addition, there is enough comic panels thrown in to break up the reading. It also doesn't hurt that many of these cartoons have superhero sequences!

PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO explores so many middle school issues, and I think kids are going to find a few things to which they can relate. Kenny attends an inner city school that is just horrible, and I'm pretty certain it's not an unrealistic portrayal -- I honestly have no idea how any kids can learn in that environment. As depressing as it is, it's actually refreshing to see a school portrayed like this, and I hope that many kids will relate to Kenny and see that they aren't alone.

Another wonderful aspect of this novel is the way it explores bullying. I know! I know! There definitely isn't a shortage of middle grade books dealing with this subject; however, I liked how PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO portrayed this. Not only did Kenny work through his relationship with one of his bullies, but he also managed to learn a thing or two from him.

As a mom, I loved how this novel explored friendships and relationships. Kenny lived with his grandmother (who was a fantastic character and community advocate!), and they had a wonderful relationship. Kenny loved his grandmother and knew she loved him; and as a result, he didn't want to let her down... there was also a little fear there too! Kenny also had a neat relationship with some of the kids in his school and neighborhood.

Overall, I think PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHEROES is a great middle grade book that's guaranteed to entertain kids! It also deals with so many relevant subjects that it lends itself to classroom and book club discussions. High recommended!

If you still want more information about PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO, you can learn more at Public School Superhero.com. You can also visit the Author Site at JamesPatterson.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook (#PublicSchoolSuperhero).

And now for the exciting news! I have a fantastic James Patterson Reads prize pack! Booking Son thinks this is the best giveaway I've ever had... and I suspect his friends would agree. Not only can you win a copy of PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO, but you can also win copies of HOUSE OF ROBOTS (which Booking Son loved!), I FUNNY (he loved this one too!), and TREASURE HUNTERS (actually, he loved this one too!)

To enter, just fill out the form below before March 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!

And here's some more exciting news! James Patterson has started a great initiative to help underfunded schools in America. Here's the scoop:

In 2015, James Patterson will donate 100,000 copies of PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO to some of the most neglected and underfunded schools in America, and he will launch a major campaign to support school libraries. In 2014, in addition to giving a copy of one of his middle grade books to every sixth grader in the New York City and Chicago public school systems, Patterson gave $1,000,000 to independent bookstores with children’s sections.  

When James Patterson meets with underprivileged kids at schools in some of the country’s poorest neighborhoods, they often ask him, “Why can’t we be heroes in any books?”  To answer that question and to bring more books into more kids’ lives, James Patterson is donating 100,000 copies of his new book for young readers, PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO, to some of the most under-resourced schools and youth programs in the country.  He was moved to make this donation after recognizing a large and underserved community of children who don’t see themselves portrayed in dynamic, entertaining stories often enough.

These same kids also inspired PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, with illustrations by Cory Thomas, a book about an African American sixth-grade chess devotee named Kenny Wright who lives in an inner city. It’s a story brimming with wit, action, and heart, one all kids are bound to find relatable and entertaining.

The books will be distributed through First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books for kids in need. First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that has distributed more than 125 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in the United States and Canada. By making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education. For more information visit firstbook.org or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel and for providing the James Patterson Reads Prize Pack!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: A Dangerous Place

Summary: Four years after she set sail from England, leaving everything she most loved behind, Maisie Dobbs at last returns, only to find herself in a dangerous place . . .

In Jacqueline Winspear‘s powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy, a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gibraltar leads Maisie into a web of lies, deceit, and peril.

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way. -- Harper

It's almost hard for me to believe that A DANGEROUS PLACE by Jacqueline Winspear is the 11th novel in her Maisie Dobbs series. I've read every one of them, and I still get excited when a new one is published. I absolutely love Maisie as well as the time periods covered in these books. When you consider that every book has a fascinating mystery too, this is one series this is a must-read as far as I'm concerned!

A DANGEROUS PLACE picks up four years after Maisie left England in Spring 1937. Maisie has been through a lot since readers last saw her, and that's really saying something because Maisie has dealt with so much loss already in her life. She decides to return to India in hopes that she might find some semblance of peace; however, her stepmother asks her to return to England because her father isn't getting any younger.

Maisie is on a ship, only a  few stops from England, when she decides that she's not ready to return to England and face her family and friends. So she gets off at a stop in Gibraltar, a British garrison town which is facing its own turmoil. Refugees are fleeing from nearby Spain because of the civil war which is occurring there.

Despite warnings from the ship's captain that Gibraltar is "a most dangerous place," Maisie gets off the ship only to find a dead body just a few days after her arrival. For some reason, Maisie can't get the  murdered man out of her mind so she begins to investigate. Maisie's private investigation catches the attention of a British agent with whom she's had some dealings in her past, and she becomes embroiled in the political intrigue that is such an important part of Gibraltar.

I loved A DANGEROUS PLACE, but that's probably not a surprise considering how much I love Maisie. From the gorgeous cover of the book, to Maisie's character development, to the mystery and political intrigue, I thought this book was fantastic. Once again, Ms. Winspear brought a time period to life that I knew next to nothing about, and I not only enjoyed this story but learned a great deal.

I've mentioned a few times that I love Maisie Dobbs. She is a wonderful character, but I have to admit that I'm a little concerned for her. She's had an amazingly difficult life and just when I thought she might find some happiness, everything came crashing down on her. What happened to Maisie in this novel is far worse than anything I can remember -- and that includes the loss of her mother, the loss of her mentor Maurice, and being a nurse during WWI. I honestly don't know how much more one woman can take, even if that woman is Maisie Dobbs. During A DANGEROUS PLACE, Maisie is at a major crossroads in her life (again), and this time, she really has to struggle to find her inner strength. As a faithful reader, I knew she had it in her, but I do admit I had my doubts a few times!

I really appreciated the historical aspects of this novel. My knowledge of Gibraltar in the mid to late 1930s is basically non-existent. In fact, I wasn't even exactly sure where Gibraltar was located. In A DANGEROUS PLACE, the author features this country during a very dangerous time period. There were definitely a lot of countries involved in Gibraltar's business, and there were also many different political leanings from the people living there as well as the recent refugees. I found all of it to be fascinating although I admit that the messiness got a bit confusing at times.

Another really strong aspect of A DANGEROUS PLACE was the mystery of the man Maisie found murdered near a hotel. It seemed to me that almost everyone Maisie talked to about the murder had something they were hiding, or they knew more about the victim and the crime than they were willing to admit. At times, I felt like Maisie was just running around in circles. And then, about halfway through the novel, I thought I figured it out... and I was pretty proud of myself but also a tad bit disappointed that it wasn't more complex. I should have never doubted Ms. Winspear! She played me like a fiddle and I fell for all of her red herrings! It's probably obvious that I was fooled over and over again and had little to no idea about the events surrounding the murder.

A DANGEROUS PLACE would make a fantastic book club selection, although I do think people familiar with the series might appreciate this book more than ones who aren't familiar with Maisie's life. There are a great many things to discuss including Maisie's mental state, grief, secrets, war, political intrigue, deceit, friendship, fresh starts, and family. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but I'm sure one will be available in the near future.

A DANGEROUS PLACE is a great addition to the Maisie Dobbs series. Highly recommended for fans of Maisie as well as fans of historical fiction and 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, March 14, 2015

Kid Konnection: Ella

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to share with you an adorable picture book for fans of Eloise!

Summary: This is ELLA. She is six years old. She lives at the Local Hotel. She has a nanny called Manny. He has tattoos for sleeves and he might go in with some guys to buy a grilled cheese truck. Sometimes Ella weaves purses out of Ziploc bags and reclaimed twine. (She is artsy of course.) She has a dog named Stacie and a fish named Rasta and a scooter which is important for getting everywhere she needs to be. Altogether she has been to 62 events including that Hillary Clinton fundraiser. She is NEVER bored. If Ella and Kay Thompson’s Eloise got together for a play date, they would have a very good time indeed. -- Viking

ELLA by Mallory Kasdan and illustrated by Marcos Chin is a very fun book on its own, but given that it's a parody of another little girl who lived in a hotel, I found it especially cute. It's actually great timing for the release of ELLA because ELOISE is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2015!

Six year old Ella doesn't live in The Plaza. Rather she lives in The Local, a hip hotel in New York City. She has a nanny/manny named Manny who has tattoos and plays music, along with two pets -- a goldfish and a dog ("the hotel has a permissive pet policy.") When Ella isn't riding in elevators, she travels by scooter and she also is very artsy, making purses out of Ziploc bags and reclaimed twine!

As you can clearly see, Ella is quite the character; and ELLA brings to life many of her antics. It also features her unusual friends and some of her thoughts about life in general. I found the book to be delightful, especially given that this parody also has terrific illustrations. I loved the drawings of the Ella, the hotel, the multicultural characters, and New York City!

I realize that ELLA is meant to be a parody, but I have a feeling that the humor will be lost on most children. However, their parents are a different story! I definitely appreciated the humor in the book and I adored Ella. I just fear that elementary age kids (and younger), even those familiar with Eloise, won't understand the humor and many of Ella's references. Having said that, I do think kids will enjoy ELLA for many reasons, and parents might actually get a kick out of reading (and re-reading) this story!

Overall, ELLA is adorable book with wonderful illustrations and a character who won't easily be forgotten! Definitely recommended to fans of ELOISE!

Thanks to the publisher and Tandem Literary 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, March 12, 2015

Guest Review: Long Way Down

Summary: He approached me in the street—bone-thin, gray-bearded, holding out a small envelope. “The man said you’d give me five bucks for it.” Inside was a one-word message: RUN.

Two years in a federal prison has changed Jason Stafford, is still changing him, but one thing it has taught him as a financial investigator is how to detect a lie. He doesn’t think Philip Haley is lying. An engineer on the verge of a biofuel breakthrough, Haley has been indicted for insider trading on his own company, and Stafford believes him when he says he’s been set up. Haley does indeed have enemies. He is not a nice man. Doesn’t make him a criminal.

It does make him dangerous to be around, though. The deeper Stafford investigates, the more secrets he starts to uncover, secrets people would kill for. And that’s exactly what happens. Soon, it is Stafford himself who is under attack and, worse, his family—his fiancée, his young son—and he is a fugitive, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of both the killers and the law. -- G. P. Putnam's Sons

I knew LONG WAY DOWN by Michael Sears would be the perfect fit for my dad. He is such a sucker for thrillers especially if they relate to Wall Street and finance. Here are his thoughts:

The main character in LONG WAY DOWN by Michael Sears is Jason Stafford, a former Wall Street trader who has spent 2 years in jail for insider trading and is now a financial investigator for a private investment bank. Stafford has survived the brutal murder of his wife and now has sole responsibility for his young autistic son.

Stafford is assigned the job to investigate a high profile client, Philip Haley, who is accused of insider trading in his own company. Haley is adamant about his innocence and claims his computer has been hacked and he has been set up by his estranged wife or the Chinese, neither who wants to see his company reach a breakthrough in green-energy.

Researching the guilt or innocence of his client puts Stafford and those dear to him in grave peril. Stafford’s investigation leads to an exciting chase that finds him facing corruption, death and threats on his life. The story concludes with an exciting struggle that ends in the East River outside New York City.

At the same time there is a secondary story about Stafford’s relationship with his son. It’s a touching storyline that exposes the reader to some of the day-to-day trials of a parent dealing with autism.

Author Michael Sears utilizes computer hacking as a primary part of his story, which is a quite popular theme in recent novels I have read. He also paints Wall Street as a corrupt institution where indiscretions are often overlooked, another popular theme. Sears’ characters are well developed and it’s easy to visualize them and form a quick opinion as to whether you like them. Sears takes the reader through a lot of twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing about the innocence or guilt of Philip Haley until the very end. The final struggle is quite ferocious, although a little far-fetched. LONG WAY DOWN is a respectable financial crime mystery that keeps the reader engaged until the very end.

Thanks to Saichek Publicity for a review copy of this novel and thanks to Booking Pap Pap for writing such an insightful review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Plus One

Summary: Alex Sherman-Zicklin is a midlevel marketing executive in L.A. whose wife Figgy’s fourteenth TV pilot attempt becomes a huge Emmy-winning hit. Overnight, she’s sucked into a mad show-business vortex, and Alex quits his job to become the family’s domestic first responder. He falls in with a posse of plus ones, men who are married to women whose recognition, income, and fame far eclipse their own.

This wickedly honest comedy follows Alex as he struggles to regain his mojo while remaining a loving and responsible husband and father. Plus One is a hilarious story about modern family life and the fast-changing roles of parents and partners, told from the perspective of one wonderfully quirky family that hits the Hollywood jackpot. -- Prospect Park Books

I am kind of cringing while typing this, but I enjoy Hollywood gossip. I consider People Magazine a guilty pleasure, and I constantly amaze my husband with the amount of star trivia that I know. So it's no wonder that PLUS ONE by Christopher Noxon appealed to me. PLUS ONE is a fictionalized account of a man who quits his job to be a stay-at-home dad when his wife hits it big as a television writer and producer.

Alex Sherman-Zicklin has a pretty decent life. He's married to Figgy, an aspiring television writer, has two great kids, and a stable (if not entirely rewarding) job as a marketing executive. When his wife Figgy wins an Emmy for her cable series about a housewife who becomes a madam, he decides it would be better for everyone if he just stayed home as the family's "domestic first responder." He becomes a Plus One, a man who is married to a woman whose career accomplishments are far greater than his.

As many stay-at-home parents know, Alex's new life isn't exactly easy; and he has lots of adjustments to make. PLUS ONE tells Alex's story (which does tend to resemble the author's real life story) with readers, showing both the ups and the downs, while reinforcing the importance of love and family.

I definitely enjoyed PLUS ONE and it's no wonder that Mr. Noxon has received so many impressive blurbs from authors including Tom Perrotta, Jennifer Weiner, and Jonathan Tropper.  PLUS ONE has also be optioned by Gaumont International Television, and the TV pilot is in development by The company that did Grey's Anatomy and Ray Donovan. This book was both funny and touching, and I loved getting a glimpse into the glamorous (and often times not-so-glamorous) world of Hollywood.

I was only a few pages in when I figured out that Mr. Noxon is married to Jenji Kohan, the creator and producer of Weeds and Orange is the New Black. The descriptions of Alex's wife's first television hit were very similar to Ms. Kohan's real life career. For some reason, realizing this fact gave the story that much more credibility. Don't get me wrong. PLUS ONE is definitely a work of fiction, but it was nice to know that the author could write using many of his life experiences.

PLUS ONE was a very entertaining story that also managed to touch my heart. There were so many funny situations that Alex and others faced that I found myself chuckling on more than one occasion. (I won't lie, I loved the descriptions of the woman who starred in Figgy's show and had to wonder how much of her was based on Mary Louise Parker.) In addition, I had no problem seeing why this novel was optioned for a television series. The characters are interesting and many people, like me, would love to watch a show about a family trying to figure things out in the crazy world of Hollywood.

One thing I really liked about PLUS ONE was how it focused on families and relationships. While Alex and Figgy's problems weren't exactly typical, their relationship with each other and their kids was definitely relatable. Alex and Figgy were at a crossroads in her life and the struggles they faced weren't that unusual... well some of them! I appreciated seeing how they worked through their issues, and sometimes didn't work through their issues, and how their love for each other and their kids shined through. Like many families, they were just trying to keep their busy lives together and find some sort of happiness and peace!

What I think Mr. Noxon did best in PLUS ONE was bring to life Alex's character. He was very likable, despite some of his transgressions, and I rooted for him. As a stay-at-home mom, I know how difficult it can be at times; and I can't imagine being a man and trying to fit in this world. The author definitely made Alex human and his adjustments as husband, father, and a man to being a Plus One seemed genuine to me.

One last "cute" aspect of the novel were Mr. Noxon's drawings. At the beginning of each chapter, there was a black and white sketch of an object that had some meaning in the next few pages. He's a pretty talented artist, and I appreciated these extra little fun drawings.

I suppose PLUS ONE would make for a fun book club pick. There is definitely a lot to discuss from the lives of the rich and powerful to family dynamics. In addition, you might want to further explore marriage, parenting, identity crises, and love.

Overall, PLUS ONE is a smart and entertaining story about what it takes for one man to become his wife's Plus One.

Thanks to Tandem Literary for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: New Gone Reading Products

Gone Reading is, without a doubt, my favorite on-line store for book-related products! About a year and a half ago, I featured Gone Reading and reviewed a few of their products -- an adorable tee-shirt and a book-shaped platter!

Gone Reading has the best gift ideas for book lovers. Even their slogan is fantastic, "Brilliant Products for the Reading Lifestyle." I couldn't agree more. Every time I visit their site, I find something new that I want/need. They sell action-figures, stationery, book lights, serving pieces, drink ware, and even candles! I don't mean this in a negative way at all, but I get a bit overwhelmed when I visit the site. I'm like a kid in a candy store (or a book lover in a book store) because there are so many items that I want!

If you haven't been to Gone Reading for awhile, you might want to check it out again. Or, if you've never been there, then you definitely should visit. Gone Reading has some wonderful new items. I was fortunate enough to receive samples of a few of them.

Summary: Mark your books as your own with this cute set of 80 decorated book labels in assorted sizes. The original artwork by artist Debbie Powell includes a variety of library, writing and reading-themed designs you’re sure to love. 

Each page measures 4″ x 3-3/4″; the assorted sizes include full, 1/2 and 1/4 page sized bookplates.

Perfect for gifting to your own “book friends”!

The "Book Friends" Bookplates are a wonderful gift idea -- both cute and practical -- and only $5.99. This set includes 80 decorated book labels by artist Debbie Powell. They come in all different shapes and sizes too! I just love the fun artwork and bright colors! Here are a few examples of the bookplates:

Summary: Where fun meets function! This cute device gently “holds and hugs” your books, tablets and eReaders in place, freeing up your hands while reading. Holds a wide variety of books and devices, yet small enough to fold up into a small bag or purse. Perfect for use on airplane/train meal trays, tables, kitchen counters or most any flat surface. 

Another totally fun item sold by Gone Reading is The Hands Stand. I have to say that this is actually a very practical item, and I love how useful it is for holding my iPad... or my cookbooks. Even better, it makes me smile every time I use it! It just looks like it's "hugging" my device!
I think The Hands Stand is the perfect gift! It is very reasonable at $19.99 especially considering how happy it will make the recipient! One of the best things about The Hands Stand is that it folds up so it can easily fit into a purse, backpack, or briefcase.

For those of you interested in the "specs": each Hands Stand measures 8-1/2″ long when closed. It can accommodate books, tablets and eReaders that are at least 6″ wide (the distance between each “hand” when fully open is 5-1/2″) and a maximum of about 3/4″ thick (the width of the “shelf” on which the book or device rests).

Summary: Express your love of free speech with a hot beverage served in your very own Banned Books Mug. Features original artwork, imagery and titles of 24 of the most important banned books of all time.

Includes The Satanic Verses, Ulysses, Catch-22, Nineteen Eighty-four, Animal Farm, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Madame Bovary, Les Miserables, Lady Chatterly’s Lover and so many more.

A sturdy, high-quality mug that will last a lifetime. Microwave and dishwasher safe. Arrives in its own colorful gift box.

My absolute favorite item is the Banned Books Mug which sells for $12.95. This mug is so cool! Not only does it list 24 important banned books including some of my faves like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, and THE CATHER IN THE RYE, it's also really stylish.

The mug comes in a box which looks just like the mug so it's perfect for gift-giving. The mug itself is a faded black with the 24 books listed in different fonts and different colors. You can't tell this from the photo unless you look very closely, but the word "BANNED" is printed in a raised black font. It's just a special mug and a way to celebrate these great works of literature.

The Banned Books mug holds 12 ounces of liquid and is microwave and dishwasher safe too. I don't know about you, but those are must-haves in my house!

Can you tell how much I love everything about this website? Here's a few more incentives to visit Gone Reading:

Gone Reading's website is very user-friendly which makes it even easier to shop for the book lover in your life -- even if that book lover is you. You can shop by product type, by theme, by author, bestsellers or by new products. There is even a clearance section for you fans of bargains. Shipping is free for orders over $90. Make sure you join their e-mail list to get the latest on specials and new products. You will also receive a 10% off coupon for signing up!

Finally, here's one of my favorite things about Gone Reading. The folks at Gone Reading donate 100% of their after-tax profits to reading-related charities like READ Global, Ethiopia Reads and BiblioWorks! So when you buy from Gone Reading, you are actually helping others too! What a great concept!