Saturday, May 30, 2015

Kid Konnection: Star Wars Epic Yarns


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 set of adorable (and very creative) board books for little ones.

Summary: Jedi apprentices and little princesses will delight in this (heart)felt retelling of the Star Wars saga. And so will Star Wars fans of any age! The series launches with the original trilogy, and every word counts in these small but perfectly formed yarns. That's because each volume features 12 iconic scenes, handcrafted in felt and pithily summarized in just a single word. The attention to detail is eye-opening; the proportions are just-right for small hands; the fun is guaranteed.

Princess Leia sends a hologram message through R2-D2, Luke Skywalker will learn how to use a lightsaber, and our heroes triumph. -- Chronicle Books


Summary: Luke meets his teacher Yoda, Han Solo makes a friend, and there is a lightsaber duel with a Sith Lord in the dark. -- Chronicle Books

Summary: The monster Jabba is encountered, C-3PO conducts story time, and there is a happy ending. -- Chronicle Books

Oh my goodness! I just received some of the cutest picture books I've ever laid eyes on! There are the STAR WARS EPIC YARN books by Jack and Holman Wang, and these board books are designed for the smallest Star Wars fans.

There are three books titled A NEW HOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and RETURN OF THE JEDI, and all of them are just precious. Each hardcover book has sturdy pages and very simple text which introduces these original Star Wars stories and characters to little ones. In fact, each book features 12 famous scenes from the movie with one word summaries.

As cute as these books are, what really sets them apart is the artwork. Each character is made entirely by hand by using felt. I don't think you can get this from the covers of the books, but the characters are incredibly detailed from their uniforms to their faces. I am truly blown away by how creative these figures are!

The STAR WARS EPIC YARN series is too cute! Parents and little ones will appreciated these books that pay tribute the three Star Wars films that started it all. Highly recommended!

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

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

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Guest Review: The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden tells the riveting story of Kim Il Sung’s rise to power, and the brave North Korean fighter pilot who escaped the prison state and delivered the first MiG-15 into American hands

In The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, New York Times bestselling author Blaine Harden tells the riveting story of how Kim Il Sung grabbed power and plunged his country into war against the United States while the youngest fighter pilot in his air force was playing a high-risk game of deception—and escape.

As Kim ascended from Soviet puppet to godlike ruler, No Kum Sok noisily pretended to love his Great Leader. That is, until he swiped a Soviet MiG-15 and delivered it to the Americans, not knowing they were offering a $100,000 bounty for the warplane (the equivalent of nearly one million dollars today). The theft—just weeks after the Korean War ended in July 1953—electrified the world and incited Kim’s bloody vengeance.

During the Korean War the United States brutally carpet bombed the North, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and giving the Kim dynasty, as Harden reveals, the fact-based narrative it would use to this day to sell paranoia and hatred of Americans.

Drawing on documents from Chinese and Russian archives about the role of Mao and Stalin in Kim’s shadowy rise, as well as from never-before-released U.S. intelligence and interrogation files, Harden gives us a heart-pounding escape adventure and an entirely new way to understand the world’s longest-lasting totalitarian state. -- Viking

I know it's surprising, but I actually read ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14 by Blaine Harden a few years ago; and I found it fascinating. I'm sure I would have appreciated Mr. Harden's latest book THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT: THE TRUE STORY OF THE TYRANT WHO CREATED NORTH KOREA AND THE YOUNG LIEUTENANT WHO STOLE HIS WAY TO FREEDOM; however, I had a feeling that my dad would get to it before I could. Here are his thoughts:

Most of us are generally familiar with North Korea. It’s the country that has been accused of crimes against humanity by the United Nations, has a ruthless leader in Kim Jung Un, poses nuclear threats to the western world and constantly spews anti-American propaganda.

THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT by Blaine Harden tells a great story about the beginning of this rogue state and its role in the early days of the Cold War. He recounts the true stories of tyrannical leader Kim Il Sung and fighter pilot No Kum Sok who escaped North Korea and delivered a Soviet MiG-15 jet to the United States military in South Korea.

Kim Il Sung began his assent to power in 1937 at the age of 25 when he led an insignificant gorilla raid against the Japanese who at the time controlled Korea. Kim became a “puppet” of Stalin and the Soviet state at the end of World War II. Stalin thought Kim a leader of no consequence while Mao, the leader of China held him in contempt. Despite this disrespect from the two most significant communist leaders, Kim somehow managed to convince Stalin to let him attack South Korea in June of 1950. After some initial success the United Nations led by the United States joined the war and drove the North Koreans back. During the conflict the U.S. air campaign destroyed 85% of the structures and 20% of the population of North Korea. Only the entry of Soviet air power and Chinese ground forces managed to same Kim from total defeat. An armistice ending the war was signed on July 27, 1953, four months after Stalin’s death when new Soviet leaders had no more appetite for the war in Korea. Kim went on to rule North Korea with a heavy hand until his death in 1994 when power was passed on to his son and then to his grandson in 2011. Unfortunately, the severe U.S. bombing of North Korea became the basis for this family dynasty to consolidate power around a fear and hatred of America.

No Kum Sok grew up hating the communist leadership in North Korea but pretended to be a staunch communist while waiting for an opportunity to escape the country. No actually encountered Kim Il Sung on two occasions. The first in 1949 as a 16-year-old boy listening to Kim deliver a speech at a factory and the second in 1951 as a fighter pilot standing at attention as Kim inspected their Soviet designed MiG-15 aircraft.

Six weeks after the signing of the armistice ending the conflict No found his opportunity to escape North Korea and flew a MiG-15 into South Korea where he turned the plane over to U.S. forces. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the U.S. was offering an award of $100,000 to anyone who would deliver a MiG-15 aircraft. No later moved to the United States, earned an engineering degree, reunited with his mother and became a U.S. citizen. He later changed his name to Kenneth H. Rowe, married and raised a family. A cold call from him to author Blaine Harden led to the writing of this book.

THE GREAT LEADER AND THE FIGHTER PILOT is an interesting nonfiction account of the Korean War that reads like a thriller. The author gives the reader a tiny look into the totalitarian rule of this country that is today nearly isolated from the rest of the world. Harden utilized conversations, archived materials and newly released declassified Air Force documents to seamlessly blend the lives of Kim Il Sung and No Kum Sok in the retelling the story of the Korean conflict and Kim’s rise to power. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in U.S. history or wants to learn more about the Korean War.

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: So That Happened (Audio)

Summary: If it can happen in show business, it’s happened to Jon Cryer. Now he’s opening up for the first time and sharing his behind-the-scenes stories in a warmly endearing, sharply observed, and frankly funny look at life in Hollywood.

In 1986, Jon Cryer won over America as Molly Ringwald’s loyal and lovable best friend, Duckie, in the cult classic Pretty in Pink in a role that set the tone for his three-decade-long career in Hollywood. He went on to establish himself as one of the most talented comedic actors in the business, ultimately culminating in his current turn as Alan Harper on the massively popular sitcom Two and a Half Men.

With the instincts of a natural storyteller, Cryer charts his extraordinary journey in show business, illuminating his many triumphs and some missteps along the way. Filled with exclusive behind-the-scenes anecdotes, Cryer offers his own endearing perspective on Hollywood, the business at large, and the art of acting.

Cryer has worked with some of the biggest and most provocative names in the business, and here, for the first time, he details his experiences with Charlie Sheen, John Hughes, Robert Altman, Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, and Christopher Reeve, among many others. He shares the intimate details of his friendships and relationships, pays tribute to his mentors, and explores the peculiar combination of heart, talent, and wisdom it takes to survive not just the bad times in a notoriously fickle industry but even the good times.

In this revealing, humorous, and introspective memoir, Cryer offers readers a front-row seat as he reminisces about his life and experiences in showbiz over the past thirty years. -- Penguin Audio

Usually, I listen to mystery or thrillers when I run on the treadmill; however, I decided I needed something a little different -- a little lighter if you will. I figured SO THAT HAPPENED, written and narrated by Jon Cryer, would fit the bill. Jon Cryer has had a pretty amazing Hollywood career, and I thought his life story might be interesting... and funny. Plus, I admit I wanted to hear the scoop on working with Charlie Sheen!

I found SO THAT HAPPENED to be pretty much what I expected. It was both interesting and funny, and I enjoyed getting the inside scoop on some famous Hollywood stars. I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan of Mr. Cryer's, but I watched Two and a Half Men for years and was fascinated by the downfall of Charlie Sheen. I knew much of the book probably wouldn't thrill me; however, there were a few parts of Mr. Cryer's life that I wanted to know more about -- namely, when he starred in Pretty in Pink.

SO THAT HAPPENED takes the reader (or listener in this case) from Mr. Cryer's early life as the son of stage performers living in New York City. He was definitely given a lot of freedom as a teen; and I was pretty impressed that he not only pursued a stage career, but also kept out of trouble for the most part. The stories about being mistaken for Matthew Broderick were pretty cute, and Mr. Cryer's self-deprecating humor added a nice touch!

There were definitely two highlights to the book for me -- Mr. Cryer's days making Pretty in Pink and Two and a Half Men. I have to say that these weren't disappointing. Like many teens who grew up in the 80s, I absolutely loved Pretty in Pink and especially Duckie. No matter what role Mr. Cryer plays, I know Duckie will be my favorite! I enjoyed hearing about the relationship ups and downs with his co-stars as well as how the last scenes were worked and reworked.

Of course, I was also terribly interested in Mr. Cryer's relationship with Charlie Sheen. While all of the drama was going on with Sheen and Lorre, I never really considered the toll it must have taken on the other members of the cast. My heart did go out to Mr. Cryer and I think he handled the situation as well as he could considering the circumstances. The way the entire thing went down was pretty incredible... even by Hollywood standards.

I listened to the audio version of SO THAT HAPPENED, and I honestly think I appreciated the book more because I could hear Mr. Cryer tell his story. There were times when I felt like I was listening to Alan Harper talk, but that made me enjoy it even more. I especially liked Mr. Cryer's dry wit and his ability to laugh at himself.

Overall, SO THAT HAPPENED was a full story about Jon Cryer's action-packed life in Hollywood. Fans of Duckie and Alan Harper will enjoy this book!

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Guest Review: The Valley

Summary: Black didn’t know its name, but he knew it lay deeper and higher than any other place Americans had ventured. You had to travel through a network of interlinked valleys, past all the other remote American outposts, just to get to its mouth. Everything about the place was myth and rumor, but one fact was clear: There were many valleys in the mountains of Afghanistan, and most were hard places where people died hard deaths. But there was only one Valley. It was the farthest, and the hardest, and the worst. 

When Black, a deskbound admin officer, is sent up the Valley to investigate a warning shot fired by a near-forgotten platoon, he can only see it as the final bureaucratic insult in a short and unhappy Army career. What he doesn’t know is that his investigation puts at risk the centuries-old arrangements that keep this violent land in fragile balance, and will launch a shattering personal odyssey of obsession and discovery as Black reckons with the platoon’s dark secrets, accumulated over endless hours fighting and dying in defense of an indefensible piece of land. 

The Valley is a riveting tour de force that changes our understanding of the men who fight our wars and announces John Renehan as one of the great American storytellers of our time. -- Dutton

I'm sure after reading the description for THE VALLEY by John Renehan, you probably knew it wasn't exactly a book for me. Fortunately, Booking Pap Pap is back with his thoughts:

The main character in THE VALLEY is Lieutenant Black.  Black is stationed at “relatively safe” Forward Operating Base Omaha in Afghanistan where he is relegated to desk duty after losing a platoon in an ambush.  Frustrated and bored, Black has decided to leave the Army but he must first complete one last assignment before he tenders his resignation.

Black is assigned a 15-6 investigation concerning a civilian complaint in the province of Darreh-Sin.  Typically a rather benign initial inquiry into a possible wrongdoing, this task takes Black to Combat Outpost-COP- Vega, the most dangerous and remote base in Afghanistan.  Black’s routine inquiry is met with not only a lack of cooperation but a deep disrespect and outright animosity from all those stationed at Vega.       
      
When Black inquiry takes him to Darreh-Sin to talk to the town’s leader about the complaint, he is quickly dispatched back to the base.  Black realizes that the situation at COP Vega is not as it seems and the level of danger there is increasing rapidly.  The events turn quickly from Black’s initial task to an investigation of what is really going on at Vega.

Author John Renehan uses his prior experience as a field artillery officer in Iraq to give the reader a realistic view of the type of turmoil a soldier experiences at a remote outpost like COP Vega and how those experiences may affect him.  The action is non-stop and the real-life situations are both eerie and suspenseful.  Lieutenant Black may be the main character but the real star of the novel is COP Vega and the troops stationed there.

Although I enjoyed the novel I did find that the military lingo and the large number of characters made it difficult to follow the action. I often leafed back through the book to keep the characters clear.  The storyline, while fast-paced, was confusing and only cleared up to some extent in the final chapter of the book. 

THE VALLEY is a nonstop, fast-paced and dark military thriller full of action and mystery.  If you enjoy fiction involving military action, you will probably enjoy THE VALLEY. 

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: Luckiest Girl Alive

Summary: HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free? -- Simon & Schuster

I really wish that critics and fans would stop comparing every new suspense book with an unreliable female narrator to GONE GIRL. It really isn't fair to any of these books including GONE GIRL and the the newest comparison LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll. LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE certainly does have an intriguing narrator and you can't help but think something shocking is going to be revealed by the end of the novel; however, in my mind, this book deserves its own praise for being a terrific read!

LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE tells the story of Ani FaNelli, formerly known as TifAni FaNelli. Ani has done a remarkable job of reinventing herself since her troubling past in a suburban Philadelphia school. Ani has spent much of her life trying to prove herself and fit in with the "rich and successful" types. She's done pretty well for herself -- she lives in New York City, has a great job at a magazine, and is engaged to a wealthy man.

However, Ani's high school years were very different. She attended the prestigious Bradley School where she made a few mistakes and earned quite the reputation. But she's also hiding something else... something that could ruin her "perfect life."

I have to say that LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE was a very entertaining read for me. I absolutely loved so many things about this novel from the storyline, to the surprises, to the writing. However, it might surprise you that one thing I didn't like about this book was Ani! The story was told through Ani's eyes, and I have to say that it was very, very difficult for me to like her for much of the story.

Having said that, Ani was a wonderful character because she was so interesting. She was really caught up in "being someone," and she was also quite caustic. I have to admit that I found myself laughing at her insights on more than one occasion. As the story progressed, however, I became much more sympathetic for Ani. Many of her thoughts and actions were a result of what happened to her when she was a teen... and her feelings of insecurity. I guess, like many women, I could relate a bit to never feeling good enough.

Another thing I really enjoyed about LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE was how the story unfolded. The pacing was just terrific! I couldn't put down this novel because the tension just kept riveting up, and I had a feeling that the reveal was going to be huge! I don't want to give away anything, but suffice it to say, I was satisfied with the ending.

That's a real testament to the writing of Jessica Knoll. It's hard to believe it's her first novel, but I can't wait to see what comes next. I was very impressed with her character development and storytelling abilities, and I loved that she based some of the story on real-life events.

LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE would make a great book club pick, especially if you are looking for something a little more suspenseful. There is a reading guide with fourteen questions along with some ideas for enhancing your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include self awareness, change, forgiveness, success, truth, deception, friendship, and acceptance.

I enjoyed LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE quite a bit! Highly recommended to fans of women's fiction and suspense!

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, May 23, 2015

Kid Konnection: Coming Home 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 the perfect picture book to celebrate Memorial Day!

Summary: Every day, soldiers leave their families to protect others.
We love them. We miss them when they're gone.
And we want them all to come home.
They are our heroes. -- Feiwel & Friends

With Americans celebrating Memorial Day this weekend, it's officially the start of summer. No matter what festivities you have planned, it's important to remember the real reason for this national holiday.

COMING HOME, written and illustrated by Greg Ruth, is the ideal picture book to commemorate Memorial Day. This gorgeous and touching book tells the story of a young boy waiting to reunite with his military parent at the airport. It's received some pretty terrific praise from the likes of The New York Times which said, “COMING HOME makes as strong a case as a picture book can for visual storytelling, and for making few words count.”

Check out how beautiful this book is:
I have a copy of COMING HOME available to one lucky reader courtesy of the publisher. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 5th 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, May 21, 2015

Review: Diamond Head

Summary: A sweeping debut spanning from China to Hawaii that follows four generations of a wealthy shipping family whose rise and decline is riddled with secrets and tragic love—from a young, powerful new voice in fiction.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Frank Leong, a fabulously wealthy shipping industrialist, moves his family from China to the island of Oahu. But something ancient follows the Leongs to Hawaii, haunting them. The parable of the red string of fate, the cord that binds one intended beloved to her perfect match, also punishes for mistakes in love, passing a destructive knot down the family line.

When Frank Leong is murdered, his family is thrown into a perilous downward spiral. Left to rebuild in their patriarch’s shadow, the surviving members of the Leong family try their hand at a new, ordinary life, vowing to bury their gilded past. Still, the island continues to whisper—fragmented pieces of truth and chatter, until a letter arrives two decades later, carrying a confession that shatters the family even further.

Now the Leongs’ survival rests with young Theresa, Frank Leong’s only grandchild, eighteen and pregnant, the heir apparent to her ancestors’ punishing knots. Told through the eyes of the Leong’s secret-keeping daughters and wives and spanning The Boxer Rebellion to Pearl Harbor to 1960s Hawaii, Diamond Head is a breathtakingly powerful tale of tragic love, shocking lies, poignant compromise, aching loss, heroic acts of sacrifice and, miraculous hope. -- Harper

I'm not exactly sure where to begin with my review for DIAMOND HEAD, the debut novel by Cecily Wong. I finished this book many weeks ago and was reluctant to write a review because I'm not sure what to say about this novel. I enjoyed it and thought the writing was stellar; however, there was just something about it that kept me from loving it. I thought I'd let the book percolate awhile to see if I could understand what that was, but I'm still not entirely sure.

DIAMOND HEAD is a multi-generational story that takes the reader from the Boxer Rebellion in China to Pearl Harbor to the 1960s in Hawaii. The novel covers four generations of a well-to-do family in the shipping business but focuses primarily on the women of the family; and it weaves back and forth between their stories of the present day (which is really the 1964) and the past.

The book revolves around the funeral of Bohai Long, the son of Frank and Lin. Frank and Lin came from China to Hawaii at the beginning of the 19th century with hopes for a perfect life. Frank built a mansion for his wife and son with the Black Head volcano in the background, and even brought his sister-in-law with them and supported her after the loss of her husband in the Boxer Rebellion.

Their son Bohai is quiet and reserved (and frankly a little different), so his mother Lin decides to help him find a wife. When the family hires a photographer to take their picture, she handpicks Ann, the photographer's daughter as a potential candidate for Bohai. Ann is currently engaged to a childhood friend; however, when he leaves to fight in the war, things become complicated for them. Despite warnings from her mother about entering a loveless marriage, Ann decides to marry Bohai. This decision ultimately results in some major troubles for the family.

Bohai and Ann have a daughter, Theresa, who finds herself pregnant at 18 and unwilling to reveal the father of her baby. When she arrives at her father's funeral, along with Lin and Ann, she begins to explore her family's secrets and she is shocked by what she learns!

As you can see from my summary, DIAMOND HEAD has a lot going on! I actually found the summary difficult to write because I wanted to give background on this interesting family, but not so much information that I would spoil the story. The novel delves into the lives of Lin, Ann, and Theresa and the choices they made; and overall, I appreciated their stories.

DIAMOND HEAD is a family saga that takes place over 60 years, and it includes many secrets, betrayals, and even some mysticism. I read somewhere that some of the events in the novel are based on the author's families. I do think knowing that made the novel even more intriguing to me. These women's lives were fascinating, and I definitely enjoyed seeing how they related to each other as well as the men in their lives.

One of my favorite things about this novel was how much historical information the author was able to include in Lin and Ann's stories. I have read little about the Boxer Rebellion, and while this wasn't a major part of the book, it was an important part of it. In addition, I enjoyed learning about Hawaii in the early 1900s as well as how what occurred at Pearl Harbor affected the islands. I was very impressed with how well the histories of these places were incorporated into the novel.

In addition, I think Ms. Wong did an excellent job of bringing the female characters to life. I deeply appreciated their stories and my heart definitely went out to all of the women in this novel. The author made these women and their stories so real, and I thought her portrayal of their many relationships was outstanding. One thing is for sure, Ms. Wong definitely has established herself as a beautiful writer.

Another aspect of the story that I liked was how the novel explored the idea of fate. The author used the parable of the red string of fate to bring this concept to light. Basically, there is a red string that tethers us to our one true love. If a person denies that love, it can cause a knot in the string which will have negative implications not only on the person initiating the actions but also their descendants. This curse, if you will, was evident throughout the course of these women's stories; and the use of this parable was extremely well done.

Finally, I appreciated how the story was written and how the secrets were eventually revealed. I liked that the funeral of Bohai brought these three women together and how their stories centered around this event. It was interesting to learn about each woman as they also learned about themselves and each other. Furthermore, the transitions between the stories were smooth and the book moved at a good pace.

DIAMOND HEAD would make an excellent book club pick. There truly is so much to discuss about each of these women as well as the time periods in which the grew up. There is a reading guide available with eleven questions, and Ms. Wong is available for author chats. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, loss, grief, mother/daughter relationships, guilt, control, choices, and fate.

I enjoyed DIAMOND HEAD a great deal but something kept me from actually loving it like I had hoped. I was hoping that maybe writing this review would help flesh it out for me, but unfortunately, I still don't know what was missing for me. The writing was absolutely outstanding and the characters and their stories were interesting. I just think maybe I didn't connect enough to the story for it to truly resonate with me. That's my best guess!

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guest Post: Mary Kay Andrews & Giveaway

Summary: Greer Hennessy is a struggling movie location scout. Her last location shoot ended in disaster when a film crew destroyed property on an avocado grove. And Greer ended up with the blame.

Now Greer has been given one more chance--a shot at finding the perfect undiscovered beach town for a big budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town. There's one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino--which will be perfect for the film's climax--when the bad guys blow it up in an all-out assault on the townspeople.

Greer slips into town and is ecstatic to find the last unspoilt patch of the Florida gulf coast. She takes a room at the only motel in town, and starts working her charm. However, she finds a formidable obstacle in the town mayor, Eben Thinadeaux. Eben is a born-again environmentalist who's seen huge damage done to the town by a huge paper company. The bay has only recently been re-born, a fishing industry has sprung up, and Eben has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. The only problem is that he finds Greer way too attractive for his own good, and knows that her motivation is in direct conflict with his. 

Will true love find a foothold in this small beach town before it's too late and disaster strikes? Told with Mary Kay Andrews inimitable wit and charm, Beach Town is this year's summer beach read! -- St. Martin's Press

Yesterday, I reviewed the latest novel by Mary Kay Andrews called BEACH TOWN. I thoroughly enjoyed this story about a woman trying to get a movie made in a small Florida beach town, and I liked the cute romantic storyline as well. It was just a fun summer read!

Today, I'm happy to have Mary Kay Andrews stop by with a guest post that's certain to get you in the mood for summer and a beach vacation!

THE MAKINGS FOR A PERFECT BEACH DAY
by Mary Kay Andrews
New York Times bestselling author of BEACH TOWN

Let’s face it—just about any day at the beach is pretty near perfect to start with. Unless it’s hurricane season. Assuming you’re not battling gale force winds and killer rip-tides, let’s talk about my idea of the perfect beach day.

Weather, of course, is key to maximum beach enjoyment. I like a sunny day, mid-80s, with a light breeze and low humidity. And as a lifelong Southern girl—let me just say, I don’t do that whole arctic plunge thing. I prefer ambient water temperature equivalent to a hot tub.

Next, let’s talk about who’ll be with you at the beach. Your bff of course, is the ideal beach companion. Unless she’s a dead ringer for Sofia Vergara. Nobody likes a show-off. Or a whiner. Nothing worse than somebody kvetching about sand in her cocktail or expired sunblock. Your perfect beach companion is game for anything, whether it’s strolling for hours picking up seashells, or deconstructing the last episode of MAD MEN. If you simply must take your children to the beach, try to take a friend—or ideally, a babysitter along for them—so the little darlings don’t distract you from important discussions about the best self-tanning products.

Now let’s talk base camp. Proper equipment is vital to maximum beach day enjoyment. Since I can no longer gracefully extract myself from a beach blanket without attracting stares and guffaws from bystanders, I like a sturdy folding chaise lounge.

Last year, for Mother’s Day, my family gifted me with a pair of these amazing Sun in Comfort chairs designed specifically for women, with these built-in slings made of stretchy bathing suit-like material where you can rest your, um, girls, when sunning face-down. The Florida woman who designed these things should, at the very least, get a Nobel Peace Prize. Here’s a link to their website.

http://www.sunincomfort.com/

An umbrella is nice if you’re planning an extended stay, and of course, a decent cooler is absolutely essential. No Styrofoam, please, unless you’re a college freshman on spring break.

I have a dear friend whose husband claims to have majored in cooler at Georgia Tech. He knows the right amount of crushed ice, has layering down to a science, and never, never skimps on adult beverages. The man is a genius, so we have forgiven his taste in loud bathing attire.

Tunes. No beach day is complete without good tunes. Gone are the days when you toted a suitcase-sized “ghetto blaster” over the dunes. Nowadays, you simply tuck your smart-phone—equipped, of course, with a sand and water-proof case, into your beach bag. I realize music is a matter of generational taste, but that said, at the very least you should include a sampling of the Drifters, and the Beach Boys along with your hipper Kid Rock, Katy Perry and Bananarama. Here’s Rolling Stone magazine’s playlist of best summer beach songs ever. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/best-summer-songs-of-all-time-20130701/miserlou-dick-dale-19691231 

Finally, there’s the matter of recreation. Some people like to throw a Frisbee, play paddle-ball or whiffleball, or even Cornhole. Fine. Play away, friends. Me, I like a good book. A beach read, if you’ll forgive the phrase. Nothing too angsty, gory, lurid or terrifying. I want something irresistible, that will keep me turning pages, sort of the literary equivalent of a Beergarita. Dare I suggest, a Mary Kay Andrews title—like my latest? BEACH TOWN???

*****
Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of SAVE THE DATE, LADIES’ NIGHT, CHRISTMAS BLISS, SPRING FEVER, SUMMER RENTAL, THE FIXER UPPER, DEEP DISH, BLUE CHRISTMAS, SAVANNAH BREEZE, HISSY FIT, LITTLE BITTY LIES and SAVANNAH BLUES.

A former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she wrote ten critically acclaimed mysteries, including the Callahan Garrity mystery series, under her “real” name, which is Kathy Hogan Trocheck. Her mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity Awards.

A native of St. Petersburg, Florida (and a diplomate of the Maas Bros. Department Store School of Charm), she started her professional journalism career in Savannah, Georgia, where she covered the real-life murder trials which were the basis of MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL.

As a lifelong “junker” the author claims to know the location of every promising thrift store, flea market and junkpile in the Southeastern United States, plus many parts of Ohio.

She has a B.A. in newspaper journalism from The University of Georgia (go Dawgs!), and is a frequent lecturer and writing teacher at workshops including Emory University, The University of Georgia’s Harriet Austin Writer’s Workshop, the Tennessee Mountain Writer’s Workshop and the Antioch Writer’s Workshop.

Married to her high school sweetheart, Tom, she has two adult children and two grandchildren. After a three-year hiatus in Raleigh, NC, she and her husband moved back to their old neighborhood in Atlanta. She also owns two restored beach cottages on Tybee Island, GA, both of which are named for fictional locations in her novels.

http://marykayandrews.com/
https://www.facebook.com/marykayandrewsauthor
https://twitter.com/mkayandrews

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of BEACH TOWN to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before June 2nd at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: Beach Town

Summary: Greer Hennessy is a struggling movie location scout. Her last location shoot ended in disaster when a film crew destroyed property on an avocado grove. And Greer ended up with the blame.

Now Greer has been given one more chance--a shot at finding the perfect undiscovered beach town for a big budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town. There's one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino--which will be perfect for the film's climax--when the bad guys blow it up in an all-out assault on the townspeople.

Greer slips into town and is ecstatic to find the last unspoilt patch of the Florida gulf coast. She takes a room at the only motel in town, and starts working her charm. However, she finds a formidable obstacle in the town mayor, Eben Thinadeaux. Eben is a born-again environmentalist who's seen huge damage done to the town by a huge paper company. The bay has only recently been re-born, a fishing industry has sprung up, and Eben has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. The only problem is that he finds Greer way too attractive for his own good, and knows that her motivation is in direct conflict with his. 

Will true love find a foothold in this small beach town before it's too late and disaster strikes? Told with Mary Kay Andrews inimitable wit and charm, Beach Town is this year's summer beach read! -- St. Martin's Press

Summer is quickly approaching! I can definitely tell because the weather here has been unseasonably hot and humid, but I also know because BEACH TOWN by Mary Kay Andrews is now available. It seems like Ms. Andrews always has a fun book just in time for summer escape reading. This one is no exception.

BEACH TOWN tells the story of Greer Hennessy, a movie location scout, who is trying to prove herself after a bad experience on her last movie. She is tasked with finding the "perfect" beach town on the Florida coast for a major motion picture; and by "perfect," I mean undiscovered. Not exactly any easy thing to do in Florida where every town seems to be built up for tourists!

Greer eventually finds the perfect town on the Florida gulf coast where's there an old hotel, a marina, and a fishing pier with a deserted casino. All of it is absolutely perfect for the director's vision -- even the deserted casino is ideal for the film's climax where he wants to blow up a building. It all seems to good to be true!

And then Greer meets the pesky (and very handsome) mayor Eben Thinadeaux. Since BEACH TOWN is part rom com, it shouldn't surprise you that there is some tension between Greer and Eben. They disagree on destroying the casino... among other things! However, the chemistry between the two complicates things; and they aren't entirely sure what's right and what's wrong when it comes to saving the casino and their feelings for each other!

One thing's for sure when you pick up a Mary Kay Andrews' novel -- you know exactly what to expect. Her tried-and-true formula for writing fun and sweet books has worked has given her a great deal of success. And BEACH TOWN certainly fits right in with what fans have come to know and love about her novels. This book is very entertaining and a wonderful way to spend some time by the pool or beach!

I enjoyed BEACH TOWN quite a bit. My only regret was reading it before my vacation next month. I  liked Greer and found her job to be interesting -- it was fun to get a glimpse into the world of movie making. I also really liked Eben and especially the on and off again relationship between the two. It was funny, and at times, a little sweet. Of course, the course of true love never did run smooth; and Greer and Eben certainly had to overcome a lot, including some pesky people who wanted to keep them apart.

Another good thing about BEACH TOWN was the setting. I loved this little beach town hidden on the Florida coast and it was the perfect place for this story to take place. It was almost as if this town was stuck in the past... and I mean that in a good way! The buildings and the town's citizens were eccentric and extremely interesting, and I found myself wishing I could experience this town.

My only issue, if you can really call it that, with BEACH TOWN was the length of the novel. This was a pretty big book coming in at over 400 pages. As cute as I thought the book was, I could have done with a little less pages. But remember, I'm of the mindset that most stories can be told in 300 - 350 pages.

BEACH TOWN is a great summer read, filled with humor and romance! Highly recommended to fans of Mary Kay Andrews and rom com books!

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

Make sure you stop by tomorrow for a fantastic guest post from none other than Mary Kay Andrews as well as a giveaway for BEACH TOWN!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: The Forgotten Girls (Audio)

Summary: Four days later, Louise Rick still had no answers.

The body of an unidentified woman was discovered in a local forest. A large, unique scar on one side of her face should have made the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. As the new commander of the Missing Persons Department, Louise risks involving the media by releasing a photo of the victim, hoping to find someone who knew her.

Louise's gamble pays off: an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a "forgotten girl." But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates more than thirty years ago. Aided by her friend journalist Camilla Lind, Louise finds that the investigation takes a surprising and unsettling turn when it brings her closer to her childhood home. And as she uncovers more crimes that were committed--and hidden--in the forest, she is forced to confront a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed. -Hachette Audio

A few years ago, I read  ONLY ONE LIFE by Sara Blaedel in preparation for meeting her during the week of BEA. I really enjoyed the story and was very impressed with how she wrote not only an interesting mystery but also managed to touch upon some relevant issues in Denmark. I also enjoyed discussing the novel with her albeit very briefly at a party!

So when THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS was released in the United States, I was certain that I wanted to read it... or listen to it! THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS stars detective Louise Rick and reveals a horrific murder mystery. It's both intriguing and disturbing, and I was even more disconcerted to learn that the story is actually based on some true incidents. That totally creeped me out!

THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS begins when an unidentified woman is found dead in the woods. The police are stumped when no one is reported missing; however, she does have an identifying mark on her face -- a large scar. Louise, the new commander of the Missing Persons Department, definitely has her hands full so she releases a photo of the victim to the media in the hopes that someone will come forward.

An older woman calls the police and says the victim is Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution. Lisemette, along with her twin, were issued death certificates more than 30 years ago! How strange is that? As Louise returns to her childhood hometown to investigate the murder, she makes some startling discoveries while also dredging up some things from her past.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS was a terrific mystery and I have to admit that I was absolutely shocked by how the events played out. I loved the complexity and "twistedness" of this story, and I am still reeling from Louise discovered. As far as creepy mysteries go, this was most definitely a good one!

However if I'm being entirely honest, I felt as if the side story of Louise's personal life wasn't as strong. I didn't love the romantic aspect of the story -- it was just a little too predictable. In addition, I found the role of her friend Camilla, a journalist who was helping her with the mystery, to be odd. One on hand, she delved into the case and uncovered some interesting clues. But on the other, the circus surrounding her marriage was just weird.

Maybe it was the juxtaposition of Louise's current life with the serious nature of the crime, but something just seemed off. I am the first to admit that the crimes in this novel were brutal and the book might have needed some lighter moments. I'm just not sure Camilla's marriage and Louise's hookup were the right ones.

The audiobook of THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS was read by Christine Lakin. She also read GLORY O'BRIENS HISTORY OF THE FUTURE which I listened to (and enjoyed) a few months ago. As much as I loved her performance in GLORY O'BRIEN, I was a little disappointed with it in this book. I think she had the right tone for the story, but I found myself distracted by some of the accents she used. Granted, the book seemed to require some complex accents because it took place in Denmark; however, I wasn't convinced that her accents sounded authentic.

Overall, I appreciated THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS and am glad that I listened to it, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved this story. The mystery was intriguing though, and for that reason, I do recommend it to fans of mysteries and thrillers.

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, May 16, 2015

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016


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 and educational resource for kids!

Summary: This New York Times bestseller is packed with incredible photos, tons of fun facts, crafts, activities, and fascinating articles about animals, science, nature, technology, and more. New features include a special section on animal friends; an updated "Fun and Games" chapter filled with all-new games, jokes, and comics; a new "Dino Myths Busted" feature; all new weird-but-true facts, crafts, and activities; a new special "15 Facts" feature in every chapter; updated reference material, and much more! And, this is the only kids' almanac with mobile media features that allow kids to access National Geographic videos, photo galleries, and games. -- National Geographic Kids

I am really excited to share the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ALMANAC 2016. This full color, paperback book is full of gorgeous photos and interesting facts about science. All of the information is presented in an easy-to-read format that makes learning fun for kids!

I realize that I'm about 35 years or so past the target audience, but I love this book! There are so many fun facts and games about animals, history, nature, technology, and more. Each page is totally different from the other ones, and I have a feeling that it's one of those books that kids pick up again and again.

The NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ALMANAC 2016 is over 350 pages and has loads of information about anything and everything. Just to give you a little idea of what is covered in this book... there are the following sections: Your World 2016, Awesome Adventure, Amazing Animals, Super Science, Wonders of Nature, Fun and Games, Culture Connection, Going Green, History Happens, and Geography Rocks. As you can clearly see, there is something for just about everyone within the pages of this book.

I absolutely love how the information is presented in this book. There is a wide variety of layouts including pages with color photos and captions, lists, quizzes, and even jokes. Believe me when I say, there is nothing boring about these facts. This book makes learning so much fun that I'm not even sure kids will realize that this book is educational!

Another cool thing about this edition of the ALMANAC 2016 is that there are free digital extras. Included with this book are free animal videos, games, photos, and more for your mobile device or computer. But you have to "work" to get them! You and your child can hunt for clues that are hidden throughout the book. These clues unlock the digital extras at kids.nationalgeographic.com/almanac-2016.

I can't rave enough about the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ALMANAC 2016. It's both fun and educational; and based on Booking Son's reaction, kids are going to love it!

Thanks to Media Masters 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, May 14, 2015

Review: Dear Carolina

Summary: A moving debut novel about two mothers—one biological and one adoptive—from a compelling new voice in Southern women’s fiction.

One baby girl.
Two strong Southern women.
And the most difficult decision they’ll ever make.

Frances “Khaki” Mason has it all: a thriving interior design career, a loving husband and son, homes in North Carolina and Manhattan—everything except the second child she has always wanted. Jodi, her husband’s nineteen-year-old cousin, is fresh out of rehab, pregnant, and alone. Although the two women couldn’t seem more different, they forge a lifelong connection as Khaki reaches out to Jodi, encouraging her to have her baby. But as Jodi struggles to be the mother she knows her daughter deserves, she will ask Khaki the ultimate favor…

Written to baby Carolina, by both her birth mother and her adoptive one, this is a story that proves that life circumstances shape us but don’t define us—and that families aren’t born, they’re made… -- Berkley

This might sound shallow, but I mean it in the nicest way possible. One of the reasons I picked up
DEAR CAROLINA by Kristy Woodson Harvey was the gorgeous cover. I know I shouldn't "judge" a book by its cover, but this one is seriously beautiful... and puts me in the mood for summer! I'm happy to say that DEAR CAROLINA is much more than just a pretty face. This novel was a touching story about what it means to be a mother and the importance of family in our lives!

DEAR CAROLINA tells the story of two very different women. Khaki Mason seems to have it all -- a successful career as an interior designer, a wonderful husband, and an adorable son. However, her inability to have another child puts a damper on that! Jodi is her husband's cousin whose life is on a very different track. She's 19 and pregnant... and also a recovering alcoholic. The father of the child is gone and she's pretty much scared and all alone.

When Jodi turns to Khaki and her husband for some help, the women forge an unlikely bond. Khaki finds herself becoming very attached to the baby girl, while Jodi isn't sure she's cut out to be a mother. When Jodi decides to allow Khaki to adopt Carolina, she proves that being a good mother sometimes requires huge sacrifices.

DEAR CAROLINA was a beautiful story and really touched my heart. I was impressed with Ms. Harvey's writing skills and she definitely created a cast of characters that will remain in my thoughts for some time. While I do read a fair share of women's fiction with similar themes, I liked that this book was a little different from most. By that I mean I appreciated the way she wrote this novel -- in the form of letters to Carolina from both women.

This novel was Ms. Harvey's first one and I hope it's just the beginning of a successful writing career. I was very impressed with how well Ms. Harvey created strong female characters who, although very different, were both good mothers. In addition, I respected the way she portrayed Khaki and Jodi's troubles. I found her depiction of both infertility and addiction to be very real... and I think that's why I felt as if I truly understood these characters. As a result, my heart went out to Khaki and Jodi; and I was inspired by their friendship with each other.

DEAR CAROLINA would make a wonderful book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide on-line. However, I don't think finding things to discuss will be a problem for most groups. There are many relevant issues in this story that women will enjoy discussing including family, friendship, mother/child relationships, marriage, loss, grief, addiction, abuse, and sacrifice. I also think Khaki and Jodi are interesting characters, and many people will like analyzing their actions.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Giveaway: Mary Kay Andrews Prize Pack

Summary: When you need to make a change in life

Ellis, Julia, and Dorie. Best friends since Catholic grade school, they now find themselves in their mid-thirties, at the crossroads of life and love. Ellis, recently fired from her job, begins to question the choices she's made over the past decade. Julia has a man who loves her and is offering her the world, but she can no longer hide her deepest insecurities. And Dorie has just been shockingly betrayed by the man she loved and trusted the most. Can a one-month getaway to North Carolina's Outer Banks help make things right?

Sometimes the tide just pulls you in the right direction…

The landlord of the ladies' beach house is Ty Bazemore, who's hanging on to the property by a thread--even as he finds himself spiraling into a deep attraction with Ellis. Then there's Maryn Shackleford, a stranger who arrives on the scene in search of a good hiding place and a new identity. Can Ellis, Julia, and Dorie provide what Maryn is looking for? Five people on a journey that will uncover their secrets and point them on the path to renewal and forgiveness. One summer rental that might be what each of them has needed all along… -- St. Martin's Paperbacks


Summary: Can this wedding be saved?Up-and-coming floral designer Cara Kryzik is about to score the wedding of a lifetime--one that will solidify her career as the go-to-girl for Savannah society nuptials. The only problem is, life seems to be conspiring against her. Cara's implacable father, "The Colonel", doesn't believe in Cara's business savvy and is about to call in his twenty-thousand-dollar loan. Then, on the morning that someone steals her dog, Cara's refrigerator goes on the blink, turning twelve thousand dollars' worth of gorgeous blooms into road kill. And if that's not enough, the dog-napper, Jack Finnerty, turns up at her latest wedding and then mysteriously leaves her stranded on the dance floor. All this turmoil will be solved if Cara can pull off the lavish Trappnell-Strayhorn wedding. The payday will solve all her problems--even the looming problem of a celebrated florist named Cullen Keane who is moving into her turf from Charleston. But the wedding is in six weeks, the bride is acting strangely (even for a bride) and the stepmother of the bride is becoming Cara's biggest headache. What Cara needs is to focus, but that's not easy when Jack is turning up at every wedding in Savannah (the man seems to know everybody), with Cara in his sights and seduction on his mind. When Brooke Trappnell spirals into a shocking crisis and the wedding is in jeopardy, Cara must come to the rescue and figure out what she really believes in. Is it love? Is it her own strength? In the end, for everyone, "Save the Date" has more meanings than one. Told with Mary Kay Andrews's trademark wit and keen eye for detail, Save the Date is one you won't want to miss. -- St. Martin's Griffin

Summer just wouldn't seem like summer without reading a novel by Mary Kay Andrews. Her books are so much fun and a great way to escape by the pool or the beach. To celebrate the arrival of summer (it's closer than you think!), I have two great books to share with you -- SUMMER RENTAL and SAVE THE DATE. I have read both of these books (you can read my reviews here and here), and I promise that they are truly entertaining.

Thanks to the fine folks at Tandem Literary, I have an amazing Mary Kay Andrews Goodie Bag which contains the following:
  • Copy of SAVE THE DATE in trade paperback
  • Copy of SUMMER RENTAL in mass market paperback
  • Two different Mary Kay Andrews bookmarks
  • Set of 3 SAVE THE DATE recipe cards
  • SAVE THE DATE magnet
  • MKA Summer Rental sticker
  • BEACH TOWN lip balm with SPF 15

To enter, just fill out the form below before May 26th 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!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Club Exchange: Reading Group Choices & Giveaway

I'd like to welcome Mary Morgan from Reading Group Choices to Book Club Exchange. I have been a big fan of this site for years, and I've even been lucky enough to visit with Mary at last year's BEA.

Reading Group Choices is a wonderful website, and I've received many terrific book club recommendations from it. I've even won a giveaway or two over the years! You will definitely want to check it out!

One of my favorite things about Reading Group Choices is their yearly guide (also) called READING GROUP CHOICES. This year's 2015 edition is filled with over 50 titles carefully selected to be of interest to reading groups. There is a brief description of the book along with insightful "Conversation Starters " to facilitate lively group discussions. I have a few guides from past years, and my book club loved looking through them and selecting books!

Today, Mary has written a fantastic guest post that's perfect for those of you who are looking to start a book club. For those of you already in book clubs, I'm sure you'll agree that her advice is sound!

HOW TO START A BOOK GROUP – FROM READING GROUP CHOICES 

Book groups form for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of locations. A group may be made up of friends, co-workers, parents, neighbors, or people who were once strangers. A group may meet at a bookstore, home, café, church, or park. But, no matter the reason for creation, or the space that they are held, there is one common factor: book groups are filled with people who love reading and talking about books! 


While it is hopefully easy for you to enjoy your book group, it is sometimes challenging to start one. Here are a few ideas and tips for starting a successful and enjoyable group:


THINK: Think about what you would like to find in a book group – are you looking for a specific type of group: A group focused on cookbooks and food books? A mother-daughter/father-son group? A group that enjoys research and a more analytic approach? Or are you looking for a more common version filled with neighbors and acquaintances? 


INVITE: Once you have an idea of the group you would like to organize, you need to find people who are interested in joining. You can extend invitations to friends, neighbors, and co-workers via email, but if you are interested in meeting new people, you could post an ad at your local bookstores and in neighborhood newsletters. Whether you choose friends, acquaintances, or new people, it is important to find people who are as interested and excited as you are!


MEET: It is good for everyone to get together before the book group’s first book discussion in order to talk about the group’s goals or mission. What does everyone hope to get out of this group, and how will it be a welcoming, fun, and interesting experience? Do you want to establish any ground rules in order to make sure you keep your goals in mind? 


Some groups will make a list of words that come to mind when they think of the kind of group they would like to have: welcoming, engaged, positive, energetic, organized. Some groups write down objectives they want to follow: Encourage positive discussion; respect others’ thoughts even when they are different from your own; participate in discussion by asking questions; provide positive feedback to other members’ ideas.


We find that groups that answer these questions together and come up with guidelines/mission statement are the most successful in the long run. By answering these questions, you are creating a shared purpose and understanding for the group, which helps people make sure they are joining a group that matches their personal goals, and helps avoid future problems as well. Don’t worry if someone doesn’t end up joining! Remember – you want to be in a group with people who are just as excited as you are to be there! It can also be helpful to return to these guidelines as the group expands or changes. 


PLAN: Once you have formed your group and established your bigger-picture goals, you need to plan: 


Meeting Time and Place: 

Where will you meet? Will you meet in the same location each time? How often? What time? How long will meetings last? What are the group members’ responsibilities? Will you designate a specific time for socializing? What will the social atmosphere be?

Some groups will meet in the same café each month, while others will rotate houses. It’s up to you to decide where you would like to meet, but it is important to understand how much time everyone can commit. If you meet in a communal location like a café or library, no one has the responsibility of hosting or providing snacks/beverages, but some members may enjoy hosting and entertaining. Gauge your group’s interests. Some groups even meet in different places depending on the book they are reading – they match the book to the meeting location! It’s always fun to think of unique ways to engage with the book. 


Social Time:

It is important to think about how/if you want to include socializing in your book group. As you become friends, you may want to take time to catch up during book group. We recommend including that time at the end – maybe while enjoying a dessert!

Book Choice:

Decide what types of books you will read. Will you focus on a specific topic or genre? Are you open to a variety of writing forms? Will you consider themed months? Do you want to read new releases or wait for paperbacks to have better library access?

Once you decide the types of books you’ll read, consider how you will choose books and when you will choose them. Some groups rotate so each member chooses one book. Larger groups may have a meeting where everyone brings a couple of books, and the group members vote on their favorites. Some groups receive a list of book recommendations from a facilitator. At Reading Group Choices we publish a guide filled with new recommendations each year! We also offer our Custom Club, and can build a list specifically for your group based on members’ interests. 


Discussion: 

How will each discussion be led? Will you designate a leader? Will you have a professional facilitator or guest speakers? Who is responsible for providing author information and giving an introduction to the group’s discussion? Do you want to set up any rules for discussion? 

The discussion set-up can vary depending on the meeting and on the book, but it’s good to understand how you would like discussions to work. You want to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and that everyone who wants to speak is able. 


We hope you found this information helpful on how to start a book group – some of these tips may be helpful for people in groups already as well! Please check out Reading Group Choices for more information, resources, and new book recommendations each month. You can order our annual book recommendation guide straight from the site, sign up for our free monthly eNewsletter, and apply to be one of our Spotlight Clubs to win books for your entire group!


Happy Reading!


Reading Group Choices


Giveaway alert: I have five copies of READING GROUP CHOICES 2015 to share with five lucky readers. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 21st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!



*****
Reading Group Choices selects discussible books and suggests discussion topics for reading groups. The company produces a printed guide annually that is distributed nationally to libraries, reading groups, book stores, community book festivals, and individuals. Its popular website offers interesting, informative, fun, and interactive material of interest to book clubs.

If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: The Revelation of Louisa May

Summary: Louisa May Alcott can't believe it—her mother is leaving for the summer to earn money for the family and Louisa is to be in charge of the household. How will she find the time to write her stories, much less have any adventures of her own? But before long, Louisa finds herself juggling her temperamental father, a mysterious murder, a fugitive seeking refuge along the Underground Railroad, and blossoming love. Intertwining fact, fiction, and quotes from Little Women, Michaela MacColl has crafted another spunky heroine whose story will keep readers turning pages until the very end. -- Chronicle Books

A few days ago, I featured a guest post written by Michaela MacColl, author of THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY. This essay gives a great summary of the novel as well as some of the background on the story, and you should really check it out... not to mention that there's a great giveaway for a copy of this novel.

THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY is a terrific book starring Louisa May Alcott when she was a teen. It is primarily a mystery, but there's also some action and suspense along with a little romance. Louisa finds herself in charge of her household when her mother leaves for a few months to earn some much needed money for the family. Needless to say she's less than thrilled to be left behind with her eccentric father and an assortment of chores.

Louisa's family has been involved in the Underground Railroad for some time, but with her mother gone, Louisa has to take on a more important role in helping fugitives hide and escape. A slave catcher named Finch arrives in Concord and he suspects that the Alcotts are involved in the Underground Railroad. As a result, he begins watching Louisa closely for clues. When Finch is found dead, Louisa's father is a prime suspect. Louisa, along with her friend (and possible romantic interest) Fred, are determined to find out the truth behind the murder.

I thought THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY was a great book! I've always been a fan of Louisa May Alcott, so that was probably the main reason I was drawn to this story; however, I quickly realized that this book was intriguing for a variety of reasons. I thought the mystery aspect was interesting, but it was the portrayal of Louisa's character that really made this book special to me!

Louisa was a strong-willed and spunky teenage girl, and I think young adult readers are going to love her! She's smart as a whip and has strong opinions, but she's also girl who is courageous and not afraid to stand up for what she believes. As soon as Louisa decided that she was going to get to the bottom of the murder, I never had a doubt that she'd follow it through to completion.

Another part of THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY that I appreciated was how well the author incorporated the Underground Railroad into the story. If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you might know how much I love books that take place in the years before, during and right after the Civil War. I am fascinated by the Underground Railroad and how many brave families supported the effort to free slaves. Since the Alcotts were known for their abolitionist beliefs, it was fitting to have a story about Louisa include their actions to help fugitive slaves.

And finally, I loved how Ms. MacColl was able to blend the fact and fiction of Louisa's life into the novel. I have a feeling that she captured Louisa's personality pretty well, as well as her father's and mother's; and I especially liked how some of Louisa's famous neighbors (like Thoreau and Emerson) made guest appearances in this book. I also really appreciated that there were an Author's Note and a Further Reading section in the back of the book. The Author's Note did an excellent job of separating the fact from fiction in the novel.

Because there was so much history woven into the pages of THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY, I can easily see how teachers could incorporate reading this novel into their curriculum. In fact, there is a Common Core Aligned Teacher's Guide available to help them do just that. This guide has discussion questions, writing prompts, and other pre-reading and reading activity suggestions.

I found THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY to be a delightful read. It has something for everyone and it might even teach readers a thing or two about Louisa's life and the time period in which she lived! Highly recommended!

Make sure you check out my giveaway for a copy of THE REVELATION OF LOUISA MAY. There is open for a only a few more days!

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.