Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kid Konnection: Chronicle Picture Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a couple of picture books that are coming soon from Chronicle Books.

Summary: It's the day before the big parade. Alta can only think about one thing: Wilma Rudolph, three-time Olympic gold medalist. She'll be riding on a float tomorrow. See, Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee, just like Wilma once was. It doesn't matter that Alta's shoes have holes because Wilma came from hard times, too. But what happens when a new girl with shiny new shoes comes along and challenges Alta to a race? Will she still be the quickest kid? The Quickest Kid in Clarksville is a timeless story of dreams, determination, and the power of friendship. -- Chronicle

THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Frank Morrison is a wonderful story about a young girl determined to be the fastest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee... just like Wilma Rudolph was. Alta, is certain she is fast despite having shoes with holes in them; however, when Charmaine, the new girl in town (with brand new sneakers), challenges her to a race, she has to channel her inner Wilma if she wants to win!

Both girls are desperate to prove that they are the fastest kid in Clarksville, and their determination and jealousy causes them to exhibit some less than stellar behavior. Can the big parade and the real-life Wilma Rudolph bring these two together?

I thought the QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE was delightful. The story was adorable and the illustrations were the perfect complement to the story. I especially appreciated the messages in this picture book. I think all children will relate to the powerful lessons about jealousy, determination, confidence, dreams, and friendship.

Another special aspect of this book was the author's note at the end. There is a page devoted to Wilma Rudolph and her accomplishments. I love that this book is not only entertaining but educational as well!

This book will be available on February 9th, and it's perfect for February's Black History Month and March's Women's History Month! Highly recommended!

Summary: Join Aaron Reynolds and Sara Varon as they explore the ideal qualities of leaders, diplomats...and giant squid. Squid knows all about being president. It means living in a big house, doing all the talking—oh, and having a tie is crucial. He's all set! In the next election, make a more informed choice. Vote for President Squid! -- Chronicle

Just in case you can't get enough about presidents and presidential candidates, PRESIDENT SQUID by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Sara Varon might be the perfect picture book for you. In this very cute book, a giant neon pink squid shows what he thinks it takes to be president!

He outlines all of the important things that make up being a president like wearing a tie, living in a huge house, being famous, and more! He tries to convince his fellow sea creatures that he should be President Squid, the greatest president who ever lived. Unfortunately for Squid, none of the sea creatures are hailing him!

When Squid learns that there are more important qualities that make up a president, he discovers that his friends suddenly find him very presidential! But is that enough for the giant squid?

I admit that I had to chuckle when I read PRESIDENT SQUID. The book is silly and, given the political environment in our country right now, I found a few things to be very entertaining. I was happy to see that the giant squid began to realize that the president has many important responsibilities such as service and helping others; however, his awareness seemed to be short-lived.

I do think kids will enjoy Squid's antics because he is rather silly, and I think parents might just chuckle as parts of this book hit a little too close to home. PRESIDENT SQUID will be in stores on March 1st... which just happens to be Super Tuesday.

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, January 28, 2016

Exciting Book Club News!

After almost 14 years, it can be difficult to keep a book club going. Through the years, we've seen women come and go; and frankly, there were times when I wasn't quite sure we'd be able to keep the club going. However the past few months, we've had some pretty exciting things happen.

First, we welcomed some new members and much needed fresh blood in our group. That's not a knock against anyone in my group, of course. As our numbers dwindled, we just needed a few more people to keep things interesting... and give us enough people to make our meetings worthwhile. There were a few times when there weren't even enough of us available to meet!

And even more exciting is the news that we were chosen as one of the 2016 Book Club Girl Book Club Sweepstakes Winners. Only ten clubs were selected, and I can say that my group (the Booking Mamas) is absolutely thrilled. Each month, we get to choose our book club selection based on a list that we receive from Harper Collins; and they send books for the entire group (up to twelve.)  In addition, we are supposed to receive some Book Club Girl swag; and we even get the opportunity to have Skype visits with some of the authors. This month, all of the choices looked pretty darn good:

THE GOLDEN SON by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
THE EVENING SPIDER by Emily Arsenault
THE RAMBLERS by Aidan Donnelley Rowley
WHAT REMAINS OF ME by Alison Gaylin
WHAT THE WAVES KNOW by Tamara Valentine
BE FRANK WITH ME by Julia Clairborne Johnson

Our  group took an informal vote and selected WHAT REMAINS OF ME by Alison Gaylon. Normally, we take turns hosting and the individual hostess selects the book and leads the discussion. However for the next year, we decided it might be fun to vote on what we read. We'll see how it works out!

I can't tell you how excited I am to be part of this amazing program! Thanks Book Club Girl!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Guest Review: The Darkest Day

Summary: World-class assassin Victor finds himself under fire in the new thriller from bestselling author Tom Wood


While carrying out a hit on a terrorist financier, Victor finds himself the target of an assassin who proves to be just as deadly as he is. Never one to let such a thing go, Victor sets about hunting down his attacker and those who sent her. She is Raven—a freelance assassin with a dark past and hidden agenda. If Victor wants to stay alive he must find out who Raven really is and what she is truly after.


Does she really want him dead, or does someone else want them to kill each other? With the stakes growing higher by the minute—as a city-wide blackout plunges Manhattan into darkness—Victor and Raven must decide who is friend and who is foe before a deadly terrorist plot threatens to consume the city and them along with it. -- Signet

When I received THE DARKEST DAY by Tom Wood, I admit that it wasn't a book that I was dying to read. I thought my dad might like it so I passed it along to him. Ends up -- he did. Here are his thoughts:

THE DARKEST DAY by Tom Wood is a thriller featuring an assassin-for-hire who goes by the name Victor. Victor has accepted a recent job to assassinate a Saudi prince who is a major funding source for terrorism. When he attempts to execute the prince in Prague he finds he’s been setup and someone is trying to kill him. Victor’s efforts now turn to finding out who is trying to kill him and who ordered the hit. He discovers the assassin is a woman with the code name Raven and follows her trail to New York City. When he meets Raven he learns that they are both targeted for murder by the same man. As Victor fights for survival, Manhattan falls into a blackout scripted by terrorists. He works to save the city from further attack while at the same time pursuing the man who wants him dead.

THE DARKEST DAY is a typical thriller with lots of fast action, plenty of killing, gun fights and car chases. If I have one criticism of the book, it is that the two extremely lengthy chase scenes took up about 45 pages of the 421 page novel. There are only so many ways to run down streets, wreck cars and squeal tires. Wood’s characters are interesting considering that they are all sinister, evil people. You find yourself liking Victor even though he’s a cold-blooded killer because he is the lesser of the evils. It is also the rare book that has minimal profanity and sex. Author Tom Wood keeps the novel current with mention of the military-industrial complex and terrorism, each which has an impact on the world today.

THE DARKEST DAY is a very fast paced easy to read thriller with a complex plot, plenty of twists and turns and an ending that is absolutely brilliant. This is the fifth Tom Wood book with Victor as the lead character and if the first four are as good as THE DARKEST DAY, they are worth reading as well.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: That Other Me

Summary: From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Sand Fish, Maha Gargash’s second novel is set in mid-1990s Dubai and Cairo and tells the story of how secrets and betrayals consume three members—an authoritarian father, a rebellious abandoned daughter, and a vulnerable niece—of a prominent Emirati family. Majed, the head of the eminent Naseemy family, is proud to have risen into the upper echelons of Emirati society. As one of the richest businessmen in Dubai, he’s used to being catered to and respected—never mind that he acquired his wealth by cheating his brother out of his own company and depriving his niece, Mariam, of her rights.

Not one to dwell on the past—he sent Mariam to school in Egypt, what more could she want from him?—Majed spends his days berating his wife and staff and cavorting with friends at a private apartment. But he’s suddenly plagued by nightmares that continue to haunt him during the day, and he feels his control further slipping away with the discovery that his niece and his daughter are defying his orders.

Mariam despises Majed, and although she blames him for her father’s death, hers is a strictly-organized, dutiful existence. But when she falls for a brash, mischievous fellow student named Adel, he might just prove to be her downfall.

Largely abandoned by Majed as the daughter of a second, secret marriage, the vivacious Dalal has a lot to prove. The runner-up on “Nights of Dubai,” an American Idol-type reality show for Arab talent, Dalal is committed to being a singer despite the fact that it’s a disreputable career. When her efforts to become a celebrity finally begin to pay off, she attracts the attention of her father, who is determined to subdue Dalal to protect the family name. As Majed increasingly exerts his control over both Dalal and Mariam, both girls resist, with explosive consequences.

An exhilarating look at the little-known Khaleeji (Gulf-Arab) culture, That Other Me explores the ways social mores contribute to the collapse of one family. -- Harper

My husband is probably cringing right now, but one of the reasons that I enjoy reading so much is that I can learn about other cultures. He would tell me to pick up some non-fiction books rather than reading so much fiction if I really wanted to learn; however, I am quite happy with reading a good story and learning a thing or two if I'm lucky!

And that's why I picked up THAT OTHER ME by Maha Gargash. It sounded like a fascinating story about an Emirati family, and I know basically nothing about this culture. The description of the novel sounded interesting, and I do love a good family drama. For the most part, the book delivered on these fronts; however, I can't go so far as to say I loved it.

THAT OTHER ME tells the story of the Naseemy family. The Naseemy family is extremely wealthy, and Majed, the patriarch, has found much success in the Dubai business world. Majed also happens to be a controlling (and often times nasty) man who has little respect for women... even (or especially) those in his family.

The novel focuses on Majed, his illegitimate daughter Dalal, and his niece Mariam; and the story is told in alternating chapters through their voices. Dalal lives with her mother in a run down apartment as she tries to become a celebrity vocalist. Naturally, Majed doesn't approve of this career choice for her; and as she begins to discover some fame, he tries to thwart her efforts.

Mariam, on the other hand, is a student in Egypt studying dentistry. She hate her uncle because she blames him for the death of her father, and she resents that her entire life is pretty much under is control.  As both young women try to assert power over their own lives and ultimately challenge Majed's control, he becomes more and more frustrated and will to do whatever it takes to protect his family name.

I enjoyed THAT OTHER ME and there were things about this novel that were very good. I found the cultural aspects of the story to be fascinating, and the family dynamics were pretty interesting as well. However, I still think something was missing from this novel and I can't really put my finger on it. All I can figure is that I didn't love any of the characters for much of the story.

Of course, Majed was just a horrible man. He verbally abused his wife along with his niece and daughter, and I really didn't "enjoy" his chapters very much because I couldn't get over just how mean he was. His daughter Dalal was certainly determined to make a name for herself in the entertainment world; and while I appreciated her dedication, I really didn't feel much of anything for her. Mariam was probably the character I most liked of the three. She was definitely sympathetic given her story and what happened to her father, and I enjoyed seeing her mature despite her uncle and the setbacks she experienced.

What's funny is that one of the more minor characters in the story, Majed's wife, was the character that I appreciated the most. I actually wish she would have been one of the main characters, with her own chapters, so I could have gotten to know her even better. It would have been interesting to hear from her about what is was like living in Majed and dealing with his controlling behavior.

THAT OTHER ME would make a terrific book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find discussion questions. The book is extremely interesting with its insight into another culture, and I do think most American readers will be intrigued by how different it is from ours. In addition, there are some very relevant issues in the story including marriage, fear, love, rules, expectations, sexuality, freedom, traditions, wealth, and the role of women.

THAT OTHER ME is a very interesting story that allows readers to learn about another culture. I recommend it to those of you who enjoy family dramas.

Thanks to Get Red PR for providing a review copy of this book.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: The Doll Maker (Audio)

Summary: Detectives Byrne and Balzano return to the streets of Philadelphia to put an end to a macabre succession of murdered children.

A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her young daughter. There she finds a murdered girl posed on a newly painted bench. Beside her is a formal invitation to a tea dance in a week's time.

Seven days later, two more young victims are discovered in an abandoned house, posed on painted swings. At the scene is an identical invitation. This time, though, there is something extra waiting for Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano: a delicate porcelain doll.

It's a message. And a threat. With the killers at large, Detectives Byrne and Balzano have just seven more days to find the link between the murders before another innocent child is snatched from the streets. -- Hachette Audio

I don't listen to many books, but when I do I usually decide on a mystery or thriller. For some reason, I just prefer this genre to others in the audio format. The latest audio book that I finished was THE DOLL MAKER by Richard Montanari. This is the eighth book in the Byrne and Balzano series, and for some reason, I wasn't familiar with this author or his books. I normally don't like starting part-way through a series, but I can definitely say that I am happy I did just that!

THE DOLL MAKER tells the story of a group of murders where the child victims are left in posed positions. Besides the unique staging of the crime, there is also formal invitations to tea left with the victims; and eventually, there is even a doll left there that looks like the victim of an earlier murder.

The culprit (or culprits) are almost toying with Detectives Byrne and Balzano with the clues they leave with the bodies, and the detectives feel a sense of urgency to find them before they kill another innocent child.

I left my description of the book especially vague because there really is a lot going on in this story and I didn't want to give too much away. I actually wasn't sure how much to tell or not tell! THE DOLL MAKER begins with a gruesome murder of a prostitute before jumping to a police procedural starring Detectives Byrne and Balzano. I admit I didn't think I was going to like this book after that first chapter. The opening scene was extremely graphic, and it didn't seem like my style of book. However after that first chapter, it didn't take long before I was hooked on both these characters and the mystery.

For much of the novel, THE DOLL MAKER kept me fully engrossed in the murder of these children. The events surrounding these murders kept getting creepier and creepier (albeit in a good way!), and I really wasn't sure what was going on. I appreciated that I discovered clues about the crimes along with the detectives; however, there were a few times when I got frustrated by the details of the story. That's not a knock on the author and the pacing of the story. Rather, I think it was that I was experiencing some of the same emotions and anxiety of the Byrne and Balzano!

One thing that I loved about this book was the setting. It takes place in Philadelphia, and the author did a wonderful job of bringing this city to life. In addition, I was extremely impressed with how he portrayed the Philly police department and the inner workings of its employees. His descriptions of the police force seemed to be authentic, and I enjoyed the interactions between its various members.

Despite the title of this book, something I found surprising about this thriller was how much of the story was spent on discussing a famous doll maker as well as the history of doll making. I definitely wasn't expecting the book to go there (even though the title was THE DOLL MAKER), and I can honestly say that I found these details really interesting.

I really enjoyed so many things about the mystery in this novel. It was gripping, suspenseful, disturbing, and more; and the culprits were definitely interesting individuals. I could go on and on about this, but suffice it to say that the story was well done. However what I enjoyed, maybe even more than the mystery, were the characters of Byrne and Balzano. I loved them! The were complex and very likable and the dynamics between the two were excellent. I also appreciated that there was enough included about their pasts and their personal lives to make them even more human.

The audio version of THE DOLL MAKER was read by Scott Brick, and I've heard wonderful things about him. I'm pretty sure I've never listened to a book read by him, and boy have I been missing out! He was absolutely fantastic. I think he's read most of the earlier Byrne and Balzano books (although not Book 7), and between Montanari's storytelling ability and Brick's narration, I definitely intend to go back and read/listen to more of this series!

Overall, THE DOLL MAKER was a pretty solid mystery/thriller. I enjoyed the characters quite a bit as well as the twists and turns. Highly recommended.

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

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kid Konnection: Naptime with Theo & Beau

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you an adorable picture book that might help get your children to sleep!

Summary: It all started when a loving mother posted a few pictures of her son, Beau, and their new puppy, Theo, napping together on her popular blog Momma's Gone City. But these pictures were so "unbearably adorable" (The Daily Mail) and "utterly charming" (The Huffington Post) that it quickly became much, much more. By faithfully recording and sharing what Good Morning America calls "the most mesmerizing naps ever caught on camera," Jessica Shyba and her family captured the hearts of people all over the world, and these beautiful images of friendship and trust have become an international viral sensation. -- Feiwel & Friends

I'm not exactly in "mommy" mode like I used to be. My kids are older now; and while I'm still playing "mommy," my role is very different. Maybe that explains why I wasn't familiar with the blog Momma's Gone City or her incredibly cute photos of her son and their dog... although I do think I remember seeing something on Facebook. The photos caused quite the stir and Jessica Shyba created a precious picture book called NAPTIME WITH THEO & BEAU.

NAPTIME WITH THEO & BEAU, is adorable! This picture book shows a collection of wonderful photographs of Ms. Shyba's son Beau and their dog Theo sleeping. The text is very sparse, just a few words per page, which makes the book ideal for little ones. It will also appeal to parents because it's a quick bedtime read and the photographs are so darn cute. You can't help but smile when you see Theo and Beau's sleeping positions.

The last two pages of NAPTIME WITH THEO & BEAU explain the family's story of how they adopted Beau from a local shelter. It's a sweet story that pet owners will definitely appreciate. Ms. Shyba also describes her son and dog's nap ritual which is just about as sweet as the photographs she captures!

NAPTIME WITH THEO & BEAU is cute beyond words. I look forward to the next book in the Theo & Beau series, BATHTIME WITH THEO & BEAU.

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

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Summary: Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor -- not much else to do in a small town that’s almost beyond repair. They just never imagined that she’d start a bookstore. Or that books could bring them together – and change everything.

There’s a book for every person ... and a person for every book. --  Sourcebooks

THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND by Katarina Bivald has been getting a lot of great buzz! It started at last year's BEA where I was fortunate enough to receive a copy. It captured my attention then both due to the title and the cover -- anything book related for this blogger, right? And as the positive reviews kept coming in, I couldn't help but think this would be a great book for me.

THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND is a quirky and very sweet story about Sara, a woman from Sweden who traveled to Broken Wheel, Iowa, to meet her pen pal Amy. When she arrives at the bus station, no one is there to meet her. She finds her way to Broken Wheel only to discover that Amy has died!

The townspeople of this sleepy and broken-down little town convince Sara to stay. They  treat her with kindness and won't let her pay for a thing, and Sara eventually finds that she might have a purpose in staying there. (There really isn't much left for her in Sweden -- she lost her job at a bookstore and she doesn't have any close friends!) Sara decides to open a bookstore and her goal is to find the right book for every person! Is this not a message that just resonates with all of us book-lovers?

Sara and her actions quickly win over most of the townspeople, and the people in Broken Wheel find a little spring in their step. When they discover that Sara has to return to Sweden after her visa expires, the come up with a harebrained idea to keep her there... if they can just convince everyone involved that it's a good idea.

I really enjoyed THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND. It was a heartwarming story with quirky characters. It was both touching and funny, and I couldn't help but fall in love with this interesting cast of characters. While the story focused around Sara and her bookstore, it was really much more than that. This novel was a look at small town life in the Midwest, and the overall message was one of hope!

While I did think THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND was a light and fun read, it also touched upon some serious and relevant issues. Through the lives of the townspeople, the author managed to explore grief, sexual orientation, acceptance, change, marriage, child custody, and guilt... to name just a few. As a result, I think it would be a great selection for book clubs. There is a reading guide included in the back of my ARC, but I wasn't able to find it on-line.

THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND is a treat to read... especially for book lovers.

I received a copy of this novel at the 2015 BEA.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: The Newsmakers

Summary: TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. Is it due to her hard work and talent, or is she at the center of a spiraling conspiracy?

Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams.

Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now.

On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes—again, right in front of Erica and her cameras. Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it?

Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster—and her troubled past—don’t catch up with her first. -- Thomas Nelson

I'm always up for trying a new mystery and/or a new mystery writer; and after seeing Lis Wiehl at this year's BEA (albeit from a distance), I thought it might be fun to read her latest novel THE NEWSMAKERS. This book was written with Sebastian Stuart and tells the story of a young television reports who seems to be in the "right" place at the "right" time.

When Erica Sparks lands her dream job at Global News Network, she is determined to make a name for herself. Her move to New York from a smaller station in a New England state is a second chance of sorts for Erica. She has had a troubled past, including an almost career ending bout with alcohol; and she has lost her husband and custody of her eight year old daughter.

Erica's first assignment is following the Duchess of Cambridge -- not exactly a fluff piece but not a career making assignment either. However, when a horrible accident occurs involving the Staten Island Ferry, Erica and her team are there to get the scoop. She finds herself an instant news celebrity!

Her career is skyrocketing, but Erica's personal life is still in shambles. She misses her daughter desperately and she finds herself attracted to her new producer... not exactly part of her plans to stay on the straight and narrow path and win back her daughter. When another "freak" accident occurs as Erica is covering a story, she begins to wonder if it's a coincidence or something more sinister. She decides to use her investigative reporting skills and dig into the mystery.

I enjoyed THE NEWSMAKERS, but I didn't love it. I was just okay to me. Based on the premise of the novel and the description of the main character, I thought the story sounded fantastic. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I felt as if something was missing from the novel. I had to suspend belief that someone as smart as Erica took so long to figure things out, and I found much of the story to be very predictable.

Having said that, I did find Erica to be an intriguing character. I appreciated that she came to the story with quite a set of baggage! In fact, I probably enjoyed the personal aspects of her story -- the end of her marriage, the loss of her daughter, and her struggle with alcoholism -- more than the mystery/suspense part of the book. I found Erica to be likable, even though she was a little slow at times; and I wouldn't be surprised to see her appear again in a later novel by Ms. Wiehl.

One aspect of this story that I found to be entertaining was the inside look it gave me into the 24 hour news cycle. I have no idea how accurate this portrayal was in THE NEWSMAKERS, but I found it to be interesting. I have no doubt that there is a lot of maneuvering and cut-throat actions by the reporters, and I can only imagine the extent individuals would go to to "get" the story!

THE NEWSMAKERS was a quick read and I appreciated the pace of the story. There were quite a few scenes that were suspenseful, and I would classify it as a page-turner. Recommended to fans of thrillers who also appreciate some complex characters.

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.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Kid Konnection: Little, Brown & Co. Picture Books

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you two picture books from Little Brown & Co. Books for Young Readers.

Summary: The second title in the uproarious Daddy Series may be the first kid-friendly, kid-safe picture book about bad language!

Daddies know all kinds of fun words, but how can a kid know which words are good and which ones are BAD? In this refreshingly authentic story that will resonate with every modern family, one little girl takes Daddy's accidental language lessons to school...and learns a very different lesson from her teacher! -- Little Brown

DADDY SAID A WORD I NEVER HEARD by Scott M. Cohn is a great book for kids and parents! Unfortunately, I think it resonated all too well with me. I've been known to drop a bad word or two when things don't go exactly as planned, and I remember all too well when my kids repeated them back to me.

In DADDY SAID A WORD I NEVER HEARD, one little girl hears her father utter an expletive when he hits his finger with a hammer. When things don't go quite right at school, she says the same word much to the surprise of her teacher. The teacher sits her down and asks where I heard it; and of course, she tells her the story about her father and the hammer.

Getting a stern talking to from her teacher causes the little girl to realize that there have been quite a few times when she's heard these strange utterances -- like when her dad has friends over, or when the entire show doesn't record on the DVR, etc. How is she supposed to know what words are okay to say?

I thought DADDY SAID A WORD I NEVER HEARD was adorable... and pretty silly. Naturally, the author of a picture book doesn't use the foul language. Rather, he uses terms for Swedish furniture; and for some reason, I found this very funny! But all joking aside, there is a good message in this book for both parents and kids.

Highly recommended!

Summary: From bestselling author Todd Parr, a poignant and reassuring story about loss.

Through the lens of a pet fish who has lost his companion, Todd Parr tells a moving and wholly accessible story about saying goodbye. Touching upon the host of emotions children experience, Todd reminds readers that it's okay not to know all the answers, and that someone will always be there to support them. An invaluable resource for life's toughest moments. -- Little Brown

THE GOODBYE BOOK by Todd Parr is a wonderful picture book that helps children cope with the loss of someone special. Mr. Parr uses the loss of a pet fish to show that it's normal to feel sad and confused when you say goodbye. But he also reminds children that there will always be someone to support you... and that it's important to remember all the good times you shared.

I think most of you are probably familiar with Mr. Parr's terrific children's books and his adorable illustrations. In the case of THE GOODBYE BOOK, he's really done something special. This book is extremely important and I know parents and children alike will embrace it's powerful message.

I love THE GOODBYE BOOK and actually wish I'd had it when my kids were younger.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a 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, January 14, 2016

Review: The Cavendon Women

Summary: From blockbuster bestselling author Barbara Taylor Bradford comes a stunning saga of love and loyalty set in early twentieth-century England. Cavendon Hall is home to the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. But after the Great War, the fate of these two families will never be the same... It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926 when, for the first time in years, the Earl has planned a family weekend. Everyone is intrigued by the invitation, and everyone has their own reasons for accepting it. As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed. And as old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns' loyalty to the Inghams gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it is up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade-and a new way of life. -- St. Martin's Press

Awhile back, I read and reviewed CAVENDON HALL by Barbara Taylor Bradford, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I appreciated the story and the characters, and that's probably because it reminded me a bit of Downton Abbey. And even though, it wasn't my usual reading fare, I didn't hesitate to pick up the next book in the series THE CAVENDON WOMEN. Nor will I hesitate to pick up the third book THE CAVENDON LUCK.

THE CAVENDON WOMEN picks up right where CAVENDON HALL left off in 1926 England. For those of you who are not familiar with the history of Cavendon Hall, it's an English estate owned by the aristocratic Ingham family who have been served by the Swann family for generations. The Inghams are are in a bit of disarray following World War I -- the heir wants a divorce to marry his true love and the aged estate is in need of major renovations. When the earl calls the entire family back home to make a major announcement, they realize that they must come together to deal with the various challenges facing the Inghams.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by Barbara Taylor Bradford and THE CAVENDON WOMEN. I enjoyed how she brought the Ingham and Swann families to life, and I really enjoy how she portrays the relationships (both professionally and personally) between them. Her characters are interesting, even the "bad" ones; and I even thought the romantic aspects of the book were well done. (And that's really saying something because I'm not a big fan of love stories.) The love affairs were relatively tame and very sweet, and I liked that they focused on love more than passion... although there was a little passion thrown in for good measure.

The author did a great job of taking the reader into the lives of all of the Cavendon women. The novel followed these four strong women through the ups and downs of their lives. Daphne, now married and a mother, felt responsible for saving Cavendon Hall; while Deidre, a career woman, finds herself in a new relationship that changes everything. The baby, Dulcie, is now all grown up and branching out on her own both with her job path and love interest. And finally, Cecily Swann (my favorite!) is finding huge success as a fashion designer... if only her love life could be going as well!

As much as I enjoyed following these women's lives, I have to admit that I also really enjoyed the setting of the story. I mentioned earlier that I'm a Downton Abbey fan and I love Edwardian England and its fashion. In THE CAVENDON WOMEN, the author brought this time period to life in the best possible way. I loved her descriptions of Cavendon Hall, even the state of disrepair; and her details about Cecily's designs were wonderful. I could picture all those beautiful purple and blue dresses as well as the wedding gowns with her vivid details!

Barbara Taylor Bradford and Downton Abbey fans won't want to miss THE CAVENDON WOMEN or any of the books in this series.

Thanks to Get Red PR for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Review: Girl Before a Mirror

Summary: The author of Conversations with the Fat Girl—optioned for HBO— returns with the hilarious and heartfelt story of a woman who must learn how to be the heroine of her own life— a journey that will teach her priceless lessons about love, friendship, family, work, and her own heart An account executive in a Mad Men world, Anna Wyatt is at a crossroads. Recently divorced, she's done a lot of emotional housecleaning, including a self-imposed dating sabbatical. But now that she's turned forty, she's struggling to figure out what her life needs. Brainstorming to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book—Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero—that offers her unexpected insights and leads her to a most unlikely place: a romance writers' conference. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner for her campaign—and meet the author who has inspired her to take control of her life—she'll win the account.

For Anna, taking control means taking chances, including getting to know Sasha, her pretty young colleague on the project, and indulging in a steamy elevator ride with Lincoln Mallory, a dashing financial consultant she meets in the hotel. When the conference ends, Anna and Lincoln must decide if their intense connection is strong enough to survive outside the romantic fantasy they've created. Yet Lincoln is only one of Anna's dilemmas. Now that her campaign is off the ground, others in the office want to steal her success, and her alcoholic brother, Ferdie, is spiraling out of control.

To have the life she wants—to be happy without guilt, to be accepted for herself, to love and to be loved, to just be—she has to put herself first, accept her imperfections, embrace her passions, and finally be the heroine of her own story. -- Wm Morrow

Since I haven't been reading a whole heck of a lot lately, I decided to clean out my "finished" books cabinet. Fortunately, I discovered a pretty good book that I read quite awhile ago called GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR by Liza Palmer. I have enjoyed a few of Ms. Palmer's novels in the past, and GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR was exactly what I've come to expect from this author. It's a smart story about a woman at a crossroads in her life; and in many ways, it was a coming-of-age story (albeit the main character was turning 40!). And you probably know by now how I enjoy a good coming-of-age tale.

GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR tells the story of Anna Wyatt, an advertising executive that is recently divorced, decides that she needs to discover what will make her happy. She decides to make some changes, including no more dating, and take some chances until she figures out what she needs!

Anna's job actually gives her the boost she needs to start this journey. She becomes friends with Sasha, a gorgeous young colleague who introduces her to a self-help book called Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero. This book offers advice based on the plot of romance novels - tee hee hee! And it  provides some much-needed guidance that Anna uses to help herself both personally and professionally.

In an effort to move up the ranks in her company, she ends up going to a romance writers' conference (not exactly her cup of tea!) in an effort to sign the cover model winner for a campaign... and she also has an encounter with Lincoln, a sexy financial consultant. Neither one is in a good place, both have a lot of baggage, so they decide to put their relationship on hold until they can figure out some things.

As Anna tries to land a huge account and change her status at the advertising agency, she also faces a lot of changes in her own life including making new friends, starting a new relationship, and even dealing with an alcoholic brother. Can Anna learn to accept herself and find true happiness?

GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR was an entertaining read for me. It was a fun story about a woman trying to find herself, but it also was much deeper than I was expecting when I first picked up this novel. The author manages to make some pretty insightful comments about women as a whole, especially as they pertain to self analysis and girl power. It actually made me think while also making me laugh -- a great combination!

I think Ms. Palmer is a fantastic writer. If you're not familiar with her books, then you should really pick one (or more) up. She's a very smart writer... and by that, I mean she's both witty and clever. Her female characters are complex; and in the case of GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR, Anna is extremely insightful. She realizes that she must make some changes to her life, even though they won't be easy. She truly looks inward at her decisions as well as to those individuals around her to see how they are affecting her.

I found Anna's journey to be somewhat inspiring. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Anna was deeply troubled by her past and desperately needed to accept herself without so many apologies and so much judging! I think there's a valuable message in their for women of all ages.

Because GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR is so smart and insightful, I think book clubs made up of women (and most are, right?) would appreciate reading and discussing this novel. I wasn't able to find a discussion guide, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't be hard to assess Anna's life and her actions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include self-help books, analysis, acceptance, female empowerment, love, and happiness.

GIRL BEFORE A MIRROR is a heartwarming story about a woman who is trying to find happiness. I recommend it to fans of Liza Palmer's and general women's fiction.

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: The Guest Room

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.

When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.

In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers. -- Doubleday

When I first learned that Chris Bohjalian's new novel THE GUEST ROOM was a mystery/thriller of sorts, I became very excited. I have been a huge fan of Mr. Bohjalian's for years now, and I have a huge appreciation of his writing. He seems to be able to do it all -- he always manages to tell a great story with complex characters. But a novel of suspense? That's something entirely new. Regardless, I had very high expectations for THE GUEST ROOM.

And overall, I think Mr. Bohjalian met most of my expections in THE GUEST ROOM. I enjoyed it quite a bit although it definitely won't go down as my favorite one of his novels. And while it was a mystery of sorts, it wasn't a traditional whodunit. I'd say it was more literary fiction with a few mystery aspects to the story. Most importantly (and what I enjoyed the most about the novel) was that it was a delved into the lives of some very complex (and therefore interesting) characters.

THE GUEST ROOM tells the story of what happens after a bachelor party goes horribly wrong. Richard Chapman, a successful investment banker and family man, hosts a bachelor party for his younger brother and his friends at his home. Kristen, Richard's wife, takes their nine year old daughter to her mother's for the night -- thankfully -- because the evening quickly spins out of control when the two hired "girls" end up killing their bodyguards and escaping.

Richard's life (and his family's) is an absolute mess. His house is trashed and the scene of a murder, and his wife no longer can look at him after he admits to going upstairs with one of the girls; and his daughter doesn't fully understand what happened and is reluctant to trust her dad. Richard's reputation in in shambles. In addition to the round-the-clock news coverage about the event which doesn't portray the men at the party in a very nice light, Richard's company has also asked him to take a leave of absence to keep up appearances.

As bad as Richard's life seems to be, Alexandra, one of the girls at the party, has it much worse. After escaping from the scene of the crime with a friend, she finds herself all alone and fearing for her life. She is afraid to go to the police because they will arrest her for prostitution and murder, and she's also terrified of the Russian gangsters who have "owned" her for the past few years. She is all alone in a strange country and has no where to turn...

THE GUEST ROOM is a riveting story to say the least. The first few chapters of this book packed a powerful punch and I couldn't put the book down. The pace of the story didn't remain quite this intense for the rest of the novel, but I'm pretty sure there's no way it could have. As the aftermath of the horror came to light, the individual character's reactions were so real; and it often times made me not only uncomfortable but also heartbroken.

One thing I appreciated about THE GUEST ROOM was how the Chapman family's stories unfolded after the crime. I felt as if the author did a great job bringing their pain (and even their embarrassment) to light. The book was extremely insightful as far as family dynamics and marriage go, and I could honestly feel Kristin and her daughter's confusion and hurt.

However, I think the real beauty of this novel was Alexandra's story. Alexandra had a horrible life for her brief 19 years on this earth. She had already suffered so much loss and her dreams were basically shattered for her as a young teen. I enjoyed her story and how the author chose to tell it (it her words!), and she is a character who will remain in my thoughts for some time... always a sign of a good story!

Even though there was a mystery element to the novel and even a few surprise twists at the end, I still think the strength of this story was in the characters. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't disappointed with the suspense parts. I just think the writing and the character development was better.

Overall, I enjoyed THE GUEST ROOM quite a bit and think fans of Mr. Bohjalian's will appreciate it. I definitely recommend it to fans of suspense/mystery books and literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-book for review.

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

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review: I am Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a terrific kids book by a best-selling author.

Summary: We can all be heroes. That’s the inspiring message of this New York Times Bestselling picture book biography series from historian and author Brad Meltzer.

Even as a child, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shocked by the terrible and unfair way African-American people were treated. When he grew up, he decided to do something about it—peacefully, with powerful words. He helped gather people together for nonviolent protests and marches, and he always spoke up about loving other human beings and doing what’s right. He spoke about the dream of a kinder future, and bravely led the way toward racial equality in America.

This lively, New York Times Bestselling biography series inspires kids to dream big, one great role model at a time. You’ll want to collect each book. -- Dial

I already have a pretty high opinion of bestselling author Brad Meltzer. I love his thrillers and his nonfiction gift books HEROES FOR MY SON and HEROES FOR MY DAUGHTER are extremely special (and important) books. Now, he's started a collection of picture books for the younger set called Ordinary People Change the World, and I've only read two of them but I think Mr. Meltzer is becoming one of my favorite children's authors too!

His latest picture book that was released just this week is titled I AM MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR, and the timing is absolutely perfect because Martin Luther King, Jr. day is just nine days away. This book is truly something special! It doesn't hurt when you have a hero and great American as your subject matter, but the presentation makes this book even better.

The book is written in MLK's first person voice with cute speech bubbles, and I think it makes the story all that more interesting for kids. In addition, the story includes what you'd expect -- the important speeches and marches, but it also includes some interesting tidbits from his childhood. Mr. Meltzer does a wonderful job of showing children that these larger-than-life individuals were just normal kids like them. He provides hope that everyone has the power to be an amazing adult and make a difference in the world.

All of this might sound a little over-the-top, a little much for a small picture book; however, I dare you to check out this series and not agree. Mr. Meltzer has done an amazing job of showing how the little things you experience in the normal course of your childhood build character. Let me give you an example:

In I AM MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., Mr. Meltzer explains that MLK was accident prone. There is a cute illustration showing him bumping down the steps which will garner a laugh or two along with the speech bubbles like "Whoa! Amazing Fall!" and an "I'm Okay!" However, the page ends with this:

No matter how many times I fell, I kept getting back up.

I was also extremely impressed with how the book handled the issue of race and prejudice. Keep in mind this book is aimed at kids ages five to eight. It's an important topic, for sure, but not one that most of us are very comfortable in explaining to young children. Not only does this book show the great man that MLK was, it also does a wonderful job of showing the problems in our country and the progress it has made through the years (of course, much of this is due to that same great man!) It also teaches children and reminds adults of MLK's beliefs and his hope for reaching that dream.

I AM MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. is illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. His drawings are fantastic. They have a comic book quality to them, but I'm sure the speech bubbles add to that look. What really is so darn cute about this book, though, is that MLK is drawn as a child in size even when he's an adult. And get this... he has a mustache from the very start!

I can't rave enough about I AM MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. It's a fantastic picture book that is both cute and educational. Most importantly, the messages in this story are wonderful... for kids and adults!

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!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Review: The Mistletoe Inn

Summary: The second holiday love story in New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans’s Mistletoe Collection.

At thirty-two Kimberly Rossi, a finance officer at a Lexus car dealership, has had her heart broken more times than she wants to remember. With two failed engagements, a divorce and again alone with no prospects, she hardly seems the type to dream of being a published romance author. Dreading another holiday alone, she signs up for The Mistletoe Retreat, a nine-day writing retreat in Burlington, VT. Deep inside Kimberly knows she’s at a junction in her life and it’s time to either fulfill her dream or let it go. The other reason she decides to attend the conference is because famed romance writer, H.T. Cowell, once the best selling romance writer in America, and the author whose books instilled in her the desire to be a writer, will be speaking in public for the first time in more than a decade.

In one of her breakout sessions Kimberly meets another aspiring writer, and one of the few men at the conference, Zeke, an intelligent man with a wry wit who seems as interested in Kimberly as he is in the retreat. As Kimberly begins to open up to him about her stories and dreams, she inadvertently reveals her own troubled past. As Zeke helps her to discover why her books fail to live up to their potential she begins to wonder if he’s really talking more about her life than her literature. But as she grows closer to him, she realizes that Zeke has his own darkness, a past he’s unwilling to talk about.

The theme of The Mistletoe Inn is that like literature, relationships must be lived with passion and vulnerability to succeed. -- Simon & Schuster

I think I've started every review this week with an apology or excuse... and today is not really an exception. I actually read THE MISTLETOE INN by Richard Paul Evans in a timely manner (prior to the holidays.) Let's just say I just forgot to review it in a timely manner!

THE MISTLETOE INN isn't a book that I'd probably pick up any time of the year outside of the holiday season. Obviously, it's a Christmas book given the title! But it's also a romance and I'm not a big one for romantic stories. However every once in awhile, I like a sweet love story.

THE MISTLETOE INN tells the story of Kimberly Rossi, a woman whose life isn't exactly going as planned. She is recently divorced and working as a finance officer at a car dealership. However, she longs to be a published romance author. When her father surprises her with nine days at a writers' retreat called The Mistletoe Retreat, she is at first reluctant to spend his money but then decides that this might be exactly what she needs. Plus she might get to meet the rock star romance writer H.T. Cowell... who just happens to be a bit of a recluse.

Kimberly ends up making a new friend at the writers' conference, and even better, she meets Zeke, an aspiring writer (and one of the few men at the conference) who isn't too hard on the eyes. Kimberly and Zeke have an immediate bond, and Kimberly finds herself falling hard and fast for him. Kimberly ends up sharing both her novel and stories about her past with Zeke only to find that she is still very vulnerable. Zeke's attention to Kimberly forces her to look at herself and her writing... and she eventually realizes that she has to come to terms with her past before she can be a successful writer.

However, Zeke also has his fair share of heartache and guilt from his past. Kimberly discovers that she also has something to offer to Zeke and can hopefully help him heal... just as he has helped her!

This might surprise you but I actually enjoyed THE MISTLETOE INN. I didn't love it, but I'm never going to love a romance story; however, it was entertaining and it did warm my heart. I found the book to be well written; and the characters were complex and, therefore, interesting. I am far from an expert on romance books, but I didn't think this one was over-the-top or mushy... and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

I especially enjoyed the book/publishing angle of THE MISTLETOE INN. It was fun to get a glimpse into the inner workings of a writers' retreat, and I could totally imagine the variety of authors who come to them. Needless to say, there were more than a few opportunities for comic relief. In addition, it was interesting to hear Zeke's assessment of Kimberly's novel. As a book geek, I thought all of the publishing references were great!

As much as I enjoyed most of THE MISTLETOE INN, I have to warn you that I thought the book was very predictable. I realize this novel wasn't a thriller with a surprise twist at the end; however, I could pretty much see everything that was coming. And... the book really was wrapped up a little too neatly. Having said that, I accepted the book for what it was (realizing I wasn't the target audience) and just enjoyed it during a very stressful time of the year!

Overall, THE MISTLETOE INN will appeal to many readers... even those of us who aren't exactly fans of romance novels. It is the second book in Evans' Mistletoe Collection (and it definitely stands alone), and I wouldn't be opposed to reading more from this series.

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review: The Restaurant Critic's Wife

Summary: Lila Soto has a master’s degree that’s gathering dust, a work-obsessed husband, two kids, and lots of questions about how exactly she ended up here.

In their new city of Philadelphia, Lila’s husband, Sam, takes his job as a restaurant critic a little too seriously. To protect his professional credibility, he’s determined to remain anonymous. Soon his preoccupation with anonymity takes over their lives as he tries to limit the family’s contact with anyone who might have ties to the foodie world. Meanwhile, Lila craves adult conversation and some relief from the constraints of her homemaker role. With her patience wearing thin, she begins to question everything: her decision to get pregnant again, her break from her career, her marriage—even if leaving her ex-boyfriend was the right thing to do. As Sam becomes more and more fixated on keeping his identity secret, Lila begins to wonder if her own identity has completely disappeared—and what it will take to get it back. -- Lake Union Publishing

I mentioned yesterday that I had a rough December. Like most of you, I was busy preparing for the holidays and I just wasn't able to focus on reading. I didn't get a whole heck of a lot of reading done but I did manage to read a fun book called THE RESTAURANT CRITIC'S WIFE by Elizabeth LaBan.

THE RESTAURANT CRITIC'S WIFE tells the story of Lila, a stay-at-home mom who is married to a .... wait for it -- a restaurant critic. Lila was once very successful at her career as a "fixer" for a major hotel chain; however, she has put her career on hold to be a mom to her two children... and a wife to her slightly nutty husband.

Lila's husband recently took a job with a Philadelphia newspaper causing the family to move to a new city. It's hard enough to adapt to a new location, but Lila's husband has made it even more challenging by demanding that Lila keep his (and therefore everyone's) identity a secret. He is very serious about not having any ties to anyone in the food industry; unfortunately, Lila's only friend is married to a restaurant owner and she feels torn between her loyalty to her husband and to her friend.

Needless to say, Lila's life isn't exactly easy with two small children, virtually no adult contact, and a crazy husband. As a result, she begins to look back fondly on her past boyfriend and her successful career... and actually question her marriage, her mothering abilities, and even herself. Can Lila find her way back to happiness and contentment?

I found THE RESTAURANT CRITIC'S WIFE to be a fun read that was just what I needed. For the most part, it was pretty light -- namely because the husband's behavior was so ridiculous; yet the story also had some substance because of Lila's dilemma. As a working mom who moved to a new area to be a stay-at-home mom when my daughter was just two, there were things about this book that I could definitely relate to.

This novel was certainly entertaining. Even though I eventually was (majorly) annoyed by Lila's husband's demands, I initially found his behavior to be funny. His paranoia was over-the-top even
to the point of wearing silly costumes to keep his identity a secret. As I read a few of these scenes, I could definitely picture them as a movie!

I think what I enjoyed most about THE RESTAURANT CRITIC'S WIFE was what it said about marriage, motherhood, family, and acceptance. All of these things are pretty much universal to all women out there, and I think many will relate (in some way or another) to this story. Despite being a fairly funny novel, the book was actually a little deeper than I expected as Lila tried to keep her family together while also not losing herself.

Because there were so many important topics in the novel, I do think it would make a good book club selection... especially for groups consisting of mothers and definitely ones with young children. The author writes with an honestly that all moms will understand, and she touches upon the importance of being a strong mother and wife. In addition, she explores love, marriage, romance, longing, self-identity, and more.

THE RESTAURANT CRITIC'S WIFE is a cute story that will definitely entertain and touch your heart. Recommended to moms of little ones and women everywhere!

Thanks to Goldberg McDuffie Communications, Inc. for providing a review copy of this novel.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Review: Even the Dead

Summary: A suspicious death, a pregnant woman suddenly gone missing: Quirke's latest case leads him inexorably toward the dark machinations of an old foe Perhaps Quirke has been down among the dead too long. Lately the Irish pathologist has suffered hallucinations and blackouts, and he fears the cause is a brain tumor. A specialist diagnoses an old head injury caused by a savage beating; all that's needed, the doctor declares, is an extended rest. But Quirke, ever intent on finding his place among the living, is not about to retire.

One night during a June heat wave, a car crashes into a tree in central Dublin and bursts into flames. The police assume the driver's death was either an accident or a suicide, but Quirke's examination of the body leads him to believe otherwise. Then his daughter Phoebe gets a mysterious visit from an acquaintance: the woman, who admits to being pregnant, says she fears for her life, though she won't say why. When the woman later disappears, Phoebe asks her father for help, and Quirke in turn seeks the assistance of his old friend Inspector Hackett. Before long the two men find themselves untangling a twisted string of events that takes them deep into a shadowy world where one of the city's most powerful men uses the cover of politics and religion to make obscene profits.

Even the Dead--Benjamin Black's seventh novel featuring the endlessly fascinating Quirke--is a story of surpassing intensity and surprising beauty. -- Henry Holt

I know, I know... it's been awhile since I've posted. December was a rough month for me personally, and I decided to take a bit of a break from the blog and reading. I'm hoping to make Booking Mama more of a priority again in 2016, but I have a crazy January -- just a warning. Thanks for sticking with me and I promise I'll try to post more regularly!

Since it's the first Monday of the new year, I decided to review a mystery called EVEN THE DEAD by Benjamin Black (pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville.) I consider myself somewhat savvy when it comes to mysteries and thrillers; however, this series starring Quirke, an Irish pathologist, wasn't even on my radar. And that's really unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

EVEN THE DEAD is the seventh book in the Quirke series, and I have a feeling that I'm going to have to go back and start this series from the beginning. The story takes place in Dublin, Ireland in the 1950s and features an intriguing pathologist named Quirke. From what I could tell from this novel, he has an interesting past, to say the least; and he's quite good at figuring out mysteries.

The book begins with the death of a young man who crashes and burns one night after leaving a party. It appears that the death is accidental or a suicide; however, a trauma to the head makes Quirke wonder if there's more to this story. The young man just happens to be the son of a vocal communist supporter. Could his father's enemies have wanted him dead?

And then, Quirke's daughter Phoebe receives a strange, but urgent, visit from an old school acquaintance. Phoebe tries to help this desperate (and pregnant) woman; however, she ends up disappearing under very mysterious circumstances. Phoebe asks her father for some help in locating the woman.

Quirke, along with some help from friend Inspector Hackett, begin to investigate these two crimes which appear to be related. Together, they uncover clues which lead them to some nasty events and people from Quirke's past. What they discover is darker than they ever imagined and shows just how powerful politics and the church were in Ireland.

I was very impressed with EVEN THE DEAD. The mystery was terrific and kept me guessing; however, it was the characters and the writing that made this book really stand out. Obviously, a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist can write, but it was refreshing to read a mystery that was so well written. I absolutely loved Quirke and Phoebe, as well as many of the supporting characters; and I was blown away by how well developed these characters were. Quirke was extremely complex and flawed -- he actually was an alcoholic who was trying to recover from both the excessive drinking and the hallucinations and blackouts; and I loved how his past was woven throughout this story.

Having said that, there were a lot of references to his past... and they definitely made me want to know more about Quirke -- both personally and professionally. EVEN THE DEAD, without a doubt, worked as a stand-alone. I just felt as if there were references that I would have appreciated more had I read the first six books in the series. Needless to say, I am going to try to catch up on these books because I enjoyed so much about this one!

Another interesting thing about EVEN THE DEAD was the setting. I have always been drawn to books that take place in Ireland, but ever since I visited the country in 2014, I appreciate them even more. I can't say that I've ever read a novel that takes place in Dublin in the 1950s, but I loved the time period and the author's descriptions of the city. Black/Banville did a marvelous job in bringing everything to life.

EVEN THE DEAD was a great mystery. I really enjoyed the characters and the story, and I'm looking forward to catching up on this series.

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.