Monday, February 29, 2016

Review: Hidden Bodies

Summary: In the compulsively readable follow-up to her widely acclaimed debut novel, You, Caroline Kepnes weaves a tale that Booklist calls “the love child of Holden Caulfield and Patrick Bateman.”

Hidden Bodies marks the return of a voice that Stephen King described as original and hypnotic, and through the divisive and charmingly sociopathic character of Joe Goldberg, Kepnes satirizes and dissects our culture, blending suspense with scathing wit.

Joe Goldberg is no stranger to hiding bodies. In the past ten years, this thirty-something has buried four of them, collateral damage in his quest for love. Now he’s heading west to Los Angeles, the city of second chances, determined to put his past behind him.

In Hollywood, Joe blends in effortlessly with the other young upstarts. He eats guac, works in a bookstore, and flirts with a journalist neighbor. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way. They re-emerge, like dark thoughts, multiplying and threatening to destroy what Joe wants most: truelove. And when he finds it in a darkened room in Soho House, he’s more desperate than ever to keep his secrets buried. He doesn’t want to hurt his new girlfriend—he wants to be with her forever. But if she ever finds out what he’s done, he may not have a choice... -Emily Bestler Books

When I saw that Caroline Kepnes had a new book out, I knew I wanted to read it. I listened to her first novel YOU and was absolutely blown away by how disturbing... yet terrific, this book was. Her new novel is titled HIDDEN BODIES, and it once again stars Joe Goldberg, the demented romantic lead from YOU. Needless to say, I knew I was in for a twisted ride!

HIDDEN BODIES picks up right where YOU left... and I do recommend reading YOU first. HIDDEN BODIES tells the story of what happens when Joe's obsession with his new girlfriend Amy takes him to Los Angeles. As Joe settles into this new environment, he's hoping he can put his past behind him for good!

He makes some new friends and even a new girlfriend named Love who seems to be too good to be true. He also tries his hand at screenwriting and finds that he has a natural knack for storytelling. However in the back of his mind, he's always watching for the next shoe to drop. He's afraid that his involvement in the bodies he's killed will be discovered... and that makes him a bit desperate. He's willing to protect his new life and love no matter the cost!

I really enjoyed HIDDEN BODIES! It was similar to YOU, namely because Joe is still Joe; and I wasn't really any less shocked by his behaviors in this novel. He's such a fantastic character, both dark and twisted, but he's also a hopeless romantic. I probably should hate him because of his selfishness and the bodies he's left in his wake; however, I am drawn to his craziness and desperation as well as his creativity in getting out of bad situation. This book kept me on the edge of my seat while also entertaining me with Joe's dark humor and wry observations, and I didn't want to put it down. What does that say about me?

HIDDEN BODIES isn't for the faint of heart. Joe's behavior is pretty gruesome and there is quite a bit of adult content. Honestly, I'm shocked that such an attractive, female author writes this stuff! Call me biased, but I would think the author of a twisted book like this would be a pasty recluse -- definitely not a woman who has had success writing for Tiger Beat, Entertainment Weekly, and assorted television shows.

One thing I really appreciated about HIDDEN BODIES was how Joe's character evolved. I say that rather tongue-in-cheek, but he has changed some. Joe was able to pick up and leave New York for Los Angeles, and he adapted rather well. Let's put it this way, he managed to get involved with the Hollywood scene from the get-go; and he found new love rather quickly! In addition, his motives for murder (or at least his justifications) seem to be a little less about him and more about doing it for others.

I also really appreciated that the novel took place in Hollywood. I found this change of pace to be refreshing, and it certainly gave the author a lot of different ideas to explore. What I enjoyed the most about this setting was how she tied the shallowness and selfishness of the city to the characters in the novel. I'm not certain I'd say there was a definite theme in this book, but if there was one, it would be narcissism. Through Joe's reflections, the author does a fantastic job of showing how ego drives behavior (especially bad behavior) and how today's society tends to get caught up in their own best interests.

I can't go into too much about the ending of this novel because I don't want to give too much away, but I definitely enjoyed it. I'm not sure it's all plausible, but really I didn't pick up this book because it's believable. I read it because it's a thrilling ride along side the mind of a psychopath. I do think the ending was open-ended enough that there might be more to Joe Goldberg's story... and honestly I hope so!

I loved HIDDEN BODIES and recommend it to those of you who enjoyed YOU. It's dark and dirty, but it's also a well-written suspense novel.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this 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, February 27, 2016

Kid Konnection: Spring Books from Dawn Publications

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 three new picture books that focus on science!

Summary: A freckled-faced young gardener opens a packet of seeds. And the magic begins! Crisp verses take the reader through the growing season—from a sprout peeking out, to a curlicue catching dew, to a vine twining on a line, until finally . . . GREEN BEANS! It’s time to harvest a full season of garden knowledge and experience. Along the way the young gardener discovers a nook to read a book in the shade of growing beans. Trina’s watercolors match the mood of a garden, and in the backmatter Patricia provides life cycle science and related vocabulary, instructions on growing your own green beans, and a variety of fun things for children to do. This book is sure to encourage young gardeners to put their toes in the soil and perhaps even read a book in a garden nook. -- Dawn Publications

GREEN BEAN! GREEN BEAN! by Patricia Thomas and illustrated by Trina L. Hunner is a terrific book for budding gardeners. This beautifully illustrated picture book shows a young girl who plants a packet of seeds. The book takes readers through the process of the growing green bean plants including the struggles that the plants (and the gardener) face. The prose is simple and does a great job of explaining the harvest process.

One of my favorite things about Dawn Publications' picture books are that they are both fun and educational, and GREEN BEAN! GREEN BEAN! is no exception. The last few pages of the book are for readers who are interested in learning more about the life cycle of green bean plants. The author does a great job of explaining the life cycle, including the proper terms, as well as how to grow your own green bean. It also explains the seasonal changes to the green bean plant along with some fun activity suggestions.

GREEN BEAN! GREAN BEAN! is a great book for science teachers. There is even an activities link with great resources that supplement this picture book.

Summary: Welcome to the farm, where pigs roll, goats nibble, horses gallop, hens peck, and turkeys strut! Count, clap, and sing along to the classic tune of “Over in the Meadow” while learning about life on a classic farm. This book is one of Marianne’s own favorites, and is a delight for children and adults alike. Cathy’s illustrations are charming. And as usual, Marianne offers up a potpourri of valuable information about farm animals and suggestions for child-friendly activities. Plus there are free downloadable lesson plans aligned to Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. -- Dawn Publications

OVER ON THE FARM by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Cathy Morrison is another great Spring release from Dawn Publications. This cute picture book shows young readers about life on a farm. The prose can be sung to the tune of "Over in the Meadow," so there is potential for even more family read-along fun!

OVER ON THE FARM is geared towards younger readers. There are suggestions in the back of the book for different finger or body movements for each farm animal's action. In addition, there is a section on fact or fiction concerning baby animals as well as the different seasons on a farm. There are also much more detailed descriptions about the different farm animals for those children who want to learn more!

As a mom, I was especially excited to see the "More Fun on the Farm" section. This section of the book included fun enrichment ideas for math, language arts, science, music and art. There is also an activities site online with more suggestions. I loved these games/activities (some of which are aligned to Common Core and Next Generation Science standards) and certainly encourage teachers to check out this book!

Summary: Wild ones are moving into the city! Follow the adorable, curious dog Scooter as he travels through an urban landscape, seeing many wild animals and not seeing even more. Cathy’s charming illustrations draw upon real-life city scenes from across the United States. Supplementary material contains information about the wild species now often living in cities and how they have adapted. Plus Carol offers a section “Is it Really True?” that is both informational and fun. This book is a wonderful aid for children to become aware of the presence of wild animals and understand why they have taken to living in cities. -- Dawn Publications

Finally, there is WILD ONES: OBSERVING CITY CRITTERS by Carole L. Malnor and illustrated by Cathy Morrision. This educational picture book takes readers to an urban setting and shows what kinds of animals live in cities.  Not exactly your typical science book, right?

I really enjoyed WILD ONES: OBSERVING CITY CRITTERS. I can't remember seeing a book book like this one, and I love that kids who live in more urban settings can still learn about the nature around them. Not to mention, the illustrations are terrific! There is just so much to look at on each page!

I will admit that I quickly turned to the back of this book to see what supplemental material the author chose to include. In WILD ONES, there are lists of items/animals that the kids can find on each page. My kids loved hunting down clues and searching through books, and I can only imagine how much fun it would be to find these animals in the midst of these fantastic drawings.

In addition, there is a section called "Is it Really True?" that brings to life some of the fun aspects of the book. There is also a section that explains how "wild" animals are able to adapt to city surroundings. And of course, there is an activities section for WILD ONES which is full of ideas for further enrichment!

All three of these picture books are fantastic and must-have for science teachers and elementary school libraries. 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, February 25, 2016

Guest Review: Every Crooked Path

Summary: Who is the Piper? . . .

Special Agent Patrick Bowers returns in an electrifying prequel to the Bowers Chess series from critically acclaimed, national bestselling novelist Steven James.

A mysterious suicide and a series of abductions draw Patrick into a web of intrigue involving an international conspiracy where no one is who they appear to be and the stakes have never been higher.

Soon, Patrick discovers that the secret to stopping the Piper’s current crime spree lies in unlocking answers from an eight-year-old cold case—and the only way to do that is by entering the terrifying world of the conspirators himself.

Dark, probing, and chilling, Every Crooked Path takes an unflinching look at the world of today’s cybercrimes and delves into a parent’s worst nightmare as it launches a new chapter of Patrick Bowers thrillers. -- Signet

Booking Pap Pap is back and this week it's with a review for EVERY CROOKED PATH by Steven James. Here are his thoughts:

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, as a member joint task force with the New York Police Department, is asked to review a murder scene in a New York City apartment. While in the apartment, Bowers is attacked and as Bowers appears to have the attacker under control, he surprisingly jumps to his death from the apartment balcony. The investigation into these two deaths leads Bowers into the dark and chilling world of crimes against children including pornography, child sex trafficking and murder. Bowers’ investigation requires him to delve into several recent child abductions, an eight year old cold case involving a child abduction/murder and even into the cyber-world of child pornography.

Although the story is everything a good thriller should be and the subject matter is current and compelling, the strength of EVERY CROOKED PATH to me is the deep character development. Whether it’s Bowers, his girlfriend Christie and her daughter Tessa, his FBI partner Jody, his task force partner Tobin Cavanaugh or Frances Edlemore, a computer whiz , author Steven James develops a deep personal background outside the story line for each that allows the reader to really understand these characters.

As I previously mentioned, EVERY CROOKED PATH is a real thriller that tackles a very difficult subject matter. It is fast paced, suspenseful and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end when the author neatly pulls everything together. He does however leave enough unanswered questions to justify a sequel. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good thriller with the caveat that the subject matter may make some readers uncomfortable.

EVERY CROOKED PATH is a prequel to Steven James popular series “The Bowers Files”. Although I have not read any of these books, based on my enjoyment of EVERY CROOKED PATH, they are now on my must read list.

Thanks to my father for his review and to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review: A Night in With Audrey Hepburn

Summary: A hilarious and heart-warming debut and the perfect girl’s night in. For fans of Sophie Kinsella and Lucy Diamond. LOL funny!! Unlucky in love, failed actress Libby Lomax has retreated into the world of classic movies, where the immortal lives of the screen goddesses offer so much more in the way of romance than her own life.

After a terrible day on the set of a cult TV sci-fi series where she has proved herself to be the antithesis of feminine poise and embarrassed herself in front of heartthrob actor Dillon O’Hara, she plonks herself down in front of her trillionth viewing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Relaxing on her battered old couch, salvaged from the props department by her best friend Olly, Libby is gob smacked to find actual Screen Icon, Audrey Hepburn, sitting beside her. Dressed in her little black dress, wearing her trademark sunglasses, Audrey proffers advice to the hapless Libby between ladylike puffs on her vintage cigarette holder.

And so, Audrey becomes Libby’s confidante and friend – but has Libby got what it takes to turn her life from a Turkey to a Blockbuster? With a little bit of Audrey Hepburn magic, she might just pull it off…

A Night in With Audrey Hepburn is the first in a series of three books following the life and loves of Libby Lomax as she blossoms from Z-lister to A-lister and all of the stages in between with a little bit of help from some very special friends. -- Harper

How could I resist this adorable cover? The answer is I couldn't! The up-do, the tiara, and pearls! It all just screamed Audrey Hepburn! And honestly, who doesn't love Audrey Hepburn and everything she represented? I had a feeling that A NIGHT IN WITH AUDREY HEPBURN by Lucy Holliday was going to be a fun book, and it definitely was. In fact, it brought me back to those chick-lit books that I devoured in my early 20s!

A NIGHT IN WITH AUDREY HEPBURN tells the story of Libby Lomax, a struggling actress who also has her fair share of guy troubles. Life isn't exactly going her way right now, and she finds escape in the world of classic movies. She currently has a role in a TV sci-fi series as a disgusting alien that wears a rubber suit; however, when she ends up catching on fire, she embarrasses herself in front of sexy actor Dillon O'Hara and loses that "promising" job.

She heads home to her "quaint" apartment and decides to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's for the hundredth time. As she settles into her "new-to-her" couch that she rescued from an old props department, a vision of Audrey Hepburn appears on that very same couch... right next to Libby. Audrey is exactly what you'd expect and she has plenty of advice to offer to Libby! The question is, "Can Libby actually take Audrey's advice and use it to change/fix her life?"

A NIGHT IN WITH AUDREY HEPBURN is the first book in the Libby Lomax series, and I thought it was adorable. It's a cute escape read that is guaranteed to make you laugh... a lot. Libby is a fantastic character who will capture your heart, even though there are times when you will want to shake her. She is a little down-on-her-luck and doesn't always realize what's good for her... even when it's right smack dab in front her her!

I loved the premise of this book -- that Audrey Hepburn appears on Libby's newly recovered couch and offers her advice. Audrey had words of wisdom on men, fashion, careers, and more; and the author did a great job of bringing this larger-than-life character to life! I was so excited to learn that this is the first book in a new series. There will be more books in the very near future, and I think the next one "stars" Marilyn Monroe. How cute will that be?

I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the ending might not be exactly the one that most readers want -- me included. However, I will admit that had the story ended like I wanted, I'm not sure there could be additional books. The author has to have somewhere to go! And goodness knows, Libby can sure use some more advice to navigate her life!

A NIGHT IN WITH AUDREY HEPBURN is just sheer reading fun. Highly recommended to fans of Sophie Kinsella and Jill Mansell.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review: The Ramblers

Summary: For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Claire Messud, and Emma Straub, a gorgeous and absorbing novel of a trio of confused souls struggling to find themselves and the way forward in their lives, set against the spectacular backdrop of contemporary New York City. Set in the most magical parts of Manhattan—the Upper West Side, Central Park, Greenwich Village—The Ramblers explores the lives of three lost souls, bound together by friendship and family. During the course of one fateful Thanksgiving week, a time when emotions run high and being with family can be a mixed blessing, Rowley’s sharply defined characters explore the moments when decisions are deliberately made, choices accepted, and pasts reconciled. Clio Marsh, whose bird-watching walks through Central Park are mentioned in New York Magazine, is taking her first tentative steps towards a relationship while also looking back to the secrets of her broken childhood. Her best friend, Smith Anderson, the seemingly-perfect daughter of one of New York’s wealthiest families, organizes the lives of others as her own has fallen apart. And Tate Pennington has returned to the city, heartbroken but determined to move ahead with his artistic dreams.

Rambling through the emotional chaos of their lives, this trio learns to let go of the past, to make room for the future and the uncertainty and promise that it holds. The Ramblers is a love letter to New York City—an accomplished, sumptuous novel about fate, loss, hope, birds, friendship, love, the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human spirit. -- William Morrow

You had me at the words, "For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer..." in the book summary. I love these two authors and if an author is being compared to them, it's pretty much a guarantee that I will read the novel! That was certainly the case with THE RAMBLERS by Aidan Donnelley Rowley. This book about three lost souls trying to figure out their lives was a great read!

THE RAMBLERS tells the story of three friends from Yale who are currently living successful lives in Manhattan, and yet are still trying to find their way. Clio Marsh seems to have it all. She is a successful ornithologist at the Museum of Natural History, and she is adored by an older man who develops hotels. Meanwhile, her best friend Smith Anderson comes from one of the wealthiest families in New York, and she has made a career for herself by creating an organization business. And finally, there is Tate Pennington. Tate has recently moved to Manhattan after selling an app for millions and is trying his hand as an artistic photographer! All three have seemingly perfect lives, but they are all struggling with inner demons as they attempt to deal with their pasts.

I really, really liked THE RAMBLERS. I love coming-of-age stories; and THE RAMBLERS, despite having adult characters, definitely fit the bill. These three characters were all a little lost; and through their friendships, with each other as well as others, they were able to begin to make sense of their lives. Although times were definitely painful for each character, I loved seeing them get through their difficulties  -- to let go of their pasts and look towards the future.

Needless to say, I live a very different life than these characters. I am much older and have never lived in a city; and somehow, all of their stories resonated with me. I think this is a testament to the author. She managed to create very real and sympathetic characters. Initially, I thought that maybe their problems wouldn't be "real" enough; however, that was certainly not the case. Clio was dealing with secrets about her mother that were very painful and scary, while Smith was still reeling from a broken engagement and the upcoming nuptials of her younger sister. And Tate... well he was reeling from the loss of his marriage along with feeling out of sorts after selling his business.

The book takes place in Manhattan and I loved how the author used the city as such a huge presence in the novel. There were loads of references to the landmarks of this wonderful place, and I especially appreciated how she incorporated The Ramble, a 36 acre wild garden in Central Park, as a symbol in the story. I also appreciated how the themes of hummingbirds and flying were used in the book. It was all so well done!

THE RAMBLERS would make a great book club pick. In fact, I'm a little said that my group didn't select this in February when we had the chance! It's a beautifully written novel with interesting characters, and there is a great deal to discuss. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I don't think your group would have any problems finding topics to discuss. Some of the themes you might want to explore include families, loss, love, friendship, second chances, mental illness, forgiveness, secrets, finding one's self, and more!

I loved THE RAMBLERS and I highly recommend it fans of literary fiction and coming-of-age stories.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: The Widow

Summary: When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…

But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.

There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything… -- New American Library

THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton is the latest novel that's gathering comparisons to, wait for it.... GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. As a reader who enjoys the psychological suspense genre, I'm thinking it's a little unfair to constantly compare new books to these two giants! Granted, THE WIDOW has a female lead who just happen to be an unreliable narrator; however, frankly it doesn't need to be compared to any past book. It's a terrific story and strong enough to stand on its own merit!

THE WIDOW tells the story of Jean Taylor, a woman who has recently lost her husband Glen when he stepped into traffic and was hit by an on-coming bus. Granted no one, not even Jean, is really sad to see Glen gone. See, Glen was accused of committing the most horrible of crimes -- the abduction of an adorable toddler named Bella. The police discovered that he had a hidden interest in on-line child porn; and while they were certain they had the right guy for the crime, the case was thrown out because of a technicality.

Through it all, Jean stood by her man. For all intents and purposes, she was the loyal wife who knew nothing. However, the strain from the police investigation and the media hounds, as well as the fallout from public opinion, was extremely difficult for Jean. When her husband suddenly dies, there is a renewed interest in the case, and especially Jean's story. Is Jean really the innocent and loyal wife, or is there more going on than first appears?

I thought THE WIDOW was such an entertaining read. I appreciated the characters and the story, and I liked the way the story was told in alternating viewpoints of the major characters. I will admit that they story ended up being a little "quieter" than I was expecting. Maybe it's because of the comparisons to GONE GIRL, but I was expecting something major to happen; and I kept waiting for that big twist. I won't go so far as to say I was disappointed, but I'm just really starting to hate book comparisons.

One of my very favorite things about THE WIDOW was the character of the widow Jean. She was fascinating, and I was deeply interested in what she knew about her husband versus what she didn't know. It was actually more than just the mystery aspect of her character that I found so intriguing. I've read a decent amount about women who are married to pedophiles, and I struggle to understand how they can honestly not know what's going on... often times in their own houses or with their own children. I find it incredibly interesting to think about whether they are in denial or actually shut down entirely.

As much as I was interested in learning the truth behind Glen (and maybe Jean's) involvement in the disappearance of Bella, I was even more blown away by how well Ms. Barton crafted this story. She did a great job of making Jean's character real, but she also brought to life Sparkes, a very compassionate police officer who was hounded by this case. In addition, I thought her portrayal of Kate, the journalist trying to get Jean's story, seemed authentic as well.

Furthermore, Ms. Barton chose to tell this story mainly through the eyes of Jean, Kate, and Sparkes; and I adored this decision. It totally worked for me! The transitions between their chapters were really well done, and I loved how their stories were so interwoven. I also think the way the truth was eventually revealed was perfect. The tension gradually escalated and almost had me holding my breath -- but not in a shocking, gut-wrenching way. While I was desperate to know the secret, I didn't feel as if the author manipulated me in any way... and that's not always the case in books like this.

There is no doubt that THE WIDOW was a well written story with great characters. However, it was also deeper than the average thriller. The novel explored some dark characters while also examining the theme of lies. I really appreciated the way lies ran through the story from the ones that Glen (and others) told Jean, to the ones that Jean told others,  to the ones that Jean told herself!

Overall, I really liked THE WIDOW and I definitely recommend it to fans of psychological suspense and mysteries.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this 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, February 20, 2016

Kid Konnection: The Rabbit Who Wants to Go to Harvard

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 parody of the picture book THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP.

Summary: For fans of Goodnight iPad and Go the F**k to Sleep, this hilarious picture-book parody satirizes helicopter parents and our culture’s extreme focus on childhood achievement. It’s an irresistible gift for moms and dads with a sense of humor!

Are you concerned that your four-year-old is not taking Pre-K seriously? Is your child napping when he could instead be cramming for his SAT? Have you heard about the new hypnotize-your-kid-to-sleep book and thought, SLACKER? Join parents all over the world who have embraced this groundbreaking book as their new nightly routine.

In this uproariously funny parody, Ronald and Mommy Rabbit get help from Adderall Aardvark, Kollege Koach Kitty, and Admission Officer Owl, who know just how to help children stop their incessant sleeping and other quaint relics of youth for a much worthier goal: the Ivy League. Make your dreams your child‘s dreams today! -- Dial

Last year, I reviewed THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP. This best-selling picture book claimed to help parents everywhere get their children to bed. People say imitation is the best form of flattery, but what about mockery? The new parody picture book THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO GO TO HARVARD by Zelda the Great with help from Diana Holquist and Christopher Eliopoulos teaches high achieving parents how to get their kids ready for Harvard!

This tongue-in-cheek book goes one step further than just getting your kid to sleep. By using similar psychological methods (including instructions on how to read bold, bold italic, etc.), you can start preparing your children for Harvard from the get-go. In this funny picture book, Ronald the Rabbit couldn't fall asleep because his mother was obsessed with Harvard.

In THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP, Mommy Rabbit and Ronald the Rabbit meet Adderall Aardvark, Kollege Koach Kitty, and Admission Officer Owl. These experts agree that Ronald should stop trying to sleep and work on getting into Harvard by joining a varsity sports team, taking up an orchestral instrument, publishing a scientific paper, taking the SATs, and more! No pressure on the little ones, right?

I will admit that those of you familiar with THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO FALL ASLEEP will find THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO GO TO HARVARD to be absolutely hilarious. This clever parody incorporates the same principals (kind of...) that the original book uses to get your kids to sleep but with much more humor and silliness. Truth be told, I had to laugh at Mother Rabbit the most. Unfortunately, she does represent some of those parents who want the "best" for their kids.

I'm sure THE RABBIT WHO WANTS TO GO TO HARVARD isn't for everyone, but I will say that I definitely got a kick out of it. Recommended for fans of parodies and adults who like to laugh at helicopter parents!

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!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: The Immortals & Giveaway

Summary: Manhattan has many secrets. Some are older than the city itself.

The city sleeps. Selene DiSilva walks her dog along the banks of the Hudson. She is alone -- just the way she likes it. She doesn't believe in friends, and she doesn't speak to her family. Most of them are simply too dangerous.

In the predawn calm, Selene finds the body of a young woman washed ashore, gruesomely mutilated and wreathed in laurel. Her ancient rage returns. And so does the memory of a promise she made long ago -- when her name was Artemis. -- Orbit

Years ago, I read the first book in the Percy Jackson series with my daughter for our mother/daughter book club, THE LIGHTNING THIEF. I really enjoyed it! My daughter has read the entire series a number of times, and now she's turned my eleven year old son into a fan.

It's probably genetic that my kids are so interested in Greek and Roman mythology. I began my interest back in high school when I took Latin, and it continued when I took a Mythology class as an elective at Penn State. Maybe that's why I was so drawn to the new book THE IMMORTALS by Jordanna Max Brodsky. This is the first book in the Olympus Bound series, and I really think Ms. Brodsky is onto something!

THE IMMORTALS tells the story of Selene DiSilva, a bit of a loner who has devoted her life to fighting crimes against women. She also happens to be the Greek goddess Artemis! When she discovers the body of a Colombian professor who has been brutally mutilated, she feels obligated to investigate... especially when aspects of the murder appear to have some ties to ancient Greece.

Usually, Selene works by herself; however, she gets some help this time from Theo Schultz, a classics professor who used to have a relationship with the woman found murdered. Despite his attempts to convince the police that he's not involved, they aren't so certain. His knowledge of ancient Greece and its myths allow him to deduce that this murder (and a few more!) are an attempt to relive the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Based on the clues left behind at the murders, Selene believes that another Greek god might be responsible for these horrific crimes -- one who might be trying to regain his immortality by killing people. As Selene and Theo work together to find the murderer before he (or she) strikes again, Selene also learns a great deal about herself, her family, and her powers!

I was pleasantly surprised by just how well done THE IMMORTALS was. The writing was very good, but it was the story and the character development that really impressed me. I was actually blown away by the author's ability to bring life ancient Greek figures in today's Manhattan; and this might sound strange coming from me, but I could actually "buy" them.

And truth be told, the mystery in THE IMMORTALS was outstanding. There were lots of twists and turns, and I honestly wasn't sure who was responsible. In addition, there were also some great suspense scenes that were also very well written. Overall, this novel was definitely a page turner... and I look forward to the next book in this series.

Finally, I pretty sure that I can't express just how excellent Ms. Brodsky's knowledge of ancient Greece is and how well she demonstrated it in this novel. I loved how she incorporated so many of the Greek gods in present day society, keeping their original traits while also making them relevant in today's world. In addition, I appreciated how she used the ancient myths throughout the novel. I liked it when I recognized the references, but I also found these new stories to be fascinating. Ms. Brodsky also included some terrific resource material in the back of the book for those readers who want to know more about Greek myths.

THE IMMORTALS is a great book that grownup fans of Rick Riordan will love. Highly recommended!

Learn more about the book at

Thanks to Orbit Books for providing a review copy of this novel.

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Orbit Books, I have a great giveaway! One winner will win THE GODDESS prize pack which includes a copy of THE IMMORTALS and a branded "GODDESS" sweatshirt. Check out the picture below to see just how adorable this sweatshirt is!
To enter, just fill out the form below before March 3 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!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Giveaway: The Song of Hartgrove Hall & Goodreads Author Q&A

Summary: A captivating novel that evokes the author’s New York Times bestseller The House at Tyneford

Natasha Solomons’s breathtaking new novel has it all: a love triangle, family obligations, and rediscovering joy in the face of grief, all set against the alluring backdrop of an English country estate perfect for fans of Downton Abbey

It’s a terrible thing to covet your brother’s girl

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson – a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness? -- Plume

Yesterday, I reviewed a very good book that fans of Downton Abbey will appreciate called THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL by Natasha Solomons. This novel had a little bit of something for everyone including romance, betrayal, and forgiveness; and I really enjoyed the author's writing style. She not only did a great job of bringing to life post-war England, but she also created some very complex characters.

I have some very exciting news for fans of Ms. Solomon -- both new and old ones! She is currently running an author Q&A on Goodreads. Make sure you stop by! There is already an interesting thread about the amount of research Ms. Solomons conducts while writing her novels.
Thanks to the fine folks at Plume, I have a copy of THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before March 2 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. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Summary: A captivating novel that evokes the author’s New York Times bestseller The House at Tyneford

Natasha Solomons’s breathtaking new novel has it all: a love triangle, family obligations, and rediscovering joy in the face of grief, all set against the alluring backdrop of an English country estate perfect for fans of Downton Abbey

It’s a terrible thing to covet your brother’s girl

New Year’s Eve, Dorset, England, 1946. Candles flicker, a gramophone scratches out a tune as guests dance and sip champagne— for one night Hartgrove Hall relives better days. Harry Fox-Talbot and his brothers have returned from World War II determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But the arrival of beautiful Jewish wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, and leads to a devastating betrayal.

Fifty years later, now a celebrated composer, Fox reels from the death of his adored wife, Edie. Until his connection with his four-year old grandson – a music prodigy – propels him back into life, and ultimately to confront his past. An enthralling novel about love and treachery, joy after grief, and a man forced to ask: is it ever too late to seek forgiveness? -- Plume

I remember hearing a lot of positive things about THE HOUSE OF TYNEFORD by Natasha Solomons. I never got around to reading that one at the time of the release, but I thought I'd start with her latest novel THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. I received a copy of this novel at last year's BEA, and I remember the comparisons to Downton Abbey. It seemed like a good book to hunker down with during a winter storm. And it was...

THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL is a beautiful book that certainly has a lot going on. It's a love story about Harry Fox-Talbot (Fox) and Edie Rose, it's a story about family obligations, and it's a story about grief. However, it's also a story about second chances and rediscovering joy! The novel goes back and forth between post World War II and the present (or really 50 years later), and I thought the author did a wonderful job with both time periods.

In 1946, Fox returns home to Hartgrove Hall from boarding school while his two brothers are coming home from World War II. Their father is considering having their country estate demolished because it's in ruins and too expensive to maintain; however, the three sons decide to do whatever it takes to save their family home... even if that means Fox has to give up his desire to play music. Their father, the General, gives them one year to turn things around.

When his charismatic brother Jack brings home Edie Rose, a successful wartime singer, Fox falls madly in love with her despite her marriage to his brother. Fox senses that Edie has feelings for him too, and he flees to London to pursue a career in music. He ends up studying under Marcus Albright, a world famous composer; and he also tries to forget about Edie which is easier said than done when they run into each other!

The novel also shows Fox in the year 2000 when he's grieving the loss of his wife Edie and living at the restored Hartgrove Hall. (So it appears that things worked out pretty well for Fox except for the relationship with his brother Jack.) He has two daughters and a few grandchildren, but he's not exactly a touchy feely guy. It's apparent that he has found much success as a composer, but he's more than a bit lost without Edie... that is, until he discovers that his five year old grandson Robin is a piano prodigy. Fox takes Robin under his tutelage; and suddenly, Fox has something to live for!

I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. I loved the characters, especially Fox; and I quickly became caught up in his story. It's true that a big part of this novel was a love story between Fox and Edie; however, it was so much more than that. The characters were rich and well drawn, and I thought the author did a great job of making life on an English country estate real both in the present and especially the past.

One aspect that I really appreciated was getting an inside look into the world of classical music. It's pretty safe to say that I know nothing about concerts, composers, conductors, etc.; and I enjoyed "learning" about this world through Fox's story. It was interesting to see the competition between the famous composers/conductors, and it was even more interesting to see how the author created the complex relationships/friendships between them.

Another part of this novel that I liked was the present day story of Fox and his grandson Robin. At times, Robin was a little difficult to take like most five year olds, but I loved how he brought Fox to life. Fox wasn't exactly close to his girls without Edie to facilitate the relationships, and it was special to see how far he came as a result of Robin giving him new life!

I think THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL would make a great book club selection. I wasn't able to find a link to discussion questions, but I don't think a formal guide is necessary. Some of the themes you might want to explore include sibling relationships, love triangles, child prodigies, second chances, forgiveness, obligations, guilt, and grief. As you can see, there is a great deal to discuss; and I think most readers will find Fox to be pretty interesting.

Overall, I really liked THE SONG OF HARTGROVE HALL. Highly recommended to fans of Downton Abbey and readers who enjoy historical fiction set around World War II.

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Review: What Remains of Me

Summary: The USA Today bestselling author of the Brenna Spector series returns with her most ambitious book to date, a spellbinding novel of psychological suspense, set in the glamorous, wealthy world of Hollywood—a darkly imaginative and atmospheric tale of revenge and betrayal, presumed guilt and innocence lost, dirty secrets and family ties reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman, Gillian Flynn, and Harlan Coben.

Nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s got a drawer somewhere with something hidden in it.

On June 28, 1980—the hottest night of the year—Kelly Michelle Lund shoots and kills Oscar-nominated director John McFadden at a party in his home. . . . And instantly becomes a media sensation, her chilling smile fodder for national nightmares. For years, speculation swirls over the enigmatic seventeen-year-old’s motives, information she’s refused to share. Convicted of the murder, she loses her youth and her freedom—but keeps her secrets to herself.

Thirty years later—and five years after her release from prison—the past has come back to haunt Kelly. Her father-in-law, movie legend Sterling Marshall, is found in a pool of blood in his home in the Hollywood Hills—dead from a shot to the head, just like his old friend John McFadden.

Once again, Kelly is suspected of the high profile murder. But this time, she’s got some unexpected allies who believe she’s innocent—of both killings—and want to help her clear her name. But is she?

Written with masterful precision and control, What Remains of Me brilliantly moves forward and back in time, playing out the murders side by side—interweaving subtle connections and peeling away layers of events to reveal the shocking truth. -- William Morrow

My book club's February choice was WHAT REMAINS OF ME by Alison Gaylin. I briefly mentioned last week that my book club was pretty much in agreement that it wasn't our favorite selection. Personally, I was worried when we picked it that there wouldn't be too much to discuss because it's a mystery/thriller. However, we did manage to find quite a few things to talk about especially as they related to the plot and the writing style.

WHAT REMAINS OF ME tells the story of Kelly Lund, a woman who was released from prison five years ago for the murder of famous Hollywood director. She was only 17 years old at the time of the crime, and you can probably imagine the spectacle that the surrounded the trial. She served twenty five years before she was released, and she never discussed the murder or her motives with anyone.

When her father-in-law, movie star Sterling Marshall, is found dead, Kelly finds herself in trouble once again; and it's no surprise that she's the chief suspect. While there are a few individuals who believe in Kelly's innocence, it's definitely not clear to the reader whether she just might be guilty of the crimes.

As the secrets from the past and present are gradually revealed, there are quite a few twists and turns... and even a few big surprises. However, the author does wrap up the questions for the reader a little too neatly.

I really wanted to enjoy WHAT REMAINS OF ME. I love mysteries and thrillers and the description of this novel sounded fantastic. Plus Ms. Gaylin is a best-selling and award-wining author. Unfortunately, this book never really grabbed me like I had hoped. I think one of my major issues with this novel was the character of Kelly. I didn't like her at all and felt absolutely no sympathy with her. While I questioned her guilt in these two crimes, I never really cared if she was innocent or not. Furthermore, I didn't find any of the characters to be really likable. Had I felt more of an affinity with Kelly (or really any character), I think it might have added to my enjoyment of the novel.

Another issue I had with this novel was the pacing. I just felt the book was about 50 - 75 pages too long, and it would have been tighter had some of the scenes been removed or even shortened. Normally I like novels that go back and forth between the present and the past; however, there were a few times when I thought it was a little confusing. Having said that, I did appreciate how the author used this device to gradually reveal both of the murders as well as how they were linked.

Finally, I was a little disappointed when I finished the book because things were wrapped up a little too neatly. Granted, the ride to the truth resembled a roller coaster in the dark with the ups and downs, hidden curves, and upside down loops; and the eventual reveal definitely resembled being smacked in the face with the bright light at the end of that last tunnel. All of that was pretty good, but... I didn't really appreciate how every character, even the minor ones, seemed to play a role in both the present and the past. I don't want to give too much away, but incest was a theme of the novel; and the entire book, from the plot to the characters' relationships, just seemed to be a little too incestuous. Everyone mentioned in the book, even those from her high school years, seemed to be involved in Kelly's present life. I was okay with one surprise twist from the past, but the second one was a little too much for me to buy.

Overall, WHAT REMAINS OF ME was a decent thriller and it's sure to appeal to many fans of crime fiction. Unfortunately, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

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, February 13, 2016

Kid Konnection: Toys Meet Snow

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 cute picture book from the creators of the Toys trilogy.

Summary: Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic—the toys from the beloved chapter books Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home—are back in a glorious full-color picture book, perfect for gift-giving this holiday season. Acclaimed author Emily Jenkins and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Paul Zelinsky have created a book destined to become a classic.

Children who have loved listening to the Toys trilogy, as well as those meeting the toys for the very first time, will be thrilled to see Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic venture outdoors to play in the snow. Together the toys build a snowman, make snow angels, and, when day is done, head back inside their cozy house and wait for the return of the Little Girl. -- Schwartz & Wade

I thought it was appropriate to share with you the beautiful picture book TOYS MEET SNOW by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Belinsky. Here in Central PA, we've had snow on the ground for a few weeks; and by the sounds of things, more might be coming early next week. Yuck! I'm ready for spring!

TOYS MEET SNOW stars Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic. Some of you might remember them from the book TOYS GO OUT. Well, they are back and this time their owner, Little Girl, is away on winter vacation. The toys decided to go out and experience the snow.

I adored TOYS MEET SNOW! It's a delightful story about three unlikely friends and their first adventure in snow. I absolutely loved this cast of characters. Lumphy is a stuffed buffalo who asks lots of questions about snow, while StingRay, a plush stingray gives touchy-feeling answers. Plastic, is a no-nonsense ball and provides answers that she's learned from her books. They are just precious and their interactions are so much fun.

I loved these three from the time they decide to venture outside, to how they prepared for the cold, to the way they played in the snow. I found myself smiling as I read each and every page. StingRay cracked me up because she wrapped herself in a plastic bag because she was dry-clean only; and the page with their snow angels is beyond adorable.

TOYS MEET SNOW is not only cute because of the characters and the story, but the illustrations are just gorgeous. Mr. Zelinksy is an award winning illustrator and has received the Caldecott Medal and three Caldecott Honors, and it's especially apparent in this book just how talented he is. The pictures and the text are perfect together and they set the tone for this delightful story.

Highly recommended!

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

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Booking Mamas' February 2016 Meeting

The Booking Mamas
A few weeks ago, I shared that my book club, the Booking Mamas, was selected to be a Book Club Girl Book Club! So far, we have received some fun swag including Betsy-Tacy totes, free books, and cute wine openers. As great as those treats are, what's even better is that we will receive books (that we select) for our group for the entire year.

Our first selection was WHAT REMAINS OF ME by Alison Gaylin. I admit that the book sounded terrific based on the description, but I wasn't sure it would make for a great discussion. It ends up that we did actually discuss the book for some time... which isn't always the case with our group!

We met on a snowy Tuesday evening to discuss this book, and I was concerned that we wouldn't have a good turnout. It ends up that we had all ten show up and even one new member. Now we are eleven -- how exciting! Fortunately, my good friend suggested taking a photo because we never have everyone at a meeting.

It would thrill me to say that we all loved WHAT REMAINS OF ME; however, that wasn't exactly the case. I will share my thoughts later in a review, but I think I can speak for almost everyone when I say that the story itself was pretty good. There were lots of twists and turns and quite a few surprises. The issue most of us had was in the presentation. The book dragged in a few places, and the transitions between the present (which was 2010) and the past were confusing at times. In addition, it just seemed that everything was wrapped up a little too neatly -- all of the characters were accounted for; and the reader was left with virtually nothing to ponder.

For March, we decided to read the surprise book that was sent to us last week -- THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE by Joshilyn Jackson. I am super excited to read this novel because I love Joshilyn Jackson, and all of the women seemed to think it would make a great book club pick!

Thanks to Harper Collins and Book Club Girl for making 2016 a great year for the Booking Mamas!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Guest Review: Saving Jason

Summary: Jason Stafford used to be a hot Wall Street trader, went too far, and paid for it in prison. Now a financial investigator, he’s been asked to look into rumors of a hostile takeover of his firm, but he has no idea it will turn his whole life upside down. Suddenly embroiled in a grand jury investigation of Mob-related activities on Wall Street, and threatened by some very serious men, he is thrust into witness protection with his young autistic son. And then his son disappears. Has he been kidnapped, or worse? With no choice but to act, Stafford has no choice but to come out of hiding and risk everything to save his son, his firm, his pregnant girlfriend—and himself. -- G.P. Putnam's Sons

Since my dad enjoyed BLACK FRIDAYS by Michael Sears, I decided to share with him another book in the series SAVING JASON. Here are his thoughts:

SAVING JASON is the fourth book by Michael Sears featuring Jason Stafford. I previously reviewed BLACK FRIDAYS, the first book in the series. Jason was a Wall Street trader sentenced to prison for white collar crimes that prevents him from ever again working as a trader. He now works as a financial investigator for a small investment firm. In SAVING JASON, Jason discovers an unusual penny stock trend. When he reports it to the CEO, Jason finds little interest because his boss is focused on a rumor suggesting the company is in play for a hostile takeover. Stafford’s investigation is now redirected toward finding the source of the hostile takeover. Jason’s efforts result in the death of a co-worker and lands him and his firm in the middle of a Grand Jury probe into Wall Street mob activities. The probe is led by a politically motivated U.S. Attorney who will sacrifice anyone to promote himself.

As a result, Jason’s life is threatened and he is placed into a Witness Protection program and relocated with his 7-year old autistic son, the Kid. This creates a myriad of problems because the Kid doesn’t adapt well to change and is more comfortable in a structured environment. Additionally Jason had to leave his pregnant girlfriend back in New York. When the Kid disappears, Jason doesn’t know if he ran away or has been kidnapped. A panicked search leads Jason to realize he must return to New York for his son and girlfriend and take control of his life.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to the time Jason and his son are in witness protection with most of the action directed to protecting Jason’s identity and searching for the Kid. Although the action is fast and keeps the reader interested it does take the reader away from the original crime related storyline. Author Michael Sears does pull it nicely together at the end.

The most significant character development evolves around Jason and the Kid. Jason is the hero, but in pursuing his investigation, he exhibits some of the character flaws that originally landed him in prison. Jason’s autistic child adds an interesting dimension to the story as the reader gets a feel for the relationship between a parent and his autistic child. It’s clear that Jason really loves his son but makes one wonder why he constantly puts him in harm’s way.

SAVING JASON is a good story set in the risk-reward world of Wall Street. It is an easy to read, well written thriller that contrasts the greed and corruption of Wall Street with a tender story about a father and his autistic son.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: The Good Neighbor

Summary: When small lies have big consequences...

Things are a little rough for Izzy Lane. Still reeling from the break-up of her marriage, the newly single mom moves back to the Philadelphia home she grew up in, five-year-old Noah in tow. The transition is difficult, but with the help of her best friends-and her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Feldman-Izzy feels like she's stepping closer to her new normal. Until her ex-husband shows up with his girlfriend. That's when Izzy invents a boyfriend of her own. And that's when life gets complicated.

Blogging about her "new guy" provides Izzy with something to do when Noah's asleep. What's the harm in a few made-up stories? But when her friends want to meet the mysterious "Mac," someone online suspects Izzy's a fraud, and a guy in real life catches her eye, Izzy realizes just how high the stakes are. -- St. Martin's Griffin

I love the cover of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR by Amy Sue Nathan! For some reason, this door, with its pretty color of green, just drew me in. There are a lot of books in my basement, and this book practically begged me to pick it up. Plus, I was in the mood for a heartwarming story.

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR tells the story of Izzy, a recently divorced mom who has recently moved back to her childhood home with her five-year-old son. She begins a blog about her life as a single mom and her dating life... which is pretty much non-existent, but the creative outlet provides some much needed entertainment for Izzy. When her ex-husband finds a new girlfriend, Izzy creates a "perfect" boyfriend named Mac. What seems like harmless fun for Izzy turns into something much more serious when her friends want to meet this ideal man and when Izzy stumbles upon a guy that might be potential dating material.

I was expecting THE GOOD NEIGHBOR to be a cute read, a sweet story about a divorced mom finding her way again... and it definitely was. Izzy was a lovable mom who, despite posting stories about her imaginary boyfriend, truly wanted the best for her child and was just trying to recover from the divorce. I was definitely rooting for her, although I'll admit I thought she should have handled a few things differently. Having said that, she found herself up to her neck in her blogging make-believe world with seemingly no way to get out without hurting others.

While I did enjoy Izzy's predicament, the heart of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR was in the relationship Izzy had with her "good neighbor" Mrs. Feldman. Izzy grew up visiting Mrs. Feldman and she found that she needed her even more than ever when she returned to her childhood home. Of course, the aging Mrs. Feldman needed Izzy too making Izzy a "good neighbor" too! I loved how Izzy still made the time to regularly visit Mrs. Feldman despite the demands on her as both a mom and an employee, and the scenes between the two were definitely my favorite part of this book.

One of the main themes of THE GOOD NEIGHBOR was secrets. I've already mentioned that Izzy was keeping secrets from her friends; however, it comes out that Mrs. Feldman had a pretty big secret of her own. I don't want to give too much away, but I really appreciated how the author revealed the complexities of Mrs. Feldman's character; and I found myself wanting both Izzy and Mrs. Feldman to have some sort of resolution... and to be able to forgive themselves.

Because THE GOOD NEIGHBOR has such interesting characters, it would make a great book club selection. There is a reading guide available with ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss further include divorce, second chances, aging, parent/child relationships, friendship, secrets, forgiveness, and redemption.

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR is a sweet read about an unlikely friendship and the affects secrets can have on our lives. Recommended to fans of mom-lit and women's fiction.

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

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: Perfect Days

Summary: A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.

Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers. -- Penguin Press

It should have been a clue to me that the new novel PERFECT DAYS by Raphael Montes was exactly a typical thriller when the ARC had a sticker on the front saying, "Tell Us When You Get to Page 198. #perfectdays." Of course, I was dying to know what happened on page 198; and I don't think I put the book down until I reached that page... and then I just kept on reading! This book is one crazy ride!

The basic premise of PERFECT DAYS is that a lonely Brazilian medical student meets a girl and immediately becomes obsessed. He kidnaps her and then travels across Brazil with her. However, that brief description does nothing to convey how twisted and disturbing this novel is!

Teo is (almost) a pitiful man. He lives with his mother who is confined to a wheelchair and has virtually no friends. In fact, his best friend is a human cadaver that he works with at the university. (See... I told you this book is a little strange!) When he meets Clarice, a young woman who is everything Teo is not -- rash, creative, brave, etc., he immediately becomes obsessed with her and begins stalking her. When Clarice lets Teo know she's not interested in him, Teo decides to kidnap her (hint: check out the front cover!); and together, he takes her around Brazil in the hopes that she will eventually share his feelings.

It's probably obvious to most of you, even if Teo doesn't see it, that things aren't going to work out in the way he had planned. Clarice gives Teo a run for his money, and Teo finds that keeping her kidnapping a secret involves even more troubling behavior... but he's determined to do whatever it takes to make her his own!

PERFECT DAYS is one creepy story.... but I mean that in the nicest way possible. It's a fast-paced thriller that's I found difficult to put down (although I think the sticker about page 198 did contribute to my reading frenzy!) It has many twists and turns, and I found myself questioning a lot about Teo and Clarice and their relationship. I will say this, though, page 198 (in the ARC) was one of the most shocking and disturbing pages I've ever read!

PERFECT DAYS is one of those books that will definitely have you scratching your head. Teo is one of the most insane characters that I've come across in recent memory, and his antics are almost unbelievable. He is willing to do anything, and I mean anything, to keep Clarice from escaping. I found almost everything about him to be difficult to read, and I have to warn you that the big surprise is not for the faint of heart. It's grotesque and it will definitely make you uncomfortable. You might even gasp!

As much as I appreciated PERFECT DAYS, I don't know that I'd say I loved it, but I did like it a lot. It was an intriguing read and most definitely a page turner, but I felt that the book depended an awful lot on the shocking scene. Maybe that's because I was reading for that? That's certainly a possibility. What I will say is that I found I had to suspend belief in Teo's character and his actions... which didn't bother me one bit. However, I also felt I had to do that for Clarice's character because she was certainly a little "off" too. As horrible as Teo was, I found Clarice to be almost as bad.

Having said that, I did enjoy the cat and mouse games between Teo and Clarice. The tension in the novel was pretty high for most of the story, and I honestly can say that I didn't know what to expect from either character. As Teo felt more and more pressure and became more and more paranoid, I could just feel that something major was going to happen. I thought Mr. Montes did an outstanding job with these scenes and, really, the entire tone and pacing of the novel.

I do think readers who enjoy psychological suspense will appreciate PERFECT DAYS. It is an interesting story with some very unique characters, but it's not for those readers who are the slightest bit uncomfortable with gore!

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, February 6, 2016

Kid Konnection: Fall Books from Dawn Publications

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 were released in the fall from Dawn Publications -- I'm a little late to the game.

Summary: Honey is a sweet gift from nature—ALL of nature, actually. Honey is linked in a very real way to dandelions, earthworms, mushrooms, the old oak tree and even the blue jays squawking in its branches. Take another look at honey. If you love nature’s honey, you are sure to love nature too. How sweet it is! The author fell in love with bees as an amateur beekeeper, and then learned to appreciate flowering plants—even ones she once considered weeds – as an important nectar source. And then she realized how the plants were connected to insects and soil. A simple but accurate diagram in the back matter explains how bees make honey and also pollinate plants, as well as the role of beneficial insects and decomposers. Also presented are activities and a recipe for children. -- Dawn Publications

I'm a big fan of Dawn Publications picture books! IF YOU LOVE HONEY: NATURE'S CONNECTIONS by Martha Sullivan and illustrated by Cathy Morrison epitomizes what I love about their books -- they are educational and fun. In IF YOU LOVE HONEY, readers learn how honey is connected to all sorts of things in nature.

IF YOU LOVE HONEY begins, "If you love honey, Then you must love honey bees." It then explains how honey bees help make honey. The next page of the book says, "If you love honey bees, It's no wonder you love dandelions." There is a description of how honey bees use the nectar from dandelions to make their honey. The book continues like this, showing the ways that nature is interconnected, until it comes full circle back to honey!

I think IF YOU LOVE HONEY is adorable. The illustrations are beautiful and I love that each and every page of this book teaches children about the relationship of bees with the environment. In addition, there are pages at the back of the book which go into even more detail about the science of the story and some fun activity suggestions.

As is the case with all books by Dawn Publications, IF YOU LOVE HONEY is perfect for the classroom. There is even a link to additional activities that educators can use while teaching from this book.

Highly recommended!

Summary: Below your feet, Mighty Mole is on the move. Like a swimmer in dirt, she strokes through the soil. Her tunnels are everywhere! She finds food, eludes a predator, has a family, and helps to make Super Soil. Moles live almost everywhere yet are rarely seen. Similarly, soil is a largely invisible ecosystem and yet is vital to the health of the world. Following the story, two “Explore More for Kids” pages offer a matching challenge and a review of some of the remarkable traits that make moles “mighty.” Two additional pages of “Explore More for Teachers and Parents” offers activities in visual and language arts, science, technology, and math. -- Dawn Publications

MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL by Mary Quattlebaum and illustrated by Chad Wallace is another great book for budding animal lovers. In MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL, kids will learn about the elusive mole. In addition, the will discover the underground world of soil and its importance as an ecosystem.

I enjoyed the story in MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL, and I thought the illustrations were terrific. The moles almost look cute (I can't believe I'm saying that) and the other animals in the story are gorgeous and sometimes a little intimidating! I admit to knowing pretty much nothing about these animals, so I was definitely interested in their fascinating lives and I learned quite a bit!

One of my favorite things about MIGHTY MOLE AND SUPER SOIL are the last few pages of the book where the author provides additional information about soil and the underground community. In addition, the tidbits about moles' super powers are extremely interesting. I like that the super power section is almost a game where readers are challenged to go back to the story and get the answers. Make sure you check out the activities page for more information about moles and soil!

Definitely recommended for teachers, librarians, and families who are interesting in animals and nature!

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!