Saturday, April 30, 2016

Kid Konnection: Wonder Woman at Super Hero High

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you the first book in a terrific new series!

Summary: This groundbreaking new middle grade series follows DC Comics’ most iconic female Super Heroes and Super-Villains . . . as high schoolers. At Super Hero High, the galaxy’s most powerful teens nurture their powers and master the fundamentals of what it means to be a hero. -- Random House

It's hard not to get caught up in the super hero craze that has hit over the past few years; and that's just one of the reasons that I think the new middle grade series DC SuperHero Girls is such a great idea! This series is aimed at young girls, and there's even a line of dolls at Target featuring the characters. I sure hope this concept catches fire because I really enjoyed the first book in the series titled WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH by Lisa Yee.

WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH is so much fun! It begins when Wonder Woman (who eventually goes by just Wondy) sees a recruitment video for Super Hero High School. It's everything she's ever dreamed of, and she convinces her mom that she should leave their home and attend. The school offers state-of-the-art technology, gadgets, weapons as well as a Flight Track and classes taught by super hero alums. Wondy thinks it would be a great way to meet other kids just like her!

Despite Wondy's major strength and skills, she doesn't quite fit in with the other kids. She doesn't really have a sense of humor (which ironically enough provides a lot of laughs for the readers), and many of the kids are jealous of her powers. In fact, Wondy faces a lot of the same things any new kid faces when they start at a new school. Of course, everything is intensified a bit because she is trying to make friends with super heroes!

Wondy, at times, struggles to navigate the classes, teachers, rival students, friends, and competitions; and she she turns to her mother for sound advice. Like many kids, Wondy isn't quite sure who to trust; and there are a few surprises in store for her. She also encounters some kids who definitely are on track for a life of crime rather than helping others. However, readers will admire Wondy for not only her super hero skills, but also for her truly kind nature and desire to save the world.

As a mom, I thought this book was terrific. It was funny, entertaining, and full of action, but it also had some great messages for kids and tween girls. While I'm pretty sure most girls don't think of themselves in the same class as Wonder Woman, I do think almost every girl will find themselves relating to her. I was just really impressed with the cleverness of this novel, and I suspect that the next ones in the series will be just as terrific.

In addition, I think fans of DC comics will appreciate this book. I can't even pretend to know much about Wonder Woman and the other super heroes in the story, but I did appreciate how the author tried to incorporate Wonder Woman's story from the comics into this novel. There were a few other characters that I was familiar with and even a few that I discovered when I googled them! I'm guessing that there are even more references to the comics than I could catch!

Overall, WONDER WOMAN AT SUPER HERO HIGH is a great beginning to what looks like a terrific idea for a series. There is something for everyone in the story, and I think kids will love learning about what super heroes were like when they were young.

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, April 28, 2016

Review: The Railwayman's Wife

Summary: In 1948, in the strange, silent aftermath of war, in a town overlooking the vast, blue ocean, Anikka Lachlan has all she ever wanted—until a random act transforms her into another postwar widow, destined to raise her daughter on her own. Awash in grief, she looks for answers in the pages of her favorite books and tries to learn the most difficult lesson of all: how to go on living.

A local poet, Roy McKinnon, experiences a different type of loss. How could his most powerful work come out of the brutal chaos of war, and why is he now struggling to regain his words and his purpose in peacetime? His childhood friend Dr. Frank Draper also seeks to reclaim his pre-war life but is haunted by his failure to help those who needed him most—the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.

Then one day, on the mantle of her sitting room, Ani finds a poem. She knows neither where it came from, nor who its author is. But she has her suspicions. An unexpected and poignant love triangle emerges, between Ani, the poem, and the poet—whoever he may be.

Written in clear, shining prose, The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings—and how difficult it can be to tell them apart. It is an exploration of life, loss, and what comes after, of connection and separation, longing and acceptance, and an unadulterated celebration of love that will break your heart open. -- Atria

I am so excited to share with you my thoughts about THE RAILWAYMAN'S WIFE by Ashley Hay although I do think it will be difficult for me to express my feelings. This novel is beautifully written and it touched my heart like few books do. While the prose is quiet, it is an extremely powerful novel.

THE RAILWAYMAN'S WIFE takes place in 1948 in rural Australia in the aftermath of World War II. Anikka Lachlan loves her simple life as a wife and mother; however, when her husband is killed in a brutal accident, she finds herself drowning in grief. She takes a job at the railroad library and tries to find comfort in books.

Meanwhile, Roy McKinnon comes home from the war a damaged man. Prior to leaving, he was a poet but after seeing the the horrors of war, he can no longer find the inspiration to write. His friend, Dr. Frank Draper, also returns home but is haunted by the images of the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.

All three of the characters are trying to deal with their grief and start living again. Roy eventually finds his feelings toward Anikka provide the much needed inspiration he needs to start writing poetry again. However, when he leaves a love poem for Anikka to discover, she doesn't realize that Roy is the author. Roy becomes more and more upset as he waits for Anikka to acknowledge the poem and his feelings, while Anikka finds a special sense of comfort in "knowing" who left it for her.

The reader is anxious for Anikka to realize that Roy is the author and how he truly feels about her; however, there is a quiet sense of desperation to the story. The conclusion is definitely unsettling and, at the same time, thought-provoking.

I loved THE RAILWAYMAN'S WIFE. I admit that the subject matter doesn't sound particularly exciting, and you might even say it's depressing, but I promise that the writing is so gorgeous that it makes you fall in love with the characters and their lives. I have to give major kudos to Ms. Hay because her prose brought this book to life and made me think about grief and loss in a very interesting way. Weeks later, I can still feel the pain in these characters.

I'm afraid that I've portrayed this novel as being a major downer. It's true that it does deal with loss, but it also deals with healing... and I found that to be very uplifting. There are beautiful messages in this story about love, memory, and living; and I do believe that these universal themes make it a wonderful book club pick. There is a reading guide with twelve interesting discussion questions. In addition to the themes I've already mention, you also might want to explore the effects of war, change, marriage, death, and new beginnings. In addition, you might want to discuss the role of the ocean in the story along with your thoughts on the ending.

I treasured each and every word in THE RAILWAYMAN'S WIFE. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Review: Some Women

Summary: An engrossing novel that examines the intricacies of marriage, friendship, and the power of unexpected connections…

Annabel Ford has everything under control, devoting her time to her twin boys and keeping her household running smoothly. But when her husband of a decade announces that he’s leaving, she’s blind-sided. And suddenly her world begins to unravel.

Piper Whitley has always done her best to balance it all—raising her daughter Fern by herself while advancing her career as a crime reporter. Only now that she’s finally met the man of her dreams, Fern’s absentee father shows up, throwing everything into a tailspin.

Married to the heir of a thriving media conglomerate, Mackenzie Mead has many reasons to count her blessings. But with an imperious mother-in-law—who’s also her boss—and a husband with whom she can no longer seem to connect, something has to give.

On the surface, these three women may not have much in common, but just when they each need someone to lean on, their lives are thrust together, forming unlikely friendships that help each woman navigate her new reality. -- New American Library

Over the past few years, I've learned that I really enjoy women's fiction. I read a fair amount of different genres, but I always seem to "come home" to stories about women and their friendships. One author whose books have resonated with me is Emily Liebert, and her latest novel SOME WOMEN was no different. This novel about three very different women is both entertaining and touching... and I thought it was a very good read.

Before I get into my review of SOME WOMEN, I wanted to share something really fun about Ms. Liebert and her books -- she has the best promotions! In the past, she's had a line of Zoya nail polishes that represent each character as well as gorgeous fashions designed by Meskita. For SOME WOMEN, she collaborated with Gerard Cosmetics. I was lucky enough to receive three lip glosses, one for each main character in the novel. Can I tell you how much I love these lip glosses? The wands even have a light built in that comes on when you remove it! So cool!

SOME WOMEN tells the story of three women who form an unlikely friendship that helps them get through difficult times. Annabel seemingly has it all -- she's a super mom of twin boys that prides herself on keeping her house and family in order. However, her world is torn apart when her husband announces that he is leaving her and wants a divorce. Annabel never saw it coming!

Then there's Piper. Piper is a single mom who lives with a great guy -- some might say perfect guy. While her organization skills are lacking a bit, she has done a good job in balancing her career as a crime reporter with her parenting. Her life is turned upside down when her daughter's MIA father shows up, and Piper is forced to re-examine her feelings.

Finally, there's Mackenzie, a young and gorgeous wife of an heir to a media fortune. She should have a perfect life, but she has a meddling mother-in-law. As she struggles with fertility issues, she and her husband seem to grow further and further apart.

Annabel, Piper and Mackenzie form a valuable friendship that becomes essential when they each have turmoil strike their lives. Even though these women don't really have all that much in common, they find that their new friendship provides a life-line when they need it the most. I love books that show the strength of women and their friendships, and SOME WOMEN had that in spades.

Once again, I was very impressed with Ms. Liebert's main characters. I found all three of them to be very likable, and I thought she did a great job in making them realistic to the reader. Naturally, I could relate to Annabel the most because she was a stay-at-home mom. In fact, the scene at the beginning of the book where's she's obsessing over everything did remind me a bit of myself and my family. It was a bit of a wake-up call when just a few pages later, her husband left!

I read SOME WOMEN fairly quickly for me these days, and I do think that's a testament to how compelling I found these women's lives. I liked seeing how their "surprises" affected their lives and how they coped with them, both individually and with the help of their friends. In addition, I was satisfied with the end of the novel. Overall, it was a happy one but it wasn't perfect... and that seemed to fit these characters just fine.

SOME WOMEN would definitely make a good book club selection if you're looking for a lighter read that also touches upon some relevant issues. There is a reading guide on the author's website with ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include friendship, marriage, motherhood, infertility, trust, forgiveness, responsibility, choices, career, and romance.

I am a big fan of Ms. Liebert's and I thought SOME WOMEN was an entertaining read. Recommended to fans of women's fiction.

Thanks to the publisher and Goldberg McDuffie Communications for providing a review copy of this novel.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: LuLu's Kitchen

Summary: Updated with a new introduction and amazing photography, the bestselling, self-published cookbook by Lucy Buffett (chef sister of Jimmy Buffett) includes amazing recipes from her destination restaurant in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Like her brother, Jimmy, Lucy Buffett celebrates freedom, relaxation, and seaside decadence in her own art--cooking. This previously self-published book (formerly titled Crazy Sista Cooking) has sold over 70,000 copies without marketing or much trade distribution.

Packed with more than 120 signature recipes from Lucy's famous Gulf Coast restaurant, LuLu's, WITH LOVE FROM LULU'S KITCHEN is the next best thing to being there. Tucked inside are humorous stories, and plenty of wit and wisdom from Lucy's own kitchen. The book features party menus, Buffett Family favorites, and lots of telling it like it is. Renowned novelist Tom McGuane contributes engaging essays that blend smoothly with the spicy dishes and distinctive drinks.

Recipes include soul-satisfying Southern delights like West Indies Salad, Perfect Fried Shrimp, Blackened Grouper Sandwich, Garlic Cheese Grits, Silver Queen Succotash, and Heavenly Fried Crab Claws. And there's a whole chapter on 25 specialty drinks, including "Bama Breeze" and "LuLu's Painkiller." -- Grand Central Life and Style

It's been a long time since I've reviewed a cookbook here at Booking Mama! Life is crazy and, while I do cook most nights, it's the same old recipes because they are quick and easy... and my family seems to like them. So it took a special cookbook (with a special author) for me to start looking for new recipes. That cookbook is LULU'S KITCHEN: A TASTE OF THE GULF COAST GOOD LIFE by Lucy Buffett.

LULU'S KITCHEN is a wonderful cookbook written by Lucy Buffett. The recipes come from her restaurants in Destin and Gulf Shores and is full of Gulf Coast cooking ideas. It was previously self- published ten years ago as CRAZY SISTA COOKING and sold over 70,000 copies. I consider that a success given that Ms. Buffett didn't have a powerful marketing campaign behind her! The foreward in the new book is written by none other than her brother, Jimmy Buffett.

The author is quick to note at the beginning of LULU'S KITCHEN that this is not your basic "how to" cookbook. She wants the reader to feel as if they are visiting her kitchen with stories, music, and laughter. I think she definitely captured the look and feel in this fun cookbook. Plus there are over 120 recipes!

The very first chapter of recipes in LULU'S KITCHEN is titled "How to Lulu," and it's filled with LuLu essentials including recipes for stocks, seasonings, marinades and more. I actually love this chapter! Not only does Ms. Buffett give step by step instructions for preparing these items, but she also gives a list of ten things she absolutely knows about cooking and ten ingredients for a healthy life. See what I mean about feeling like you "know" Lulu?

The next chapter is titled Cocktail Hour, and I definitely think this section alone is worth the cost of the cookbook. There are 25 different cocktail recipes and they include more than a few of Lulu's specialities. Margarita fans will not want to miss this chapter!

The next chapter, titled In the Beginning, is another winner. It includes some pretty fantastic-sounding Gulf Coast appetizers like Famous Fried Green Tomatoes, dips, and quesadillas. I am dying to try Lulu's Perfect Peel and Eat Shrimp along with the Crispy Coconut Fried Shrimp.  This chapter is followed by one called Gumbo Love that includes five recipes for gumbo and other southern soup recipes.

Sassy Salads, Sandwiches & Such, and Perfect Sauces & Salad Dressings round out the main courses sections of LULU'S KITCHEN. And then there's the dessert chapter titled Sweet Things. It's exactly what you'd expect -- Key Lime pie, banana pudding, and assorted chocolate cake recipes.

It's the last few sections of LULU'S KITCHEN that make it truly special. There is a chapter for kids' meals that I have to admit looks awfully good to this adult. In addition, there is a chapter devoted to the southern favorite -- grits. And last but not least are Favorite Dinner Party Menus. There are meal plans and recipes for some great theme parties including a New Orleans Jazz Fest Thursday Dinner Party, a Montana Rodeo Picnic, and even a Traditional Unchristmas Dinner!

LULU'S KITCHEN is a fantastic cookbook. I think Ms. Buffett captured the essence of a southern cookbook -- great recipes, traditions, and fun! Highly recommended for fans of southern/Gulf Coast specialities.

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review: Furious

Summary: Faith McMann comes home to a nightmare: her husband is killed and her son and daughter are taken. Although the intruders leave her for dead, she survives. Crippling grief and fear for her children make life unbearable. Until her anguish turns to anger…and she trades victimhood for vengeance.

Frustrated with the law’s efforts, she takes action to rescue her children—and wreaks havoc on the brutal criminals who tore them from her. With her family and newfound allies at her side, Faith descends into the hellish underworld of human trafficking, determined to make those who prey on the innocent pray for mercy.

The forces she’s up against have already proven that their ruthlessness knows no bounds. And there’s nothing they won’t do to turn Faith’s crusade into a suicide mission. But they’re about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a mother fighting for her children—especially one who’s earned the nickname Furious. -- Thomas Mercer

Truth be told, the description of the novel FURIOUS by T.R. Ragan is pretty gruesome. It's like a mother's worst nightmare, and I wasn't entirely sure I even wanted to read this novel. Faith McMann arrives home to find her house in total disarray. Her husband is brutally murdered, and her throat is cut and she's left for dead. To make matters even worse, the men take her children and leave no clues!

Faith's recovery is difficult, but the guilt she's left with is all-consuming. Totally unsatisfied with what the police are doing (or not doing), she decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of her family and the friends she meets at her anger management course, she discovers the nightmarish world of human trafficking.

Faith is not only furious, but she's also relentless, in her pursuit of finding her children. What she uncovers is both disturbing and unbelievable!

I can't really say that I enjoyed FURIOUS, but there were aspects of the story that I appreciated. It's a book that was extremely difficult for me to read, and there were scenes that made me almost put down the book. Believe me when I say that this book is very graphic, and I definitely don't recommend it for the faint of heart (or even new moms!) However, I do think fans of suspense novels might find the story of a vigilante mom somewhat intriguing.

I definitely have mixed emotions about this book. On one hand, I found it a little hard to believe that Faith recovered from the attack quickly enough to track down the killers on her own. I totally understand a mother wanting revenge, and I understand even more not being able to just sit back and wait for someone for find my kids. However, Faith went crazy! There were parts of the story that just didn't ring true for me, but it was those very same parts that made the novel exciting.

On the other hand, I definitely appreciated the plot points that focused on child trafficking. I can honestly say that I had no idea that this was really a problem in the United States, and I was appalled by the idea of kids being taken from their homes and thrown into this horrible life. I admit that it's difficult for me to grasp that something like this can happen, and it's definitely a scary premise for a novel.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the ending of the book. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that everything wasn't wrapped up neatly with a bow. FURIOUS is the first book in a new trilogy, and I think we'll be seeing a lot more of an angry Faith. Faith now has a purpose and she's not going to stop until she gets to the bottom of seeking justice for human traffickers.

Overall, FURIOUS is an action-packed book chock full of graphic scenes and difficult subject matter. Recommended for fans of edgy thrillers and actions books with female protagonists.

Thanks to Saichek Publicity 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, April 23, 2016

Kid Konnection: The Mysterious Abductions

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a fun adventure book for middle grade readers.

Summary: "We can be bold in adventure-"

"We can be brave in challenge-"
"We can be friends.”

The Nocturnals features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

In The Mysterious Abductions, the animals form a brigade of the night after a random encounter with a blood-thirsty snake, and just in time because something is threatening their night realm. Animals are disappearing without a trace. Together with the help of a wombat, a band of coyotes and many others, Dawn, Tobin and Bismark journey to the depths of the earth in a wacky, high stakes game that will determine all of their survival. -- Fabled Film Press

I do enjoy the occasional middle grade book, but I'm the first to admit that I don't usually pick up fantasy... or even books about animals for that matter. However, I thought the premise for the new book THE NOCTURNALS: THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS by Tracey Hecht and illustrated by Kate Liebman sounded cute. This is the first book in the new NOCTURNALS series and I definitely think the author has created a memorable cast of characters.

THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS tells the story of three animals who might not seem to be the most likely candidates for friendship. Dawn, the star of the story is a fox, while Tobin is a nice pangolin and Bismarck is a spunky sugar glider. Since they are all nocturnal animals (hence the title of the series!), their adventures take place in the middle of the night.

When a bunch of animals start mysteriously disappearing, the friends decide to form a Brigade to figure out what's happening. These three animals, all very different, offer their talents in discovering clues and getting to the bottom of the mystery. Additional animals, like a wombat and a pack of coyotes, chip in their skills too. What they discover leads to a crazy game that could lead forever change their lives. Can these newfound friends work together to save their lives?

THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS is a definitely a cute book that will appeal to middle grade readers... especially those interested in animals. It's action-packed and funny; and as a mom, I really appreciated the strong messages about loyalty and friendship.

One thing that really stood out to me was the development of the characters. Dawn is a terrific heroine -- she's smart and conscientious, but she's also just a great animal. I loved her determination to solve the mystery as well as her loyalty to her friends. Her sidekicks, the multilingual Bismarck and the sweet Tobin, provided a great deal of the humor in the story. I'm certain that these three are in store for some very fun adventures in the future!

Another interesting thing that I enjoyed about THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS was how creative the story was. I'm not a big fan of fantasy but I thought it was cute how the author used the animals' traits to further develop their characters. In addition, there is an insane game at the end of the book that is a bit like hockey... but not. It is extremely silly and incredibly unique!

Finally, I really appreciated that there are so many educational resources resources available for this book. There are book club questions, bookmarks, fill-in-the-story game, coloring pages, and more. I think THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS would be a great book to read not only in schools but also for book clubs.

Overall, THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS is an action-packed fun read that's perfect for middle grade fans of adventure series!

Meet Dawn!

Dawn is the fearless leader of the Nocturnal Brigade. With her wits, strength, and poise, she serves as the anchor to her more excitable companions. Her past is a painful subject, and she keeps her emotions under a lid—though this does not keep her from enjoying herself from time to time. Dawn will usually try and resolve conflicts with a stern look or common sense, but when push comes to shove, she will lead the attack.

Here are some facts the author learned while researching Dawn:

 **Red foxes are the largest member of the fox family. Even so, they are incredibly light on their feet thanks to their slender frame, enabling them to gracefully sneak around, and run up to 30-35 mph.
 (Macdonald, David W. "Dog Family." The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009. 604-10. Print.)

 ** Foxes have incredible eyesight due to their cat-like, vertically slit pupils, which allows the animal to adapt to a wider range of light conditions.
 (Macdonald, David W. "Dog Family." The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009. 604-10. Print.)

Here are some more resources for THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS that you might want to explore:

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!

Thanks to Saichek Publications for providing a review copy of this book.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review: America's First Daughter

Summary: In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy. From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France. It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded. -- William Morrow

Last week, I posted a summary of my book club's meeting to discuss AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. The book was a huge hit for all but one member, and I do think it's a testament to the quality of the story that ten people finished a 600+ page book! I will be the first to admit that I wasn't too thrilled when our group voted and picked AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER (mainly because of the length), but I am definitely glad we read it and found so much to discuss.

AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER is historical fiction at its best. It tells the story of Patsy Jefferson, the eldest daughter of of Thomas Jefferson and a pretty important woman in the early days of our country. After Patsy's mother dies, she becomes an influential figure in Jefferson's life; and her devotion to her father is (for the most part) admirable. Quite frankly, I don't know how Jefferson could have handled his family and his service to his country without Patsy's assistance.

When Jefferson became the American minister to France, Patsy traveled with him to Paris. Not only did she experience the sights and sounds of this gorgeous city, but she was also there to see the early days of the French Revolution. In addition, a fifteen year old Patsy finds herself falling in love with her father's right hand man, William Short, while also realizing that her father is indeed human -- as he was having an affair with a very young slave, Sally Hemmings.

Patsy is forced to decide between her love for William Short and her love and devotion to her father. Not surprising, Patsy chooses to support her father; and when she returns to Monticello, this choice eventually leads to some very difficult times for her. She marries a troubled man who eventually becomes an abusive alcoholic, and she becomes a mother to a almost a dozen children.

As Jefferson continues to return to the political environment and eventually the presidency, Patsy is by his side through it all. Even though the Jeffersons face a family scandal (or two), a tragedy, and even major financial woes, Patsy always plays the role of her father's staunchest supporter... even when it is a sacrifice to her own life and happiness.

I enjoyed AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER, but I don't know if I'd go so far as to say I loved it like many of my book club friends. I'm not the biggest fan of chunky historical fiction books; however, I did find that it was an intriguing story and it didn't seem to be all that long. I did take me some time to get into the story, but once I was in, the plot was definitely fast-paced and I found myself caught up in the characters and their lives.

What I definitely want to get across with this review is that AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER is extremely well-done. It absolutely has everything you could ever ask for in a historical fiction story. I appreciated so many things about this novel including the amount of research these authors conducted prior to capturing Patsy's story. I don't know about most of you, but I really knew next to nothing about Patsy except that she was devoted to her father. I loved how Ms. Dray and Ms. Kamoie brought her character to life and made her so real.

Another fantastic aspect of this story was how it was told. The authors did a great job of using Jefferson's actual letters to tell the reader about the historical events and Jefferson's state of mind (which was not all that good sometimes!) By using Patsy's voice to give insight into the events, the story was all that more interesting. I enjoyed not only seeing how Patsy protected her father while he was alive, but also how she chose to release only those letters that she believed pertinent after his death. It was truly like Patsy devoted her entire life to serving and supporting Jefferson and even shaped his legacy.

I have been a fan of Ms. Dray's books in the past, and I think she's just a fantastic writer. I now consider myself a fan of Ms. Kamoie's too! It is apparent that they researched the heck out of this subject and truly got a grasp of Patsy's character. What I think made AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER so special, though, is how much detail they added to the book. (For those of you who know me, you might be surprised by that statement!) I was so impressed with how they brought not only the characters to life, but also Paris, Monticello and even the White House. I loved the descriptions of the settings and the fashion, and I even liked the inclusion of Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison in the story.

Needless to say, AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER was a big hit with my book club and I bet it would be with yours too. There is a reading guide with twelve thought-provoking questions, but we found that we had enough to discuss without following it all that closely. In addition, because we are lucky enough to be a Book Club Girl book club, we were sent a packet of bonus material that included a description of Jefferson's home Monticello, some deleted scenes from the novel, some photographs. Some of the themes you might want to explore include father/child relationships, devotion, secrets, sacrifice, motherhood, marriage, abuse, alcoholism, the role of women, and slavery.

AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER is a great book! I think Ms. Dray and Ms. Kamoie are onto something with writing about early America's influential women. In fact, I'd be thrilled if they decided to explore a few more female pioneers -- like Dolly and Abigail! Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Guest Review: The God's Eye View

Summary: Knowledge is power…and they know everything.

NSA director Theodore Anders has a simple goal: collect every phone call, email, and keystroke tapped on the Internet. He knows unlimited surveillance is the only way to keep America safe.

Evelyn Gallagher doesn’t care much about any of that. She just wants to keep her head down and manage the NSA’s camera network and facial recognition program so she can afford private school for her deaf son, Dash.

But when Evelyn discovers the existence of an NSA program code-named God’s Eye, and connects it with the mysterious deaths of a string of journalists and whistle-blowers, her doubts put her and Dash in the crosshairs of a pair of government assassins: Delgado, a sadistic bomb maker and hacker; and Manus, a damaged giant of a man who until now has cared for nothing beyond protecting the director.

Within an elaborate game of political blackmail, terrorist provocations, and White House scheming, a global war is being fought—a war between those desperate to keep the state’s darkest secrets and those intent on revealing them. A war that Evelyn will need all her espionage training and savvy to survive. A war in which the director has the ultimate informational advantage: The God’s Eye View. -- Thomas Mercer

It's a pleasure to welcome Booking Pap Pap back! It seems like it's been awhile since he's read and reviewed a book! His latest read is THE GOD'S EYE VIEW by Barry Eisler. Here are his thoughts:

NSA Director Theodore Anders has devised a surveillance system so powerful that he has named it God’s Eye. The system raises a red flag concerning a meeting between a journalist and a Special U.S. Liaison Advisor in Turkey that could be a serious information breach similar to the 2013 breach by Edward Snowden. When analyst Evie Gallagher reports this to the Director, he immediately sets out to eliminate the two men before any possible information breach becomes public. He gives the task to his two assassins, Delgado and Manus who owe their lives to Anders and are therefore totally committed to him.

When Evie begins to see a connection between her reports and the mysterious deaths of several reporters and government whistleblowers, Anders becomes suspicious and sends Manus to “keep an eye” on Evie and her deaf son Dash. Manus bonds with Evie and Dash and for the first time in his life he has feelings for someone other than the Director. What follows is a suspense thriller that pits Evie against the power of the U.S. government.

THE GOD’S EYE VIEW by former CIA insider Barry Eisler is a classic battle between the forces who want to reveal the deep dark secrets of the government (Evie) and the government’s desire to keep them (NSA). The reader will have no problem discerning which side of the argument the author favors. Most government characters are depicted as evil while the anti-government characters are not only portrayed as good but are very likable. The main characters are well developed and it was easy for me to form a picture of each. The government characters are dark, sadistic and brutal while Evie is a single parent with a deaf child who only wants to reveal the truth.

THE GOD’S EYE VIEW is a political thriller that plays on the fears we have concerning the depth and breadth of the information gathered by the NSA. The action is fast and the novel makes the reader think about the current state of government surveillance and the chances of it getting out of control. The one caution I have for the reader is that the violence is extremely brutal and the sex is very explicit. With those caveats I recommend THE GOD’S EYE VIEW for those who enjoy a good thriller and have some concerns about where the government is taking their information gathering efforts.

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: Lies and Other Acts of Love

Summary: Dear Carolina was praised as “Southern fiction at its best.”* Now author Kristy Woodson Harvey presents a new novel about what it really means to tell the truth . . .

After sixty years of marriage and five daughters, Lynn “Lovey” White knows that all of us, from time to time, need to use our little white lies.

Her granddaughter, Annabelle, on the other hand, is as truthful as they come. She always does the right thing—that is, until she dumps her hedge fund manager fiancé and marries a musician she has known for three days. After all, her grandparents, who fell in love at first sight, have shared a lifetime of happiness, even through her grandfather’s declining health.

But when Annabelle’s world starts to collapse around her, she discovers that nothing about her picture-perfect family is as it seems. And Lovey has to decide whether one more lie will make or break the ones she loves . . . -- Berkley

It's been a very, very long time since I have lived in the south; however, I still love a good old southern fiction book. There is just something about the setting of the south and its traditions that still call out to me. And truth be told, that's one of the things that called out to me about LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVEKristy Woodson Harvey's latest novel. When Elin Hilderbrand says, “Lies and Other Acts of Love establishes [Harvey] as a major new voice in southern fiction. This book stirred mighty emotions in me, yet left me with a sense of peace. A truly delightful read," then you just know you have to read it, right?

LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE brings together the stories of Annabelle and her grandmother Lovey. Annabelle was always the traditional good girl -- she wore the "right" clothes, was a good daughter, and had a well-to-do fiancé from a good family; however out of nowhere, she dumps him for a musician who travels around the country going from gig to gig. When she ends of marrying this very same musician after only knowing him for three days, her family thinks she's gone off the deep end!

Meanwhile, Annabelle's grandmother Lovey is facing a difficult time. As her long-time husband's health and mental state decline, she is forced to confront the reality that she can't continue to take care of him and their family's home. Lovey is clinging to the hope that one last vacation together might be magical for them.

Annabelle and Lovey have a wonderful relationship, and Annabelle is determined that her marriage can be as ideal as her grandparents'. When Annabelle realizes that things aren't as perfect as she had hoped, she realizes that love isn't easy no matter how much you want it to be. She also learns some difficult lessons about truth and protecting those you love.

I enjoyed LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE quite a bit. It was definitely an enjoyable read for me with some great characters. I liked Annabelle well enough (although there were times when I got frustrated with her); however, I really liked Lovey! She was a great example of a matriarch, and my heart honestly broke for her as she was forced to deal with not only her husband's poor health but also her own mortality. Even though her daughters had her best interests at heart, it's still hard to accept leaving your house and what those next steps symbolize.

One thing I really enjoyed about LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE were the family dynamics. The women in Annabelle's family were strong women and I liked how they interacted with each other. They loved and supported each other, but there were also little petty things too -- it was so real to me! As the book evolved, it became apparent that a few of the members were holding on to some long-time secrets; and I appreciated how the themes of lies and love occurred in the side stories too.

I don't think I'm a particularly intuitive reader; however in the case of LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE, I will say that I knew what the ending would be. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that I was disappointed with this, but it did make the story a little predictable. I do believe the author was trying to set up the story to make a big reveal. Unfortunately, I was just waiting for the truth to come out, and when it did, it seemed a little anti-climatic for me.

One thing is for sure, LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE would make a great book club pick. I looked for discussion questions, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any. There are so many relevant themes to discuss and the characters are interesting as well. Some things you might want to explore include love at first sight, family, mother/daughter relationships, aging, forgiveness, choices, marriage, and of course lies and love.

Overall, I think LIES AND OTHER ACTS OF LOVE is a very good story. I enjoyed it quite a bit and definitely recommend it to fans of southern and women's fiction.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: Twisted River

Summary: A gripping debut psychological thriller for fans of The Silent Wife and The Wicked Girls about two families in crisis and a holiday house swap gone terribly wrong

“She would never have fit as neatly into the trunk of his own car.” Limerick, Ireland: the O’Brien family’s driveway. American Oscar Harvey opens the trunk of his hosts’ car and finds the body of a woman, beaten and bloody. But let’s start at the beginning.

Kate and Mannix O’Brien live by Curragower Falls in Limerick, in a lovely house they can barely afford. Their autistic son Fergus is bullied at school, and their daughter Izzy blames herself, wishing she could protect him. Kate decides that her family needs a vacation, and is convinced her luck’s about to change when she spots a gorgeous Manhattan apartment on a home-exchange website.

Hazel and Oscar Harvey and their two children live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Though they seem successful and happy, Hazel has mysterious bruises, and Oscar is hiding things about his dental practice. They, too, need a change of pace. Hazel has always wanted her children to see her native Limerick, and the house swap offers a perfect chance to soothe two troubled marriages. But this will be anything but a perfect vacation. And the body in the trunk is just the beginning. -- Penguin

It sure seems like I'm reading a lot of psychological thrillers lately! These books have been hot ever since the success of GONE GIRL, and I'm always looking for new ones. The latest thriller I enjoyed was TWISTED RIVER by Siobhan MacDonald. This book had a great premise and I was impressed with the author's writing too!

TWISTED RIVER tells the story of two families, one in New York and one in Ireland, who decide to do a house swap for their family vacations. Mannix and Kate O'Brien live in a beautiful house in Limerick, and they are having a hard time making ends meet. In addition, their young autistic son is being bullied at school, and his sister is frustrated that she can't do more to help. Kate decides that a vacation is just what they need, and she is thrilled when she finds a luxury Manhattan apartment to "swap."

Meanwhile, Hazel and Oscar Harvey live on the Upper West Side in an amazing apartment.  They seemingly have it all, but Hazel is hiding that her husband likes to take his frustrations out on her. Hazel decides that her children should see where she grew up in Limerick, so she thinks the O'Brien's house is perfect for their family. Needless to say, both families are hoping their vacations ease their troubles and get their lives back on track.

However, things take a tragic turn -- can't say much more than that because it would spoil the plot! Tensions build as secrets are revealed about both marriages, and the pace of the story gradually increases until the final shocking conclusion.

I enjoyed TWISTED RIVER quite a bit, although I can't say that it will go down as one of my favorite psychological suspense stories. The premise was pretty strong and the characters were interesting; however, there were times when I felt as if I were being manipulated by the author. Having said that, I do understand the choices she made in what she revealed and when because these surprises packed a powerful punch!

One thing I appreciated about this novel was how the story was told. The chapters not only alternated between families, but they also alternated between various characters in the story. I liked getting the different characters' viewpoints, and the way Ms. MacDonald wrote each of these chapters definitely helped build the story's suspense. By using the various characters to move along the story, the reader is continually surprised by what is revealed.

Probably my favorite parts of the novel were the ones that look place in Limerick. Maybe it's because I have visited Ireland, but I felt as if the author did a great job of bringing the area to life for readers. I also just felt as if the story seemed more real in these scenes, like maybe the author was more in her comfort zone when writing about the struggles that were occurring in Ireland.

Overall, TWISTED RIVER is an exciting suspense story with plenty of shocking twists. I most definitely recommend this novel to fans of psychological suspense stories.

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, April 16, 2016

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Kids 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 three books for the budding science lover!

Summary: Summary: Happy 100th Birthday, National Parks! Join the centennial celebration by reading all about these greatest of American treasures—from Acadia to Zion. Filled with color photos, information on animals, fascinating lists, fun facts, maps, cool things to do, conservation tips, and much more, this book is your trusted guide to America's majestic National Parks. -- National Geographic Kids

Today is the perfect day to feature NATIONAL PARKS GUIDE U.S.A. because it's the first day of National Parks Week! NATIONAL PARKS GUIDE U.S.A. was produced in partnership with the National Parks Trust, and it is full of color photos, lists, interesting facts, maps, fun things to do on those long car rides, conservation tips and more.

As someone who has never visited one of the big National Parks, I found this book to be incredibly interesting... and beautiful. What I loved is that this guide featured so much about these parks including historic structures, cultural artifacts, the terrain, and even the wildlife. The information was presented in such an interesting way with a mix of photos, facts, and maps. There was so much to look at on every page. In addition, I really liked the way this book would help visitors prioritize what they need to see and do on in the parks. There were "Discover" sections as well as "Dare to Explore" ones.

And here's something fun: National Geographic is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service by offering the chance to win a spectacular family vacation for four to Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks.

This fabulous 8-day family adventure from National Geographic Expeditions is a dream trip come true. Discover the incredible geological treasures of the American Southwest and marvel at the rainbow colors of the high desert; explore the Grand Canyon’s North Rim on foot or mule; hike amid Zion’s wonderland of slot canyons, hanging gardens, and waterfalls, and splash through the Narrows of the Virgin River; wind through Bryce Canyon’s whimsical maze of red rock spires, and go on a scavenger hunt. Stay in historic park lodges with Old West atmosphere, and take part in activities and excursions geared for explorers of all ages. The National Geographic National Parks Sweepstakes runs from April 1-August 31, 2016. To enter or obtain full Official Rules go to:

If this contest doesn't pan out for you, keep in mind that, through the Every Kid in a Park program, every 4th grader can visit ANY national park for free though August 2016! 

I loved NATIONAL PARKS GUIDE U.S.A.! It's fun and educational! After reading this book and watching the video below, I am even more convinced than ever that I need to visit our National Parks!

Summary: This fun, photo-filled, and fact-packed bird guide will make kids Stop! Look! and Listen! to find the feathered friends right in their own backyards. From ducks to hawks, sparrows to sandpipers, kids will learn how, where, and when to spot birds all over the United States. With tons of info and interactivity prompts, it's the perfect companion for backyard or field trip, camping or vacation. Durable and portable, it's just right for pocket or backpack. -- National Geographic Kids

ULTIMATE EXPLORER FIELD GUIDE: BIRDS is another great book by National Geographic Kids. This book has photos and descriptions of over 170 birds with color-coded maps showing kids where each bird can be found.

Truth be told, I am not a big fan of birds; however, I think this book is great for "bird nerds." (The front cover uses that term!) And I will even admit that I did like looking through this book. The photographs on each page are gorgeous, and I was impressed by how much information was available on each and every bird.

As a mom, I really liked that this book had all of the pertinent information on the various birds while also making learning fun. There are "Try This!" sections which give kids suggestions on activities they can carry out to learn even more about birds. There are also fun sections called "Look for This" to give kids things to look for when it comes to birds in our world.

ULTIMATE EXPLORER FIELD GUIDE: BIRDS is a fun way to learn about birds. I actually recommend it to adult and kid birders who want a easy-to-use field guide!

Summary: This fun, photo-filled, fact-packed guide to rocks and minerals will get kids outside to discover the amazing world underneath their feet. Created for the ultimate explorer, this book gives kids the knowledge and skills they need to identify just about anything they dig up and become true rock hounds. With tons of info and interactivity prompts, it's the perfect companion for backyard or field trip, camping and vacation. Durable and portable, it's just right for pocket or backpack. -- National Geographic Kids

And finally, I enjoyed the ULTIMATE EXPLORER FIELD GUIDE: ROCKS & MINERALS. As a kid, I had a book on various rocks and minerals that I looked at all of the time... but it was nothing like this! ULTIMATE EXPLORER FIELD GUIDE: ROCKS & MINERALS has all the information you need to identify any rock you find.

I loved ULTIMATE EXPLORER FIELD GUIDE: ROCKS & MINERALS! Not only were there photos of tons of rocks and minerals, but the book gives interesting background information on how humans have used rocks and minerals and how they got their names. The book also makes learning fun by offering jokes, activities and fun facts; and it even offers activity ideas for outdoor play!

Overall, ULTIMATE EXPLORER FIELD GUIDE: ROCKS & MINERALS is perfect for rock hounds young and old alike!

Thanks to the Media Masters Publicity 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, April 14, 2016

Review: Island in the Sea

Summary: Juliet Lyman is a senior executive at Yesterday Records. Music is her passion and she's very good at her job. That's why her famously philanthropic boss Gideon sends her to Majorca, Spain to work with a very tortured, but talented client. Lionel Harding is one of the best song writers of the 20th century, the multi-Grammy award-winning lyricist of the third most recorded song in history. But now he's 42 and six months overdue on the his latest paid assignment. Juliet is not leaving Majorca without either new lyrics or a very large check. 

To Juliet, business comes first. Emotions are secondary, and love isn't even on the menu. But to Lionel, love is everything, and he blames Gideon for his broken heart. He's determined to show Juliet that nothing is more important than love, but Juliet is just as determined to get Lionel to create the music that made him famous. If she can sign up local talent, even better. Her new friend Gabriella has a voice like an angel, but she's not interested in fame. Her grandmother, Lydia, wants the world for Gabriella, and she wants Juliet's help to give it to her. 

As her professional and personal lives start to mix for the first time, Juliet is forced to reevaluate her priorities. Gideon hasn't been totally honest, and love may be the only thing that gives them all what they need.

Island in the Sea is Anita Hughes' captivating sixth novel, filled with exotic descriptions of food, fashion, and romance. -- Griffin Books

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed some of Anita Hughes' novels. They are usually sweet reads with some romance thrown in for fun, and the settings are just incredible. Her latest takes place in the gorgeous island setting of Majorca, Spain, and is called ISLAND IN THE SEA.

ISLAND IN THE SEA tells the story of Juliet Lyman, an executive with a music company located in Los Angeles. Juliet has always loved music and has certainly established herself as a capable exec; however, that hasn't left much time for friendships and romance. Her boss sends her to Majorca to work with Lionel Harding, one of the most successful songwriters in recent memory but also one of the most troubled. Lionel owes the record company an album that he's already been given an advance for, and Juliet is supposed to make him pay up with either songs or money!

Juliet arrives in Majorca and is blown away by the sheer beauty of this island. But she realizes that work comes first and she sets out to pressure Lionel. She encounters a very broken man who believes that love can conquer all... except when it comes to writing new love songs! He asks that Juliet listen to his entire story and then decide if she is going to make him pay up.

As Juliet gradually hears Lionel's story, she also discovers a potential love interest along with a young woman with an amazing voice. She decides that if she can sign this woman to a recording contract, she might not be in as much trouble with her boss for not delivering Lionel's songs. She also finds that maybe love is missing in her life and that there's more than just a music career in store for her.

ISLAND IN THE SEA was a sweet book that fans of love stories might appreciate a bit more than I did. It's not that I didn't enjoy the book, it's just that I'm not a huge fan of love stories and I found that it was somewhat predictable. I did appreciate the characters and how the book was constructed, with stories going back and forth between the present and the past; however, I wouldn't say it was my favorite one of Ms. Hughes' novels.

What I did really enjoy about the novel was the setting of Majorca. Oh my gosh -- it just sounds like a beautiful place. As I've come to expect from Ms. Hughes' novels, she brought the setting to life and definitely made me picture this island perfectly. I could almost see the buildings, the people and even the sea. In addition, I love how she talks about the food that is native to the area. I swear I was hungry (and dying for a vacation) the entire time I read this book.

There is a reading guide available for ISLAND IN THE SEA. I think many book clubs would enjoy reading and discussing this novel especially during vacation months. It really is a fun, escape read. You group might want to explore the meaning of the title for starters. Some of the more serious themes you might want to discuss are love, choices, forgiveness, sacrifice, betrayal, depression, friendship, and honesty.

Overall, I liked ISLAND IN THE SEA but I didn't love it. I think readers who appreciate love stories and escape reads are definitely more of the target audience for this book.

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Booking Mamas' April 2016 Meeting

Summary: In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded. -- William Morrow

Last night, The Booking Mamas met to discuss AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. I was more than a little concerned that many of us wouldn't finish the novel because it was so long (over 620 pages); however, all but one finished it (and she's from Israel and Australia so maybe she just didn't have the same interest in Jefferson.) I think that just might be the biggest testament to AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER. The vast majority of our group loved it... and didn't want it to end. I wasn't quite as enthusiastic but I'll share my thoughts in a few days when I write my review.

Everyone was pretty anxious to discuss the novel. There was a lot of time spent discussing the actual historical events and what was real versus fiction. We all admitted to learning a lot about President Jefferson and the early years of our country, and we ended up talking quite a bit about the role of slavery in the South. In addition, we all agreed that the research that went into writing this story was amazing!

Our lovely hostess for the evening really outdid herself to make the evening special. Over our spring break, she visited Monticello and picked up a few things from the gift shop including a book about Jefferson's children. She also served traditional southern cheese straws and sugared pecans that were recommended by the shop's staff. And how sweet is this? She bought all of us scented soaps from Monticello. I picked the lavender and it smells heavenly!
There is a reading guide for AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER, and we also received a special packet of bonus material from the publisher about the novel. It really is fun to be one of Book Club Girls' book clubs! We found that we didn't really need formal discussion questions, but it's nice to know they exist.. just in case.

Next month, we picked WHEN THE MOON IS LOW by Nadia Hashimi. We selected this book from a lot of great choices. Personally, I adore stories that take place in another country, and I'm very excited to read this one!

Summary: Mahmoud's passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.

Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister's family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives. -- William Morrow

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Giveaway: Luckiest Girl Alive

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

But Ani has a secret.

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

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

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

I can't believe it's been almost a year since I've reviewed LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll. This book has been compared to GONE GIRL since the minute it was released -- probably even before that; however, I think that's a bit unfair. LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE is a fantastic book that certainly deserves its own praise!

Here's what I mean! LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE was an instant New York Times bestseller and the bestselling debut of 2015. Film rights have been acquired by Lionsgate with Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea producing under their Pacific Standard company; and Jessica Knoll has written the screenplay. In addition, The Mystery Writers of America have announced the annual Edgar® Awards, honoring the best in thriller fiction, and LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE is a finalist for the best first novel category.

Just last week, LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE was released in paperback! There was also another interesting story that came out about the author, Jessica Knoll, and her own personal story of gang rape that inspired LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE. You can read about her story in Lenny Letter entitled What I Know. She was also featured in the New York Times: Jessica Knoll Reveals the Rape Behind Her Novel, ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’.

Thanks to the kind folks at Simon & Schuster, I have a paperback copy of LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before April 25th 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!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Review: Most Wanted

Summary: Donor 3319 Profile: Tall. Blonde. Blue eyes.
Medical Student.
Wanted for Serial Murder.

“Spellbinding. Another tour de force from Scottoline. It drew me in, in a single breath.” –Mary Kubica, bestselling author of The Good Girl

Christine Nilsson and her husband, Marcus, are desperate for a baby. Unable to conceive, they find themselves facing a difficult choice they had never anticipated. After many appointments with specialists, endless research, and countless conversations, they make the decision to use a donor.

Two months pass, and Christine is happily pregnant. But one day, she is shocked to see a young blond man on the TV news being arrested for a series of brutal murders&mdashand the blond man bears an undeniable and uncanny resemblance to her donor.

Delving deeper to uncover the truth, Christine must confront a terrifying reality and face her worst fears. Riveting and fast-paced with the depth of emotionality that has garnered Lisa Scottoline legions of fans, Most Wanted poses and ethical and moral dilemma: What would you do if the biological father of your unborn child was a serial killer? -- St. Martin's Press

Wow! I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the premise for the lastest suspense novel by Lisa Scottoline titled MOST WANTED. The circumstances surrounding the main characters in the book are just a nightmare. And that's only the beginning of the horrors they face!

MOST WANTED begins when Christine Nilsson is enjoying herself at her retirement party. After years of struggling with infertility and discovering that her husband in sterile, Christine is newly pregnant with the help of a donor. Excited to start her family, she has decided to stay home with new baby and not return to her job as a teacher in the fall.

At this party, Christine can't help but notice when the news shows a young blond man being arrested for the murders of multiple women; and this man looks an awful like like her sperm donor. Naturally, Christine is determined to get to the truth... even if that means discovering some unexpected things along the way.

See what I mean? Can you imagine finally being pregnant and then learning that the baby you are carrying is possibly the child of a serial killer? MOST WANTED is not only a suspenseful mystery, but it's also explores some pretty serious moral and ethical dilemmas. Overall, this book is an entertaining read and it's also a story that makes readers think! And those things definitely make it a great book to read.

First and foremost, MOST WANTED was an intriguing read that captured my attention from the beginning to the end. The novel was pretty long, coming in at over 400 pages; however, the story was fast paced and exciting enough to keep my attention. I was desperate to discover whether Christine was carrying the child of a serial killer, although I did question some of the ways she went about finding out the truth... and keeping things from Marcus. When things took a turn for the worse and Christine found her life (and her baby's) at risk, my stomach was just sick. I guess that's a testament to how vested I was in the story!

What I also appreciated is that Ms. Scottoline took the time to fully develop the characters of Christine and her husband Marcus. This couple had been through a lot with the fertility struggles, and Marcus was definitely having some issues with what he perceived as his inadequacy. When Christine began to suspect that her donor was the same person who was arrested, she had one reaction and Marcus was experiencing some very different ideas about their unborn child. The way the author explored their relationship, while very depressing, was also very realistic to me.

And finally, I loved how this book explored so many legal and ethical issues. Of course, you can probably tell that there was some discussion about whether Christine should terminate the pregnancy which is controversial enough, but Marcus was also researching the effects of nature versus nurture on the unborn child's future mental state. Furthermore, there were legal issues surrounding the rights of donors when Christine and Marcus weren't able to find out the identity of their donor because of the confidentiality agreement that was signed. All of these factors definitely added to my enjoyment of the book because they really got me thinking....

As much as I enjoyed MOST WANTED, it wasn't a perfect story. I felt as if the first half of the novel, where the author set up the story and established the relationships between the characters, was stronger than the second half. There were way too many coincidences to make it believable, and the ending was wrapped up a little too neatly. However, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the book as much if everything hadn't worked out. Does that make sense?

MOST WANTED definitely delved into some complex legal and moral issues that made me think (and even cringe!) The mystery was also suspenseful and fast-paced. I suspect fans of Ms. Scottoline's will enjoy her latest story and readers who appreciate smart mysteries will too!

Thanks to Get Red PR 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.