Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: When the Moon is Low

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

Last month, my book club read WHEN THE MOON IS LOW by Nadia Hashimi. I promised a review after my meeting recap, and it's taken me longer than it should have. That's unfortunate because I liked the novel quite a bit, and I think the author did a wonderful job of bringing the characters' plights to life.

WHEN THE MOON IS LOW begins with the story of Fereiba, a young girl growing up in Afghanistan. She faces some challenges along the way, including the loss of her mother; however, she eventually ends up marrying Mahmoud, a good man who loves and provides for his young family.

And then the Taliban enters the picture... and Mahmoud is taken away from Fereiba and their children. Without a husband and job, Fereiba is forced to flee Kabul and find a way to England where her sister lives. She has some forged papers and a little money, but Fereiba and her children become refugees, depending on the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.

The conditions are terrifying as Fereiba and her children make their way into Iran and then eventually Greece; however, her son Salem, is separated from her. Fereiba is forced to decide whether they should stay in Greece or continue to England (and safety!)

Meanwhile, Salem ends up using his wits, along with other undocumented Afghans, to survive in the busy cities of Europe. He is determined that he will eventually find his way to England and back to his family.

I really enjoyed WHEN THE MOON IS LOW. I love books about other cultures, and I felt that this novel was especially timely given the plight of so many refugees. I also thought the author did a wonderful job of creating characters who were real... and remained my mind long after I finished the novel. And that's what I enjoyed the most about WHEN THE MOON IS LOW.  It made me think and feel... and to me, that qualifies as a good book!

I found it interesting that the author chose to tell both Fereiba and Saleem's stories in one book. The first part of the book was Fereiba's and the second half was Saleem's. Fereiba's story was told in first person, in her own words, while Saleem's was told in a more distant third. I will admit to enjoying the first half of the novel more than the second. It wasn't that Saleem's story wasn't interesting. I just really loved Fereiba and her story.

WHEN THE MOON IS LOW wasn't an easy read for me. I immediately fell in love with Fereiba and her struggles as a child. First, I loved her innocence and how much she wanted to learn. Then, I loved the way she turned her life around and finally found some happiness. Little did I know how much her life would change and take a turn for the worse when the Taliban entered her world. It was then that I loved Fereiba even more as I admired her strength as a mother and a woman!

Saleem was an interesting character too, but I didn't find myself relating to his story quite as much. His ability to survive was incredible and I definitely admired how he kept his wits when everything was at stake. He was smart, determined, brave and loyal; and my heart broke for how much he had to go through at such a young age.

Another interesting thing about this novel was the ending. There was some difference of opinion in what actually happened at the end. I didn't even realize this until I got to our meeting! I guess I was so sure that I knew what happened. The ending of the novel is deliberately ambiguous, and personally, I liked it that way. I can't say that everyone agreed with me!

I think WHEN THE MOON IS LOW is an excellent book club discussion. We actually talked about this book for a long time, and you could definitely see how much this book affected us. There is a reading guide available with nine interesting questions. Some themes you might want to discuss include love, friendship, kindness of strangers, refugees, terrorism, family, grief, and perseverance.

WHEN THE MOON IS LOW is a well-written novel about one family's plight to flee the Taliban. It's touching and thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it to fans of novels about other cultures.

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: Don't You Cry

Summary: New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl, Mary Kubica returns with an electrifying and addictive tale of deceit and obsession

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger's spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end. -- Mira

I was extremely excited to pick up DON'T YOU CRY by Mary Kubica. I had read her first book, THE GOOD GIRL, and liked it a lot -- you can read my review here. I was expecting a well-written psychological thriller, especially given the reviews I've seen; and I did like it. I just didn't love it as much as THE GOOD GIRL and other thrillers that I've read recently.

DON'T YOU CRY actually tells two stories in dual narratives. The first is that of Quinn Collins, a woman living in Chicago with her roommate Esther. One morning, Esther's alarm clock goes off and Quinn discovers that she is missing. She didn't take her phone and the only sign is that the window to the fire escape is open. Quinn suspects something is wrong and notifies the police, but she also begins trying to figure out things on her own. She realizes that something was definitely up when she finds that Esther was looking for a new roommate, had their locks changed, and even changed her name. She becomes even more upset when she realizes that Esther's last roommate died under very mysterious circumstances!

Meanwhile, Alex Gallo lives in a small harbor town near Chicago and has recently graduated from high school. All of his friends have moved on, but Alex is stuck home taking care of his alcoholic father. Alex works as a dishwasher and helps the town recluse with her weekly chores. His life isn't all that exciting until he notices a mysterious (and beautiful) woman moving about town. He develops an interest (not quite an obsession but close!) in her that forces him to discover some very surprising and very dark secrets!

I liked DON'T YOU CRY... quite a bit, in fact, but I didn't actually love the story or a few of the characters. The novel was definitely intriguing, and I did appreciate how the two separate stories came together at the end; however, it didn't have the shocking ending like I thought it would. I don't want to make it sound like the story was predictable, because it most definitely wasn't. I just thought the ending would be MAJOR, and the twists were less surprising than the buildup.

Putting all that aside (and really it would have been because I had unfair expectations), I found the writing in DON'T YOU CRY to be very good. Once again, I found Ms. Kubica's prose and storytelling skills to be very strong, and I do think she's a major player in literary mysteries. I appreciated her character development, and I certainly liked how complex both Quinn and Alex were. Alex's situation just broke my heart, and I found myself not only feeling sorry for him but rooting for him.

I found Quinn, on the other hand, to be a little disturbing in her own right. I wasn't quite sure what to make of her and maybe that's why I had a little difficulty in liking her. I found her to be an unreliable narrator, or at the very least a questionable one; and I honestly wasn't sure if she was "good" or "bad." Not surprising, she wasn't the only character that I felt that way about. So in that way, I guess you could say the book kept me guessing.

I was excited to find that DON'T YOU CRY has a reading guide because I do think it would make for a good book club discussion. Because the characters are so complex, I do think there is quite a deal to discuss. There is a reading guide with ten questions which will help stimulate discussion. Warning: They do contain spoilers. Some things you might want to discuss include the setting, the secondary characters' purpose in the story, and who was the hero versus who was the villain. In addition, you might want to explore the themes of friendship, alcoholism, grief, revenge, and family.

Overall, DON'T YOU CRY is a worthwhile read that is well written and suspenseful. Recommended to fans of Ms Kubica's and readers who enjoy literary suspense novels.

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, May 28, 2016

Kid Konnection: Dump Truck Duck

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 new picture book that's perfect for kids who love trucks and animals.

Summary: Dump Truck Duck honks and zooms and steers his dump truck all through the day, helping the other hardworking ducks build a new park. With adorable illustrations and playful rhyming text, Dump Truck Duck is certain to become a new read-aloud favorite! -- Albert Whitman

DUMP TRUCK DUCK by Megan E. Bryant and pictures by Jo de Ruiter is an adorable picture book aimed at toddlers... especially ones who like trucks. This book features Dump Truck Duck as he works with other truck-driving ducks to build a new park. After his work is complete, Dump Truck Duck gets to be a typical duck for a bit before he drives off into the night!

I thought DUMP TRUCK DUCK was a very fun book -- one that is certain to entertain kids who enjoy the sights and sounds of trucks and construction work. This picture book has rhyming text that is easy-to-read and fun for both the reader and listener. There is enough repetition that little ones should know what's coming next!

In addition to the fun prose, the illustrations are just too cute! I don't know much about art, but they kind of look like watercolors with their pastel hues. The pictures of the ducks are just precious and there are many fun details on each page. I am pretty certain that many kids will love the trucks, mud, and trash!

DUMP TRUCK DUCK is a great picture book that is certain to appeal to a wide variety of toddlers! Highly recommended!

I am so glad to welcome the author of DUMP TRUCK DUCK, Ms. Megan E. Bryant, and the illustrator, Jo de Ruiter, to Booking Mama today. Like many authors and illustrators of picture books, these two didn't meet while creating DUMP TRUCK DUCK. However, they have "met" virtually and they have even interviewed each other! How fun is it that they decided to share it as part of their blog tour?

Megan E. Bryant and Jo de Ruiter Interview Each Other
Jo de Ruiter and I live a world away from each other and most likely never would have crossed paths if not for DUMP TRUCK DUCK--and I'm so glad that this book brought us together! Traditionally, authors and illustrators don't have much contact with each other, but thanks to social media I was able to find Jo's Facebook page, where I was treated to a sneak peek of her sketch process for DUMP TRUCK DUCK. I'm lucky that Jo is not just a fantastic illustrator, she's a fantastic person, too. By interviewing each other, we learned that we have a lot more in common than DUMP TRUCK DUCK--from pets in the office to the necessity of a nice cup of tea while we work. Read on to learn more!
Jo interviews Megan
What inspired you to write Dump Truck Duck?
One of the things I always tell children during school visits is that ideas can come from anywhere--and that's certainly true for DUMP TRUCK DUCK. My daughter and I collect buttons in all colors and shapes, and about six years ago we were sorting through our button collection when two buttons in particular fell into my hand--a dump truck button and a duck button. The title DUMP TRUCK DUCK immediately popped into my mind and I thought it was so funny and unexpected. When I ran it past my daughter, who was three at the time, she laughed and laughed--and then told me to go to my office and write that book right away!

When you get an idea, what’s the first thing you do with it?
Write it down, for starters--I've forgotten great ideas in the past and there are few things more frustrating. I keep a running list of book ideas for the future; it's currently several pages long and I add to it frequently. As for actually writing the manuscript, it usually takes me a while to begin. For my writing process, I like to have a good long while to really mull over an idea. I tend to work everything out in my head before I start writing, which can take several weeks or months--or even years. But when I finally do sit down to write, it moves quickly because I know exactly what I want to say at that point.

Can you describe the place where you write?
I have an office at home which is my own little creative sanctuary. The walls are soft gray, and they're covered with poems and inspiring emails from friends and colleagues, as well as my previous book covers and a silhouette of a girl engrossed in a book. I always begin a writing session with a fresh pot of tea, and it's not unusual for me to receive several visits from our three cats, Curie, Ruby, and Rosie--or as I call them, my purring assistants.

Megan interviews Jo
Can you tell us about your process for illustrating DUMP TRUCK DUCK?
When I first read the story, I let it settle in, usually with a nice cup of tea. Then I begin sketching the characters, lots of them, until I draw something that just feels right. I live by a river, so I spent my time drawing there, with the ducks swimming by for inspiration.

What sort of research did you do for this book?
I’m not very familiar with the building site environment, so I spent a lot of time on-line researching trucks, diggers and dozers. But there’s nothing quite like the real thing. The park down the road from me in Bath was installing a skate park, so I was lucky enough to see a park being constructed first hand. That was extremely useful!

What are the top five things you need to illustrate?
• A 4B pencil
• My dip pen and ink
• My watercolors
• Good lighting
• A freshly brewed cup of tea

Make sure you check out the other great tour stops!

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

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Version of BEA -- Harper Collins Style!

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to BEA this year. It kills me to say this and it hurts even more every time I read a BEA recap post... but I just couldn't make it happen. I miss meeting up with my friends (especially Kathy/aka Bermudaonion), going to the parties, and learning about all of the new fall books. Thankfully, the fine folks at Harper brought BEA to me!

For the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to attend Harpers' Fall Book Presentation in New York. This year, they made an on-line show available to me... and many other bloggers who weren't able to attend BEA in Chicago. Basically, a representative from each division presented their top choices for the books that are coming out this fall. This presentation has always been one of my favorite parts of BEA!!!

Below is a list of the books that Harper shared with us. There are so many books that look terrific... but that's not unusual. I was keeping notes during the presentation and I finally just stopped writing down the ones I "need" to read. I have starred a few of my favorites, but there are links to all of the books. I hope you find many to add to your "must-read list!"

ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson

*** COMMONWEALTH by Ann Patchett
*** MERCURY by Margot Livesey
THE COMET SEEKERS by Helen Sedgwick
MOONGLOW by Michael Chabon

*** HEAT AND LIGHT by Jennifer Haigh -- I already read this one and it's spectacular!
*** BRIGHTON by Michael Harvey
*** THE MUSE by Jessie Burton
*** THE RISEN by Ron Rash
*** DARLING DAYS by iO Tillett Wright
NICOTINE by Nell Zink

A SCOT IN THE DARK by Sarah MacLean
INTO THE FIRE by Jeaniene Frost

Harper Voyager
THE QUEEN OF BLOOD by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Perennial
NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees
*** DEAR AMY by Helen Callaghan
THE INFINITE by Nicholas Mainieri
*** THE WAITING ROOM by Leah Kaminsky
MORANIFESTO by Caitlin Moran

Harper 360
*** AFTER ANNA by Alex Lake
WHO'S THAT GIRL by Mhairi McFarlane
SIX DAYS IN LENINGRAD by Paullina Simons
IT'S OKAY TO LAUGH by Nora McInerny Purmort
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO STAR WARS by Cass R. Sunstein and Kaleo Griffith
SEX OBJECT by Jessica Valenti
THE FORTRESS by Danielle Trussing

William Morrow Paperbacks
*** THE PERFECT GIRL by Gilly Macmillan
*** GIRL IN THE CASTLE by Santa Montefiore
GIRL UNBROKEN by Regina Calcaterra
*** INHERITING EDITH by Zoe Fishman

William Morrow
*** HIDDEN FIGURES by Margot Lee Sheerly
*** MONTICELLO by Sally Cabot Gunning
BITCH IS BACK by Cathi Hanauer
NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles
FORTY AUTUMNS by Nina Willner

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Giveaway: Fodors on the Go!

Hit the road this summer with Fodor’s Travel and Listening Library! 

Summer is right around the corner and planning your family vacation has never been easier thanks to Fodor’s Travel. For 80 years Fodor’s has been a trusted resource offering expert travel advice and in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial in 2016, their experts unveiled a new suite of online tools and updated guidebooks to help travelers plan an unforgettable family trip to America's incredible natural wonders. Throughout 2016, all parks, including the venerable Yellowstone and Yosemite, will celebrate the centennial with activities and initiatives that allow visitors to revel in their natural, historical, and cultural splendor.

There’s no better way to explore a national park (or a few!) than to hit the road and let’s face it, picking which parks to visit and what scenic routes to take can be overwhelming. Fodor’s National Park Road Trip Itineraries, found on Fodors.com, include the most road-trip worthy adventures to parks across various states. And that’s not all you’ll find - National Parks 101 tells you everything you need to know about planning a trip to the national parks, including booking, budgeting and packing tips; and National Parks Finder helps you find and compare national parks based on activity, region or season. When you use these tools with Fodor’s National Parks of the West, on sale May 10, which includes completely updated coverage of the best sites, dining, and lodging in and around each park, you’re sure to have the best summer trip yet.

And while you’re on the road with your family, you’re going to need some travel entertainment. The solution: Listen to an audiobook! With an audiobook, you can completely lose yourself in the journey, enjoying the scenery while listening to a great narrator tell you a story. Ideal listening with kids in the car, audiobooks expand vocabulary, teach pronunciation and improve reading comprehension. In fact, 85% of what we learn, we learn by listening. Whether it’s a charmingly, quirky tale for your middle grader like Jennifer L. Holm’s THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH, a brain-teasing mystery like Chris Grabenstein’s ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY, or Jack London’s classic THE CALL OF THE WILD read by Emmy Award winner Jeff Daniels, you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!


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Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Penguin Random House, I have an amazing Fodor's On the Go Prize Pack to share with one lucky reader!

To enter, just fill out the form below before June 7th at 11: 59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: The Children

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author Ann Leary comes the captivating story of a wealthy, but unconventional New England family, told from the perspective of a reclusive 29-year-old who has a secret (and famous) life on the Internet.

Charlotte Maynard rarely leaves her mother’s home, the sprawling Connecticut lake house that belonged to her late stepfather, Whit Whitman, and the generations of Whitmans before him. While Charlotte and her sister, Sally, grew up at “Lakeside,” their stepbrothers, Spin and Perry, were welcomed as weekend guests. Now the grown boys own the estate, which Joan occupies by their grace—and a provision in the family trust. When Spin, the youngest and favorite of all the children, brings his fiancĂ© home for the summer, the entire family is intrigued. The beautiful and accomplished Laurel Atwood breathes new life into this often comically rarefied world. But as the wedding draws near, and flaws surface in the family’s polite veneer, an array of simmering resentments and unfortunate truths is exposed.

With remarkable wit and insight, Ann Leary pulls back the curtain on one blended family, as they are forced to grapple with the assets and liabilities – both material and psychological – left behind by their wonderfully flawed patriarch. -- St. Martin's Press

I don't know about you, but I love all the "Best of Summer Book" lists that have been coming out the past few weeks. One book that seems to be appearing again and again is THE CHILDREN by Ann Leary. I just picked up this book on Sunday evening and finished it in less than 24 hours... and the only reason it took me that long was because I needed a few hours of sleep and I was busy at my kid's school!

THE CHILDREN is about an interesting New England family whose members are definitely keeping some pretty heavy secrets. The story is told through the eyes of 29 year old Charlotte, a recluse who lives with her mom and also just happens to be a famous mommy blogger... even though she has no children.

Charlotte and her mom Joan live in a vast (but worn down) Connecticut lake house that was owned by her late step-father Whit. When Whit died, he left the house to his two sons, Spin and Perry, but promised in a provisioned trust that Joan could live in it for as long as she desired. The lake house is where Charlotte and her sister Sally grew up, with Whit's sons spending the weekends there. Charlotte, Sally and Joan definitely consider this house their home.

When Spin brings his fiance Laurel to the house to meet the family and spend the summer there, both Charlotte and Sally are intrigued by this seemingly perfect woman. Laurel is an Olympic caliber skier, as well as a relative of Ernest Hemingway, and has a MFA from USC. She is also in the process of researching and writing her first novel... which she already has sold. Needless to say the girls are impressed (and even a little intimidated) by Laurel, but Sally (who has episodes where she is a bit paranoid) isn't quite sure that Laurel is everything she claims.

As the wedding rapidly approaches, things begin to fall apart for this family. Sally begins to lose her sense of reality, while Charlotte finds that someone wants her blog investigated for fraud; and both women discover that Laurel might not be a good match for Spin. Disturbing secrets from the past and present are eventually revealed that will forever change the course of this family.

I loved, loved, loved THE CHILDREN! I truly think this novel is the perfect summer read. It's smart and witty, while also exploring some dark secrets about a slightly odd family. It's juicy and entertaining, but it's also thought-provoking and asks, "Do we really know those closest to us?"

There is really so much to like about THE CHILDREN. The story is so engaging and funny, and the characters are just that... real characters. I loved how unique they were, especially Charlotte; and it wasn't until I really got into the story that I realized that the eccentricities could be from some deeper underlying issues from the past. And that's when this entertaining novel became a little darker... a little more serious.

As Charlotte reflected back on what happened to her family, I began to sense that the ending might not be a happy one. The characters began to show some less than stellar behaviors including infidelity, deceit, mistrust and even pure evilness; and I just had a feeling that things weren't going to end well for all of them. The story culminates with a surprise ending; and it did leave me with some questions about what people, even those we consider family, choose to keep hidden from others.

I think THE CHILDREN would make a great book club selection. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but I really don't think one's necessary to generate discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, mental illness, secrets, memory, betrayal, lies, money, class, and appearances.

THE CHILDREN is a fantastic read! Highly recommended to fans of smart and witty fiction!

Thanks to Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) for sharing her copy of this book.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: Can Anybody Help Me?

Summary: It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.

Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.

When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?

But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne's missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they're all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously? -- Quercus

Anybody who has felt the insecurities of having a new baby will appreciate the Irish novel CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? by Sinead Crowley. This novel is not only a suspenseful mystery, but it also explores pregnancy and motherhood in a honest way. All in all, it was a fast-paced read that definitely kept me guessing!

CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? tells the story of Yvonne, a new mom who has recently just moved to Dublin. Her husband is busy with his job in television, and Yvonne is left alone with her baby and no real support system. She turns to netmammy, an online forum for moms, and makes some friends. (For those of you like me who've met wonderful friends on-line, this story rings true!) Her daily conversations with these women become important in her life -- she suddenly isn't so alone with a new baby.

When one of Yvonne's new friends stops posting in the chats, Yvonne becomes worried and then suspicious. She's torn because, while she considers her a good friend, she doesn't really know her "know her" -- if that makes sense? And what can she really do to help when she only knows her through this forum? However, when the body of a young woman who has an awful lot in common with her friend is found and another mom winds up dead of an apparent suicide, Yvonne suddenly realizes that her window to the world, netmammy, might be putting her (and the other moms) in grave danger.

Sergeant Claire Boyle, is actively involved in the case surrounding the woman's murder; and she also just happens to be pregnant with her first child and almost ready for her own maternity leave. Claire isn't about to let her pregnancy get in the way of solving this case; however, she can't help but be aware of a few limitations as her due date is rapidly approaching.

I found CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? to be a real page-turner with lots of suspense. I enjoyed the story quite a bit, and I honestly had no idea who was responsible for the murders. Well, actually I had a few culprits in mind but I was totally wrong! While I did feel like the ending kind of came from no where, I liked that I was gobsmacked when everything was finally revealed!

The story was told in a special way that added to my appreciation of the novel. There were alternating chapters that told both Yvonne's story as well as Claire's investigation, and there were also chapters which showed the on-line forum discussions. By providing both women's points of view as well as the text from the chats, I felt as if I had a complete look at the main players in the novel.

One thing I definitely appreciated about CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? was how well it portrayed pregnancy and motherhood. I think many women who have been pregnant (including me!) will relate to Claire and her desire not to let her pregnancy get in the way of her investigation. Personally, I adored Claire and appreciated that she wasn't obsessing about every single detail of her pregnancy!

And possibly even more moms will relate to Yvonne's insecurities as a new mother and her feelings of loneliness. I felt as if Yvonne's day-to-day issues were portrayed in an extremely realistic way. I know I was waiting at the door for my husband to get home and give me a break... and poor Yvonne had a husband who worked a ton of hours! She also had just recently moved to Ireland from her home in England and didn't have a lot of friends, so netmammy was a way to at least make friends when she couldn't exactly just go anywhere with a new baby.

Overall, CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? was a past-paced mystery that is geared towards women. I enjoyed it quite a bit and wouldn't hesitate to read more of Ms. Crowley's novels.

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, May 21, 2016

Kid Konnection: The Outliers

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 fantastic new YA thriller that's the first in a new series.

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia comes a fast-paced teen series where one girl learns that in a world of intrigue, betrayal, and deeply buried secrets, it is vital to trust your instincts.

It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help. Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself.

This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice but to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

In this breakneck tale, New York Times bestselling author Kimberly McCreight brilliantly chronicles a fateful journey that begins with a single decision—and ends up changing everything. -- Harper

One of my highlights from the 2015 BEA was meeting Kimberly McCreight, author of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA and WHERE THEY FOUND HER -- you can read my reviews here
and here. She is not only gorgeous and sweet, but she's an incredible writer. Now that I've spent some time talking with her, it's kind of hard to believe that she can come up with such disturbing stories!

Her latest novel, THE OUTLIERS, has all of the suspense and intense moments that her first two books did, but this one is geared towards a YA audience. I rarely read YA, but I am so glad I read this one. This book was definitely a page turner, full of twists and turns. In fact, I can't remember the last book I read with this many surprises!

THE OUTLIERS tells the story of Wylie, a teen who is suffering from extreme anxieties issues. She is unable to leave her house (she even talks to her therapist rather than visit!), and she's basically been cut off from everyone including her best friend Cassie. When Cassie goes missing and Wylie receives some cryptic texts from her indicating trouble, Wylie teams up with Cassie's boyfriend Jasper (a guy who she's not particularly fond of) to find her.

Wylie forces herself to leave her house and heads north into Maine with Jasper to find Cassie. The two have absolutely no idea where Cassie is are receiving intermittent texts that start to sound like Cassie's life is in danger. When Jasper's car breaks down, Wylie and Jasper hitch a ride with a young couple and their baby; and Wylie senses that something's not quite right... and that's putting it mildly!

When Wylie and Jasper finally reach their destination, they discover some dark and confusing secrets that threaten everything Wylie thinks she knows about her life!

I really enjoyed THE OUTLIERS. It truly is such a fast-paced novel that I read it in less than a day! I was impressed with how much suspense there was in this story, and the twists and turns were so quick that I could barely keep up with them. I have no doubt that this novel will appeal to smart young adult readers who appreciate thrillers!

One thing I appreciated about THE OUTLIERS was the character of Wylie. She was definitely a smart girl, but I loved how real she was too. Needless to say, Wylie was a bit of an outlier. She didn't have many friends, was afraid to leave her house, and just always had such strong feelings. I found it interesting that the author decided to give Wylie some serious issues with anxiety, and I appreciated how she brought her fears and discomfort to life in the novel. In addition, I enjoyed seeing Wylie attempt to overcome her problems to help save her one-time best friend.

Another aspect of the novel that I appreciated was the pacing of the novel. It moved very quickly and I can only describe my experience as a "rush to the end!" There were more twists that I could count and I will admit that there was a time I had to go back and re-read a few pages because I was so shocked by what happened... and unable to process what was going on. (Of course, that could be because I was reading so quickly too!)

And finally, I liked some of the messages in this novel. That's probably just a mom talking and I don't want it to sound like there were heavy-handed, preachy messages because there weren't. I just appreciated that there were some themes like the value of friendship, loyalty, and girl power that were recurring throughout the novel. I also found that there were some messages about believing first impressions, judging people before you know them, trusting your gut instinct, and living with a psychological condition that were important too.

Based on the ending, I was very excited to learn that THE OUTLIERS is the first book in a trilogy. Granted, I thought this book was extremely exciting, but the ending did leave me with more than a few questions. I can't wait for the next installment in this series so I can see what's in store for Wylie! I highly recommended THE OUTLIERS to fans of YA, both kids and adults!

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

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: The Crooked Heart of Mercy

Summary: From acclaimed Canadian novelist Billie Livingston comes this powerful U.S. debut that unfolds over a riveting dual narrative—an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh, A. Manette Ansay, and Jennifer Egan.

Ben wakes up in a hospital with a hole in his head he can't explain. What he can remember he’d rather forget. Like how he’d spend nights as a limo driver for the wealthy and debauched….how he and his wife, Maggie, drifted apart in the wake of an unspeakable tragedy…how his little brother, Cola, got in over his head with loan sharks circling.

Maggie is alone. Again. With bills to pay and Ben in a psych ward, she must return to work. But who would hire her in the state she’s in? And just as Maggie turns to her brother, Francis, the Internet explodes with video of his latest escapade. The headline? Drunk Priest Propositions Cops.

Francis is an unlikely priest with a drinking problem and little interest in celibacy. A third DUI, a looming court date.…When Maggie takes him in, he knows he may be down to his last chance. And his best shot at healing might lie in helping Maggie and Ben reconnect—against all odds.

Simmering with dark humor and piercing insights, The Crooked Heart of Mercy is a startling reminder that redemption can be found in the most unlikely of places. -- William Morrow

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY by Billie Livingston wasn't really on my radar until I was looking for a book to read a few weeks ago. Granted, the cover is appealing; however it was the first paragraph of the description that got me -- "an unforgettable story of ordinary lives rocked by hardship and scandal that follows in the tradition of Jennifer Haigh..." Ms. Haigh is one of my favorite authors and a comparison to her is one of the best ways to get me to read a book.

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY tells the story of three individuals who are all facing pretty hard times. First, there's Ben, a man who finds himself in a psych ward with a hole in his head... and has no idea what happened. The memories he does have are upsetting to say the least. And then there's his wife Maggie. She and Ben have recently split up after a tragic event that no parents can comprehend. Finally, there's Maggie's brother Francis, a Catholic priest with a drinking problem who was recently arrested for propositioning a cop. And it was captured on feel as if  a video that has gone viral!

These three troubled souls feel as if they don't have a heck of a lot to live for, but they manage to work through their grief and eventually find hope in this bittersweet and touching novel.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY. It's a beautifully written novel with well-crafted characters. Believe me when I say, this trio is certain to remain in your thoughts long after finishing the last page of their story. There are so many wonderful things about this story, but I was most impressed with how the author took a fairly depressing story with relatively desperate characters and left me with a smile on my face and an overall sense of hope!

First, I have to stress that Ms. Livingston is truly a gifted author. She has had much success with Canadian readers, but I think she's relatively new to the U.S. audience. In THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY, she presents three people who are at the end of their road, broken if you will; and with her elegant prose, as well as some humor, she shows how they become whole again. This book dealt with some very serious issues including alcoholism, grief, separation, father/child relationships, and more; however, as sad as it was at times, it was also funny and hopeful. What a special ability this author has to pull that off!

Ms. Livingston wrote this novel in alternating chapters through the eyes of Ben and Maggie, and she did an outstanding job of making each voice special. In addition, by introducing some interesting secondary characters including a psychiatrist, an elderly woman and a spiritual medium, she helps Ben and Maggie discover what's important to them and to heal. These characters also provided quite a few of the lighter moments in the story.

I think what made this book so special was how it represented life. There are times when we get sucker punched and think we can't go on (although I will admit that what happened to Ben and Maggie is far from typical!); however, there are people around us (some family, some friends, and some strangers) that enter our lives and help us get through these tough times. This novel also showed that grief can be all encompassing but that, with time, we can start to heal.

Naturally, I'm going to suggest that THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY would make a wonderful book club discussion. Not only is the book a joy to read because of the author's writing, but it does touch upon so many serious issues. Some of the themes you might want to explore include memory, grief, loss, healing, marriage, addiction, faith, and redemption.

THE CROOKED HEART OF MERCY isn't always an easy novel to read because of the subject matter; however, Ms. Livingston's beautiful prose makes it a special novel... and one with some wonderful messages.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: Remember the Ladies & Giveaway

Summary: Growing up in an orphanage prepared Amelia Cooke for the high-stakes role of a female lobbyist in 1887, a time before women could vote. So when she's hired by the National Women's Suffrage Association to lobby for a suffrage amendment, Amelia feels empowered to give women a voice. What she doesn't foresee is Senator Edward Stillman. Stillman is charismatic, driven, and desperate to crush the amendment and Amelia. But in a political game where bribery, threats, extortion, and seduction prevail, who will win and at what cost?

Set in the extravagant Gilded Age, Remember the Ladies explores the conflict between the sexes with delightful writing and elegant descriptions, which brings the reader back to a time when the struggle for women’s equality had just begun. -- Five Star Publishing

If you described the premise of REMEMBER THE LADIES by Gina L. Mulligan to me a few weeks ago, I probably would have said something like, "That sounds interesting... (with a for you implied.)" I can't say that I know much about the history of the women's suffrage plight besides what I learned in school a very long time ago. And I am embarrassed to say that I have never given it much thought... which is really terrible considering that it was less than 130 years ago when women weren't allowed to vote in this country.

REMEMBER THE LADIES tells the story of Amelia Cooke, a young girl whose parents died in an unfortunate accident and was forced to grow up in an orphanage. Amelia's life wasn't easy, but she developed some valuable traits that made her into one very successful adult. After leaving the orphanage, she meets a powerful Washington lobbyist on a train and decides that she wants to be his protege. He isn't interested in Amelia, but he offers her some advice. She learns everything she can about Washington and its politics and eventually impresses him enough that he takes her under his wings.

Already a successful lobbyist, Amelia is hired in 1887 by the National Women's Suffrage Association to lobby for an amendment that would give women the right to vote. She jumps head first into this quest; however, an old flame in the form of Senator Edward Stillman is just as determined to stop her. Both Amelia and Stillman have unresolved feelings and know how to play the D.C. game, so it's a dramatic fight to the finish to see if the amendment has enough votes for passage.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed REMEMBER THE LADIES. I didn't think I had much interest in the topic, but I'm happy to say that Ms. Mulligan proved me wrong! She created a terrific story for Amelia, from her childhood to her success as a lobbyist; and her writing drew me in from the first few pages.

I appreciated how the author developed the character of Amelia from a very young age. Amelia was way ahead of her time (just like the women involved in the suffrage movement!), and her intelligence, boldness, and determination made sense to me because of the sum of her experiences. She led a very difficult life despite finding professional and financial success, and there is no doubt that it wasn't easy to succeed as a woman in those times.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this novel was how it brought the time period to life. I love politics (well love isn't the right word right now -- how about "am interested in" instead?) and found it fascinating that some of the things I deplore were alive and well in the late 1800s. Politics, politicians, and lobbyists seem to have always been kind of sleazy! I also found it quite interesting to learn about the history of the suffrage movement. These women were incredible and I don't think I'll ever take the right to vote for granted again!

Lastly, I want to convey just how great of a read this novel was. In addition the the history and the great character of Amelia, I found the story to be a real page-turner. This story was never dry. There was lots and lots of drama and even some romance. Plus there was an interesting evolution of Amelia's character towards the end of the novel that I found almost surprising. In fact, you could almost say that there were a few twists!

REMEMBER THE LADIES would make an excellent book club selection. There is a discussion guide available on the author's website with eight questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include the role of women both in the late 1880s and today, the business of politics, perseverance, power, motherhood, and choices.

Given the timing of the presidential election in our country and the major role that women voters will play in the decision, REMEMBER THE LADIES is an extremely important and timely read. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction!

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

Giveaway alert: I have a copy of REMEMBER THE LADIES to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 31st at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: The Weekenders

Summary: Some people stay all summer long on the idyllic island of Belle Isle, North Carolina. Others come only for the weekends-and the mix between the regulars and “the weekenders” can sometimes make the sparks fly. Riley Griggs has a season of good times with friends and family ahead of her on Belle Isle when things take an unexpected turn. While waiting for her husband to arrive on the ferry one Friday afternoon, Riley is confronted by a process server who thrusts papers into her hand. And her husband is nowhere to be found.

So she turns to her island friends for help and support, but it turns out that each of them has their own secrets, and the clock is ticking as the mystery deepens...in a murderous way. Cocktail parties aside, Riley must find a way to investigate the secrets of Belle Island, the husband she might not really know, and the summer that could change everything.

Told with Mary Kay Andrews’ trademark blend of humor and warmth, and with characters and a setting that you can’t help but fall for, The Weekenders is the perfect summer escape. -- St. Martin's Press

It's still pretty cold and gloomy here in Central Pennsylvania, but my kids guarantee me that summer is only a few weeks away! They are in major countdown mode -- twelve and a half days left of school! I know summer is coming soon because Mary Kay Andrews' latest novel THE WEEKENDERS comes out today. And it certainly wouldn't be summer without a MKA book!

THE WEEKENDERS tells the story of Riley Griggs, a wife and mother who returns to Belle Isle, North Carolina every summer. This year, however, is not exactly the relaxing vacation that she needs. She and her husband Wendell plan to tell their twelve year old daughter (who just happens to think that her daddy walks on water) that they are getting a divorce. When her Wendell doesn't show up in time to make the ferry, Riley just figures that he's being his selfish, irresponsible self. To make matters worse, Riley is served papers which she assumes are for the divorce.

When she and her daughter arrive at their summer home, Riley discovers that the locks have been changed and there is a foreclosure notice on the front door. Riley and her daughter are devastated. Of course, this is big news for Belle Isle and  the community on this small island is gossiping in full force. Thankfully, Riley has her family and friends there to support her (although her mother might not be exactly the type of support system that Riley needs!)

Riley and her daughter move in with her mother (which does set up some funny scenes), and things seem to go from bad to worse as Riley attempts to get to the bottom of her financial woes. And then... Wendell's body is discovered floating in the water, and it's obvious that there was foul play. Riley certainly had motive for wanting him dead and is considered a suspect, but she's determined to save herself and her daughter by conducting her own investigation.

THE WEEKENDERS is sure to be a hit with MKA fans everywhere. I thought this novel was so much fun, and I loved that there was a bit of a mystery to the novel. (For those of you who are big fans of MKA, you probably know that she wrote a successful mystery series under her real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck. So she knows how to craft a mystery!) THE WEEKENDERS had all of the elements I've come to know and love from a MKA book but with an intriguing mystery thrown in -- so much fun!

THE WEEKENDERS is quite the chunkster of a book -- it's around 450 pages. I probably shouldn't say this, but I find myself hesitating to pick up big books. Of course, there was no hesitation to pick up an MKA novel, but I will admit that I was even surprised by how much of a page-turner this novel was. I think I read it in two days which is pretty fast for me right now, and I will say it's an ideal escape read. This book needs to be in your beach or pool bag!

One thing I've come to expect from Ms. Andrews is her ability to create great characters. In this novel, there were quite a few memorable ones, but I especially loved Riley. She was a mom dealing with a difficult daughter (what mother of a girl can't relate to that?), and I loved how determined she was to find out the truth about her husband... no matter how ugly it might be. Riley pretty much hit rock bottom when she arrived on Belle Isle, but she persevered for herself and her family. She was a strong female character and one that many women will find themselves rooting for.

As far as mysteries go, I thought Wendell's death was a pretty good one. He was such a despicable character that I didn't feel too bad that someone hit him on the head and killed him -- isn't that a horrible thing to say? I had some ideas about who was responsible but I was totally wrong. Having said that, I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure everything out. I just sat back, read Ms. Andrews' entertaining prose, and enjoyed the story!

THE WEEKENDERS is a perfect summer read. It's got a great blend of romance and mystery with a gorgeous beach setting. Highly recommended!

Make sure you check out my great Beach Town Prize Pack giveaway for copies of BEACH TOWN, SPRING FEVER, and other summer goodies!

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Wilde Lake

Summary: The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed standalones After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know, challenges our notions of memory, loyalty, responsibility, and justice in this evocative and psychologically complex story about a long-ago death that still haunts a family. 

Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected—and first female—state’s attorney of Howard County, Maryland, a job in which her widower father famously served. Fiercely intelligent and ambitious, she sees an opportunity to make her name by trying a mentally disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death in her home. It’s not the kind of case that makes headlines, but peaceful Howard county doesn’t see many homicides. 

As Lu prepares for the trial, the case dredges up painful memories, reminding her small but tight-knit family of the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Now, Lu wonders if the events of 1980 happened as she remembers them. What details might have been withheld from her when she was a child? 

The more she learns about the case, the more questions arise. What does it mean to be a man or woman of one’s times? Why do we ask our heroes of the past to conform to the present’s standards? Is that fair? Is it right? Propelled into the past, she discovers that the legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. Lu realizes that even if she could learn the whole truth, she probably wouldn’t want to. -- William Morrow

Laura Lippman has done it again! Her latest stand-alone, literary mystery WILDE LAKE is absolutely terrific -- definitely one of my favorites. It has interesting characters and an intriguing mystery that kept me guessing; however, I think it's the "literary" aspect of this novel that made it stellar. Ms. Lippman is just an amazingly talented writer... and quite honestly, I don't know that I need to say much more.

WILDE LAKE tells the story of Lu Brant, the first female state's attorney for Howard County, Maryland. She follows in some pretty impressive footsteps; namely, her father who had much success in this office. Lu also happens to be a widow and mother to a young set of twins. Her life is crazy busy as she tries to make a name for herself in this position. When a mentally ill homeless man is accused of beating a woman to death in the otherwise pretty tame town of Columbia, Lu decides to personally handle the case.

Howard County doesn't see many murders, and unfortunately this one takes Lu back to her childhood when her brother AJ helped save his best friend at the expense of another man's life. AJ and his friends were celebrating their high school graduation when an unthinkable tragedy occurs. While the grand jury decides not to charge AJ, that night has lasting effects of those involved.

Lu was only a young child when this horrible event occurred, and she begins to wonder how accurate her memories are. As she explores the murder case against the drifter, she realizes that he might have ties to her brother's past. Lu has to precariously balance her professional life with her personal life as she delves into both crimes and tries to discover the truth.

I absolutely devoured WILDE LAKE. Seriously, I could not put down this novel. I should know better than to be surprised by Ms. Lippman's writing, but this book blew me away! The mystery was terrific, but it was the way this book explored so many issues that brought it to the next level for me. I appreciated how the author linked the two main events, but I loved the way this novel made me think. And by that, I mean more than just trying to figure out the crimes.

I hardly know where to start on sharing my thoughts on the complexities of WILDE LAKE... or at least how I interpreted them! I found Lu's relationship with her father to be extremely interesting. It reminded me a bit of Atticus Finch and Scout because he was a widower who had a strong sense of justice and fairness that he tried to impart to his daughter. Her childhood definitely had elements of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD too with her idolization of her older brother and the way she processed the crime.

Another aspect of this novel that I thought was so well done was the development of Lu's character. She wasn't always likable to me and maybe that's because she was so determined and strong... even at the expense of other things in her life. Having said that, I respected her a great deal. Lu had experienced a lot of heartache and tragedy in her life -- her mother dying when she was just a few days old, her brother being involved in someone's death, the loss of her husband, and more. I found her ability to always bounce back and dig her heels in to be admirable, and I respected her ability to search for the truth even when it was extremely difficult.

And lastly, I really appreciated how this book explored so many complex themes including memory, loss, guilt, and justice. Needless to say, WILDE LAKE would make an excellent book club pick. There are some thought-provoking discussion questions that will definitely help generate discussion. In addition to the themes I mentioned above, your group also might want to talk about secrets, sibling relationships, parent/child relationships, and more.

I hope I was able to convey just how wonderful of a book WILDE LAKE is. Highly recommended to fans of Ms. Lippman's and readers who appreciate quality literary fiction.

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.